Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays!
Joyeux Noel!
Felix Navidad!
Mele Kalikimaka!
God Jul!
Buon Natale!
Vrolijk Kerstfeest!

Here's to a New Year full of warmth, love, and kindness to all!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Be a Light: Last-minute Lines

Whether you ordered holiday gifts weeks ago or are still checking things off your list, it's likely you'll somehow get caught in the last-minute shopping frenzy. 

Even if you just need one thing at the grocery store or post office, you may find your regular errands are complicated with traffic jams and frantic shoppers. Maybe you're one of the frantic shoppers. No judgement here! 

The point is, shopping, driving, waiting in lines—it gets pretty serious this time of year.

So let's shine a little kindness on the situation. You can do it in easy ways that will make everything a lot more bearable for everyone, especially you.

• Before errands, eat something first, or take a little snack with you to keep you going. Counts double if you have a child with you.

• Remember that each line will eventually end. Take some deep breaths. Smile. If you see some bad behavior — another adult pitching a fit, for example — try to show some compassion in your head (just think how bad a day he or she must be having to lose it like that) and move on.

• Manners! "Please" and "thank you" mean a lot—especially if you're talking to a sales associate who just dealt with a fit-pitching adult. If a store employee asks how you're doing out of habit, you can say, "Fine, thanks, how are you?" It's the little things that can make a hectic work day better. 

• Add some Zen to your drive. Someone cut you off in traffic? It's OK. That was going to be your parking space? Oh well. You will eventually get to where your destination. Let it go. Your life will be the same after you park the car. Any other attitude will just get your blood pressure up.

• Think of people you love. Works a charm every time. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Be a Light: Pay it Forward (or Backward)

As we continue to explore ways to shine a little light for others this holiday season, let's talk about making "random acts of kindness" into concrete examples of giving.

How about anonymously paying for another car in the drive-thru line?

Photo by Leigh of Leigh vs. Laundry, used with permission

You may have heard about someone doing this—maybe someone you know, or one of those feel-good stories gone viral online. Maybe you've done it yourself. Maybe you've been the lucky one on the receiving end.

It's a wonderful thing to do, but let's not forget something: Paying for a complete stranger, even one you never see face-to-face, can be intimidating, even scary.

Our friend Leigh in Athens, who blogs at Leigh vs. Laundrywonderfully captured just such an experience on her blog. She was in the drive-thru line for fast food on a dreary day, she writes. While fretting over various everyday issues in her life, she heard a little voice, she adds, telling her to pay for the person in the car behind her.

"I dismissed the quiet voice and tried to talk myself out of it," she wrote in the blog post. "Money is tight, I can't just go paying for other people's food...what if she was buying food for her whole office?"

Yet Leigh did it—heart pounding, hands trembling, she wrote, she blurted out, "I'd like to pay for the car behind me, too."

Turns out it was just $5 extra dollars. Plus, Leigh could see the big smile and wave of thanks in the car behind her.

"I truly believe that the quickest way to finding happiness is to do good things for other people," Leigh wrote. "Even the smallest gestures can make big waves."

We agree!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Survive the holidays with civility

We absolutely love this smart, witty, and helpful Guide to Civility from syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

The best part? You can download it and use it as a placemat during one of the most politically and emotionally-charged events of the season: the Thanksgiving dining table. (Or any dining table filled with a variety of loved ones gathered for the holidays.)

Check out their advice for handling dicey topics ranging from politics, the economy, and more - all the while preserving a sense of family love.

It reminds us of what we're thankful for - reminders to practice civility and kindness each and every day! 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Be a light!

The holidays are here! Family, fellowship, food…and stress. Possibly a lot of it. Maybe even a little sadness, panic, or anxiety thrown into the mix.

It’s no secret that holidays are hard for a lot of people for a variety of reasons. And even people who adore holidays may find themselves succumbing to the ambient chaos of the season, when everything seems a little faster, busier, louder…and just more. More of everything.

Why not go a little easy on ourselves — and others? Why not shine a little light for the world around us?

