Sunday, May 30, 2010

Get to Know the People in Your Neighborhood! Put Away Your Phones!

Cell phone etiquette. I have had no less than 5 people email me in the past two weeks, requesting a blog post on the appropriate usage of cell phones in modern society. Cell phones began as a fashion craze in the early to mid 1990s and have most recently become appendages– foreign “growths” between hands and ears; their popularity has caused an inability of people to remember how to interact with one another. Interfacing with others has become less important, as people spend increasing amounts of time on their cell phones. People no longer have to connect with others directly in front of them; thus, causing the decline of social skills.

I recognize that a whole novel can be written about the when’s, where’s and how’s of cell phone etiquette, but here is a 4-step plan that can help get us on the path to social redemption. We can get to know our neighbors and each other just a little bit better. Not to mention that we will model appropriate behavior for the children.

Step 1- Conversations take 2 – NOT 1!

Conversations are private. We do not need to know about your dirty laundry: literally and figuratively. Seriously, if you must speak about this in public, do it at a decibel in which NO ONE ELSE can hear you.

Step 2- Cell phones don’t eat dinner!

Phones should not be answered at dinner, nor should calls be made. If you feel that the person on the other line requires your attention immediately, excuse yourself from the table and the company of others before following through with the conversation. Translation: do not carry on a phone conversation while in the presence of others.

Step 3- If the lights are out, the phone is off…
Anytime you enter a place in which the lights have to dim, turn your phone off. This includes movies, plays, lectures, observatories, or anywhere else that I might be forgetting… There is nothing more frustrating than trying to concentrate on someone speaking, only to hear the latest Beyonce ringtone; or any ringtone for that matter. In an exercise of consideration, put your ringer on silent or vibrate.

Step 4- Cramped spaces are not cell phone places

How annoying is it when you are in the elevator with three other people, and one of them is yapping his/her head off, oblivious to the other three people in the “room.” That kind of narcissistic behavior is completely unnecessary and should be eliminated. If you are not able to hang up with the person for the 15 seconds that it takes to go up the 10 flights, I recommend asking the person to hold. Exchanging pleasantries is a great way to get to know the people in your neighborhood, which was sung about so wonderfully by Sesame Street so many years ago.

Who are the People in Your Neighborhood? Put down your phone and find out.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Always Bring A Gift...

You have been invited to a person’s birthday party, and the event is in a home. Do you need to bring a gift? Absolutely. Does it need to be an expensive, thought-about-it-for-days kind of present? Certainly not! Simply put, having good social skills/manners means that you never show up to another person’s home empty-handed.

Some people might argue that they were explicitly instructed to show up with just their lovely smiles. Modern etiquette would dictate that in a social situation, whether a dinner party or event, if the host had to spend time and money in order to entertain, it is expected that the guest arrive with a token of their appreciation.

Grownups, if you are at a loss as to what to bring to said occasion, a bottle of wine is ALWAYS appreciated! Should the grape varietal of wine not be what the host prefers, it can always become a re-gift. And if you have any questions about wine pairings, contact the wine guru: Stacey Blacker

Another idea is to bring a plant, as they are the environmentally-aware compromise for flowers (flowers die after a few days, but plants can live on forever). Some easy to care-for plants are: spider plants, peace plants, snake plants, cacti and bamboo.

Clearly it is inappropriate for young children to bring alcohol to an informal, adult birthday or dinner party. Instead, I would recommend having the child create an artistic masterpiece that can be handed to the host (or hostess) upon entrance to the home/event. Not only can the child utilize his/her fine motor skills and one to one correspondence in the process but parents will have an opportunity to discuss appropriate social behavior in advance.

Whether handing a bottle of wine or a picture, it is important to look the host in the eye and say “thank you for inviting me. I brought this for you.”

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Cupcake Etiquette

Cupcakes. No longer just for children’s birthday parties, cupcakes are now used at weddings, charity events, and other formal dining situations. Cupcake shops and delicatessens are popping up throughout New York City, as the craze just seems to be gaining momentum! Aside from the fact that every diner can get the same ratio of frosting and cake (no longer a fight for the coveted end piece), cupcakes can soothe everyone’s taste buds, albeit chocolate, vanilla, lemon zest or red velvet! The best part is that people with allergies can enjoy a treat that doesn’t lack in shape, texture or flavor (cupcakes are one of the few foods in which the allergy-free versions taste the same!).

On that note, I will say that some people have recently asked if there is an appropriate way to eat the said cupcake. “What is proper cupcake etiquette?” Not to answer a question with a question, but are utensils available? If the answer is yes, a knife should be used to slice off "bite-size bites," which can then be carried to the mouth by hand. This will help reduce an overabundance of crumbs. It will also help provide an appropriate frosting/cake ratio. If a knife is unavailable, a fork or spoon can be used to “slice” the cupcake, but it is not necessary to eat it with a utensil.

If you do not have utensils because the affair is much less formal, and/or you are standing, it is appropriate to break off smaller pieces and place them into your mouth. Biting directly into the cupcake can cause frosting to appear all over your face, which will receive unwelcome snickering from those around you. And yes, I will try to hide a smile but will be laughing as well. Seriously, the secret to cupcakes is to avoid making a mess.

