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.
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. Laundry, wonderfully 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 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!
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
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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
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!
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,
“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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
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
"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
"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.
"Kindness is the language which the
deaf can hear and the blind can see." —Mark
"A compliment is verbal sunshine." — Robert
"Be real. Try to do what you say, say what you mean, and be what you
"One kind word can change someone’s entire day." — Everyone!
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.
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.
ABC Game:Pick a letter and category —for example, "animals that start with the letter B"—and get to naming!
it, define it, use it….learn a new word each week.
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!
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?
you could be any character from a book, who would you be and why?
you could be any character from a movie, who would you be and why?
you could plan a perfect menu, what would it be?
you could plan a perfect vacation, where would you go and who would go with
is your favorite teacher and why?
is the most fun thing you have done during the summer?
you could build a car, what would it look like?