We suggest making an effort to illuminate the holidays with simple acts of kindness. We can cover a lot of ground here, but in today’s post, we’ll focus on something super simple yet often difficult: arriving on time.

It’s easy to feel scattered if one has a calendar filled with abundant holiday parties and plays, school and work functions, and at least one big family dinner. Arriving on time makes a world of difference, not only to your hosts, colleagues, friends, and family, but also to yourself.

Imagine allowing enough time for getting lost or bad traffic without worrying about being late. Imagine arriving at your destination feeling calm and collected, not flustered and hectic. Imagine not climbing over a sea of knees in an already-seated auditorium…joining dinner party conversation without any residual jitters…taking a breath to relax and enjoy yourself without rushing around.

Being on time might take practice for some of us—but what better time to start now? You may have to force yourself to leave at a time that feels unnaturally early until you have figured it out, but go ahead and do it…keeping appointments on a calendar you actually check helps, too.

Until next time…shine bright!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Children love dining etiquette...really!

Our next training week is right around the corner.

When we certify our children's etiquette consultants, we bring them into our Perfectly Polished classroom. They see us in action and get hands-on training, working with the wonderful young people we teach.

One thing our students have been loving learning lately is dining etiquette. Seriously!

They are really into the idea of dinner parties, which has sparked much conversation on:

• How to pass items around the table
• How to start good dinner conversations
• How to be seated, order, and talk with wait staff in restaurants
• How to know when it's appropriate to begin eating
• How to know where you put your napkin

...And even more than that. We hear a lot about young people being self-centered, unaware, unable to look beyond the screen of their phone or tablet. We know better.

We know an entire generation ready to not only embrace etiquette — the notion of treating others with kindness and respect — but cares about it. Would you like to be instrumental in shaping the future of that generation? Get in touch with us today!

Friday, September 27, 2013

What Do I Do...Fine Dining Edition

We’ve talked a lot lately about the “What Ifs” in life—handling those unexpected moments that could range from split pants, an online argument, or biting into too-hot food. Today, let’s talk about fine dining without fear!

WHAT DO I DO…if I’m at a formal meal and don’t know what utensil to use?

Watch the host, hostess, the senior person at your table—or the one you think has the most dining savvy! “Formal” can mean a wide variety of things, but we can say that there will always be two guidelines to help up navigate the table setting, whether it’s for a formal meal, a casual one, or a picnic. Those guidelines are:

1.  Watch your host/hostess
2.  Start from the outside and work toward the plate

If the occasion is most formal and you are facing multiple forks, spoons, and knives, start with the outermost utensil of each kind to begin the meal. Think of it as if the utensils are placed in order of their use, so start with the utensils farthest away from the plate, working in toward the plate. Know that those utensils are planned and paired with each specific course, so you’ll have the usable utensils to enjoy eating that particular course. Now, that is the essence of good manners: a host/hostess that has planned the table setting so that you will have the utensils you need!

Friday, September 20, 2013

What Do I Do...Ms./Mrs./Miss Edition with Dawn Jumper

If you ever find yourself worrying about the etiquette "what ifs"—we're here for you. After discussing ripped pants, too-hot foods, forgetting someone's name mid-introduction, and Facebook drama...let's talk about how to address women by last name in a formal setting.

And we're getting some extra help to answer the "Ms., Miss, or Mrs." question. Thank you, Dawn Jumper, etiquette consultant of Chattanooga-based The Etiquette Company!

Now, onto....

WHAT DO I DO...if I'm not sure whether to call someone Ms., Mrs. or Miss?

Dawn Jumper says:

The answer is: it depends.

If you are referring to a young unmarried woman then Miss is acceptable. The challenge is how to define "young," because as those of us over 30 know, "young" is a relative term! I use the rule of thumb of college age and below for the use of Miss.

If you are addressing a woman who you know is married and has taken her husband's last name, it is acceptable to use Mrs.  Mrs. tends to be used more often in social settings.