If you are 3 years old, you are probably licking the frosting off first (most kids don’t even bother with the cake part; they just head straight to the frosting). And when they have successfully licked the top off of one, without fail, they will ask for a second. Although it is great to allow children to be kids, our job as grownups is to provide them with the social skills. If they choose to continue licking off only the frosting, well, at least we taught them the right way. Perhaps if grownups provided children with utensils for their cupcakes at an early age, the shock of learning how to slice a “bite-size bite” would not seem so traumatic upon entrance to adulthood. That way, when they are 30 and at a business dinner, they will at least be able to recall the appropriate cupcake etiquette.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Thank You Notes

Whenever Rupert Rude had a birthday, he would never send thank you notes for the gifts he received. He always thought, “why bother? I said thank you when I opened it in front of them” (even though after the fact, he rarely remembered who gave him what). His friends, Jolly Jonny and Maddy Manners watched him play with the toys that they gave him, feeling sad that Rupert Rude never mentioned whether or not he liked the toys, let alone if he even knew where he acquired the gifts from. Staring in horror as Rupert Rude stomped on the super-cool action figure (that he may or may not have known was from them) in front of them, Jolly Jonny and Maddy Manners decided that they would never bring him a gift ever again. “It seems like he doesn’t care either way,” said Jolly Jonny. Maddy Manners tearfully explained, “we just thought that he would really like it because we know he likes blue!”

Did that situation ever happen to you? Have you ever felt like you have picked the perfect gift for somebody, only to wonder if the receiver ever liked it (or got it)?

It is ALWAYS important to acknowledge a gift with a thank you. If a guest arrives at your house with a picture that was colored just for you or a bottle of wine, you (the host) need to look the guest in the eye and say THANK YOU. A thank you note is not required for this. Up to your discretion: if you feel like a person brought you something especially thoughtful, an email is always appreciated. Of course, I wouldn’t discount the fact at how nice it is to be on the receiving end of a handwritten note of gratitude for a gift I have brought.

If the event is a special occasion, such as an engagement party, bridal shower, baby shower, or planned birthday party (to name just a few), handwritten notes are pretty much the only way to go. Although there are some schools of belief that an email is appropriate, the truly heartfelt "thank you" often seems to be in the form of a personalized thank you note. Yes, a gift means that there should be no expectation of anything upon receipt; however, people just want a testimonial of your pleasure.

Moving past the “should you” or “should you not” send a thank you argument (you should!), the ever-burning question of turn-around time: how long should you wait to send a thank you note? According to some wedding etiquette books, the time line is 6 months. I feel very strongly about the fact that a THANK YOU NOTE MUST BE WRITTEN BEFORE A CHECK IS CASHED, GAME IS PLAYED WITH, JEWELRY IS WORN OR THE GIFT IS USED!

Even young children can learn the art of a thank you note. By the time a child is two years old, he/she is capable of creating a drawing of the present received. The grownup can write the “thank you” for them. Once writing skills are developed, they can be incorporated into the picture. For example, if the child can write his/her name, add that to the drawing of the picture. The message to be taken away is that young children can learn to express gratitude for a gift (or time spent): people of any age can learn to say “thank you.”

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Let Them Out Before You Go In

I was recently reading a posting on Facebook: someone was wondering proper "door etiquette." Although some responses were "to never hold the door for anyone" and "keep walking so as to avoid any sort of uncomfortable situation," I thought that it would be helpful to know how to handle the door scenario... After all, how else could we help raise a nice group of young girls and boys without modeling the appropriate behavior for them?!?!

First and foremost, it is always polite to hold the door for the person behind you. Period. As the image of doors getting slammed shut in one's face is not a pleasant one, taking an extra 5 seconds of your time will brighten someone else's day and you will have gone one step closer to fulfilling your good-deed quota of the day. Of course, if someone holds the door for you, don't forget to say Thank You!

Second, let them out before you go in. This rule can be applied to subway turnstiles as well. I know it seems like common sense; however, that rule is forgotten by many. A person has a much easier time exiting through an empty space, rather than maneuvering through a crowd. After the person is allowed through the door, the passer-by-er should hold the door for those entering.

Now, the age-old question of gender and door holding. Modern times dictate that chivalry is no longer an integral part of society. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune (written by Nara Schoenberg) modern etiquette has a twist with "Etiquette for Dummies" by Sue Fox. When someone crosses to the door, the first person to arrive is the one who will hold it open, regardless of gender. A person's age may be taken into consideration.

The same is true for a revolving door: the first person to enter is either the first one to reach the door or the stronger of the group, if the door is not in motion.

Regardless of gender, teaching your preschool child to say "thank you" every time a door is held for him/her will cause pleasantly surprised looks from the grownups around. Everyone will notice "Paul/Polly Polite". Not to mention that young children like to have responsibilities. By assigning them a job, such as "door holder," children learn the skills of dependability and reliability, which will only help them in their future endeavors.

And of course, encouraging them to complete any task, regardless of age, race and/or gender is a valuable lesson to teach children (and one that we hope will stay with them for the rest of their lives)