You often do not know which last name (her husband's or her maiden) a woman is using , so play it safe and use Ms. Over time as you do get to know her, you will learn how she prefers to be addressed and you can adjust accordingly.

If a woman has kept her maiden name, only address her by Ms.

You may also use Ms. for a married woman who uses her husband's last name.
Ms. is always acceptable in business settings regardless of age and martial status. Wondering how to pronounce Ms.? It rhymes with "quiz".

The take away:
  • Ms. is always an acceptable option.
  • Miss can be a useful designation for a young unmarried lady.
  • Mrs. should only be used if you know the woman is married and has taken her husband's last name.
Thanks, Dawn!

Friday, September 13, 2013

What Do I Do...Online Drama Edition

If you get stressed out over all the etiquette “What Ifs” in life—well, do we ever have help for you, even if you’re online!

WHAT DO I DO….if Facebook gets inflammatory?

Facebook can be a hotbed of lively discussion…but let’s be frank, it can also be a hot mess, especially when “friends” start acting less than friendly.

What do you do if someone leaves an insensitive or downright rude comment on a post, or posts something that really pushes your buttons? There is really only one thing to do: ignore it. As hard as it may be, resist the urge to respond. You can apply this rule of thumb to politics, religion, controversy in general, or any personal comments about someone’s looks—unless it’s complimentary, of course!

If you feel very strongly that the inflammatory comments must be addressed, do so by personal message only—not by leaving a comment others will see. You’ll be grateful later that you didn’t lose your temper in public! Like it or not, your social media presence becomes your “personal brand”—how others see you. Take the high road!

Stay tuned for our next What If!

Friday, September 6, 2013

What Do I Do...Forgetting Names Edition

We all have those “What If” moments—like, what if I split my pants? What if I take a bite of too-hot food in public? Or…

WHAT DO I DO…if I blank on someone’s name, mid-introduction?

“Hello, I’d like to introduce to you…” Who, exactly? Oh no, you’ve forgotten the other person’s name!

This happens to everyone, and the solution is simple: Smile and say, “Your name has escaped me.” Then the other person should pick up the introduction and run with it. If they miss the hint, say again that you’ve forgotten the name—just do it with a smile.

It’s far better to admit that you’ve blanked rather than not make the introduction. Make the introduction as best you can! The more you practice making introductions—even with people whose names you’ve forgotten—the better you’ll get at it.

Stay tuned for our next What If!

Friday, August 30, 2013

What Do I Do...Hot Food Edition

Welcome back to yet another installment in which we explore those worrisome "What Ifs"...safely, of course. 

Last time we talked about splitting your pants in public (yes, really!) This time...

WHAT DO I DO…if I bite into too-hot food in public?

Surprise! The food on your plate, now in your mouth, is way more hot or spicy than you anticipated. Your natural instinct is to spit it out, and we understand—you have to act fast—but we recommend another path!

If you can, quickly take a swallow of water or another cool drink. If there is no beverage and your mouth is on fire, quickly take the food out of your mouth, using you fingers, and place the offending food on the edge of your plate. You can do all of this subtly—the trick is to not call attention to your dilemma. And do not put the hot food in the napkin—it’ll ruin the napkin beyond use and you want that to remain usable throughout the meal.

Stay tuned for our next What If!

Friday, August 23, 2013

What Happens When My Pants Rip (No, Really!)?

We all have panicked emergency moments in public…in which something unthinkable but not impossible happens…those extreme, desperate moments that have you scrambling for your next move…The “What if THIS happens?” moments.

We’re here to help! We’ll launch our first installment with a bang…

WHAT DO I DO…if I split my pants in public?

This really does happen! We have personal knowledge of accompanying a supervisor around very closely to shield unraveling stitches in the seat. Awkward, yes—but better than others noticing. If your pants split and you are lucky enough to get someone to “have your back,” go for it!

If you don’t have that option, cover the rip best you can with a purse, bookbag, backpack, or other bag.

Of course you want to solve this problem as quickly as possible, but sometimes you can’t get home right away. We say: confidently ask for help. More often than you think, clerks, sales associates, waitresses or others working around you carry a sewing kit. You can say: “I need to borrow a sewing kit; do you have one?” You don’t have to say why you need the kit. Good customer service people will understand and help.

Also—might be a good idea to carry a small sewing kit yourself!

Stay tuned for our next What If!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

It all started with Versailles

Etiquette has always been flexible, even from the very start. Take Versailles, for example.

When aristocrats trampled through the gardens of Versailles, the French Court of Louis XIV used etiquette - literally, little signs - to remind them to stay off the grass. When dukes and duchesses ignored these signs, the king decreed that no one go beyond the bounds of etiquette, thus giving another meaning to the word: rules to be followed. So, a word that started off meaning a label or tag became a word synonymous with prescribed behavior.

Etiquette changes with the times. It has to adapt to still be meaningful to new generations, after all. A recent visit to Versailles reminded us of how this is true. Take place settings, for example.

Behold, the splendor of tables past!

Take a closer look at the fork and spoon. That placement is very much a French presentation, not often seen in the U.S., that highlights the beautiful design work on the back of the utensils. See?

Now, fast-forward to today...this was our place setting at the Versailles gift shop lunch counter.

Quite a difference, but still completely serviceable, and it's a solid reminder of how etiquette can — and should — change with the times.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Save your brain from cell phone distraction!

We saw this sign in a doctor's office very recently, and it's certainly not the only time we've seen such a reminder.

We all have some story about the random stranger inappropriately broadcasting his or her personal business via a loud cell phone call. 

There's also research that shows that the ill-timed phone call is truly irritating.

A recent study from the University of San Diego says that overhearing a one-sided cell phone conversation is more distracting than the background noise of a two-sided, in-person conversation. In 2010, a Cornell University study found that the distraction of someone else's cell phone conversation "compromises cognitive performance."

Perhaps you heard the recent news of a theater critic snatching a woman's cell phone away (in use, during a show) and tossing it across the room. We would never advocate that behavior, of course, but we can suggest that you read our list of appropriate times to turn off your cell phone.

And when you're done reading our list, feel free to check out this most amusing guide on cell phone usage and theaters. It will surely make your summer movie-going experiences a little less distracting. 

Friday, May 31, 2013

Tara in China: Learning a new set of manners

Meet our friend, Tara.

In the People's Square.

Tara, an American, is  living and working in Shanghai, China. Tara is no stranger to adventure - she recently took a solo cross-country trip by train and wrote about it here - and we were delighted when she took the time to write us about her current experiences. Thanks for answering our questions, Tara!

How much importance do you place on adapting to local etiquette and culture while traveling in general?

Tara: I think it is really important to understand the local culture when traveling.  I don't want to offend the local people by being inconsiderate or ignorant to their own ways of living.

How did you prepare yourself for any cultural differences beforehand? And what are your tips for handling these differences in the moment? 

In an effort to educate myself on Chinese customs, I read several travel books, learned some basic Chinese phrases, and searched the internet for information about living in China. I also talked to a friend who has lived in China for 8 years about her experiences.Did it help?  I think so.  I was prepared for the spitting and the slurping of food, and I know strangers wouldn't necessarily smile at me or want to exhange a "ni hao" as we passed each other on the sidewalk.  There are things that you just can't prepare yourself for until you experience them, though.  For instance, the pushing in crowds is something you can't really understand until you are getting on the metro at People's Square on a busy day.  There is nothing else like it...I think you just have to try to keep in mind that "rude" and "polite" are social constructs and that they are also very subjective.  I would advise people to try very hard not to take things personally and to just go with the flow. 

Are there occasions or events that have a certain etiquette and exist only in China? Have you found any etiquette habits in China that you really like and wish were more present in the U.S.?

There are so many!  For one, pregnant women are supposed to stay in bed for the first month of their pregnancy.  They don't wash their hair or even move unless necessary... Really, Chinese medicine in general is fascinating.  I don't know if that really fits into "etiquette" or not, but there are lots of rules about what you can and can't do based on your health...I also like the way people have meals in China.  If you go to eat with someone, you never order your own dish.  Everything is served family style, and you share all of your food.  Many tables have Lazy Susans so you can spin the food around more easily.  I really love that.  People here love to share food.  Even if you bring your own lunch to work, you always offer some of it to your coworkers. 

Have you had any particularly sweet or surprising or interesting moments in etiquette you'd like to share?

Yes, I have had two really nice interactions with people on the subway.  The first was one morning when I was on my way to work.  A man in a business suit was sitting on a crowded train, and I was standing in front of him holding onto the railing.  He insisted on giving up his seat to me.  I thought perhaps he was getting off at the next stop, but he actually got off on the same stop I had, which was at least 15 minutes later. 

Another really sweet moment happened one night after work on the subway.  My stop for work is the very last stop for the train, so I always get a seat when I get on because it's the first stop going back.  I sat down next to an elderly Chinese lady who was knitting.  I have done some knitting myself, so I asked her (using body language because my Chinese is terrible) what she was making.  I asked if it was a sock, because it kind of looked like a baby sock.  She shook her head no, and I asked if it was a glove.  She shook her head no again and asked for my cell phone.  I handed it to her (reluctantly) and she put it into what she was knitting.  It was a tiny Chinese dress that holds your cell phone.  She kept saying something to me in Chinese, but I didn't understand her.  Finally, some other people on the subway told me that she wanted me to have it.  I said thank you and asked her (in Chinese!) how much she wanted for it.  Again, the people on the subway had to translate for me that she was giving it to me as a gift, for free. 

The knitted cell phone holder!

What etiquette differences have you learned throughout the ordinary moments of each day?

It's still weird to me that you don't tip anyone here.  You don't leave a tip for your waiter at a restaurant, for a taxi, for a massage, haircut, etc.  I still feel kind of guilty, and sometimes I tip anyway.  Also, when you go to a restaurant, you don't wait for the server to come to you.  When you are ready to order or when you want a refill or more food, you yell "fuwuyuan" across the room to get their attention.  And when you are ready to pay the bill, you yell "mai dan" to have them bring you your check.  For the first several times I went out to eat, I thought this seemed so rude, but now I quickly call the waitress over to my table and ask for the check with no problems. 

Shopping is a tricky one.  Depending on where you go, the prices are negotiable.  For instance, if you are purchasing items in a mall, you always just pay whatever the sticker price says.  But, if you are shopping at a market on a street, you are expected to haggle with the shopkeeper.  I'm really not good at this, especially because the prices for things are already so much lower than anything I'd pay in the U.S.  For example, I went to the fabric market two days ago to have some clothes custom made.  I went to a scarf shop and bought 7 beautiful scarves.  The shopkeeper first told me the price was 30RMB (or about $5USD) per scarf.  I bargained with her and got all 7 scarves for 105RMB (or about $17USD total).  I still don't feel comfortable with doing this and have a friend accompany me on my bargaining trips.  I have a few friends who are really good at haggling over prices, so I let them do the dirty work…The rule of thumb is to offer them 10% of their original asking price and then negotiate from there.

Thanks, Tara!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Kindness in the classroom

Teaching is a noble profession—think of the role teachers have in a child's life. As we believe that kindness has an important place in the classroom, we must share this Washington Post article, written by George Wood. 

Wood, the superintendent of the Federal Hocking School District in Stewart, Ohio, retired this year after serving as principal of the Federal Hocking Secondary School for 21 years. He is also the founder of the Forum for Education and Democracy.

We are struck by much in his article, but he got us in the second paragraph with this his simple call to action: "Be nice."

Wood shares his memories of the teachers who became true guides and friends—those who gave him pants to wear when he needed them; who comforted classrooms when Kennedy was assassinated; who brought students on special field trips, giving them windows into a larger world, making them feel that they could be a part of it.

"I know I learned a lot of academic stuff too, but what stuck with me were the kindnesses shown when, more often than not, I did nothing to deserve them," he writes. "Nothing more than being a student, a child, who happened to be in their classroom."

Teachers are still working in classrooms to make a difference, he writes, but these days, "it is harder for us to be nice to kids," he writes.

He blames elevated standards, increased testing, zero tolerance laws "and other Draconian rules" that make it hard to forgive mistakes and help children navigate their world.

"Getting tough on kids will not make them tougher or any smarter," he writes. "...Turning a deaf ear to the needs of kids, to moments when we could be kind rather than just follow the rules, does not help kids learn anything except that those in charge are operating at the lowest level of ethical reasoning."

Go on, give it a read—you'll be glad you did.

Friday, May 17, 2013

NEW Day 5: 10 Quotes

National Etiquette Week ends today! But that doesn't mean we have to neglect etiquette the rest of the year. We all know that a little bit of kindness goes a long way in creating a brighter world of respect and civility. And if we forget, here are 10 quotes to help us remember!

"Count your age by your friends, not years.  Count your life by smiles, not tears." John Lennon

"Civility – though you may live in a different world ideologically, you live in the same world physically.  Play nice." —  ChooseCivility

"When your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt." —Henry J. Kaiser

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." —Plato

"Today you are you, that is truer than true.  There is no one alive who is youer than you!" —Dr. Seuss

"Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see." —Mark Twain

"A compliment is verbal sunshine." — Robert Orben

"Be real.  Try to do what you say, say what you mean, and be what you seem." —Marion Wright Edelman

....And remember...

"One kind word can change someone’s entire day." — Everyone!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

NEW Day 4: Fun with Family

Why not get the family involved in celebrating National Etiquette Week?

Inspired by our own family experiences at home, the Perfectly Polished classroom, and "The Family Dinner" by Laurie David, here are just a few ideas on how to introduce etiquette and manners to the whole family. Some of them are conversation starters, some encourage good table manners, and some are just fun ways to connect with each other!

Etiquette Fun with Family

Try the classic “I’m going on a picnic and I’m taking….” game. Go around the table, with each person adding an item to the list—after repeating all of the items already mentioned. You can make it trickier by following certain word patterns.

• Keep a Show & Tell Bowl on the table. Family members add found objects to the bowl throughout the week; designate a meal for sharing about these items.

• Put together a playlist for:  1.  Fixing dinner; 2. Eating dinner; and 3. Cleaning up dinner.

Water….just plain? No!  Add lemon, lime, cinnamon, mint, cucumber, orange slices….just not all at the same time!

• Google "napkins folds" and try your hand at fun shapes for napkins at dinner.

• The ABC Game:  Pick a letter and category —for example, "animals that start with the letter B"—and get to naming!

• Spell it, define it, use it….learn a new word each week.

Serve soup in tea cups, desserts in stemmed glasses, and hot chocolate in small bowls.  Yes, it is correct and you heard it from the experts at the Etiquette & Leadership Institute!

Come back tomorrow for a NEW wrap-up!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

NEW Day 3: 10 Conversation Starters

Happy National Etiquette Week! Let's talk about making conversation.

You'd think that talking should be easy, but making meaningful conversation can be hard.
Sometimes a gap in conversation is a comfortable silence among good friends, and sometimes it's terribly awkward. Getting a conversation going can also be difficult.

We suggest having a few ideas for conversation starters at the back of your head before going into a social situation. Depending on your setting and company—family dinners, dinner parties, teen parties, even an etiquette class!—you can rely on any number of our...

10 Conversation Starters

• What is your manners pet peeve?

• Is it better to burp or sneeze at the table?

• What could you do to help someone who is hungry?

• If you could be any character from a book, who would you be and why?

• If you could be any character from a movie, who would you be and why?

• If you could plan a perfect menu, what would it be?

• If you could plan a perfect vacation, where would you go and who would go with you?

• Who is your favorite teacher and why?

• What is the most fun thing you have done during the summer?

• If you could build a car, what would it look like?

See you tomorrow for more NEW etiquette tips!