Monday, December 15, 2014

Manners Monday – #DareToBePolite – Dining & Entertaining: Navigating the Table

At holiday time or any time, many of life’s most joyous occasions occur around the table. Family and friends gather, food is prepared or purchased, conversation is flowing and lively, and everlasting memories are made. With the tone properly set and the elements painstakingly in place, all that is remaining is how to properly navigate your way around the table and correctly bring the food into your mouth. 

Improving dining skills is the single most popular request among the bevy of manners-related topics. While some may find this a vacuous pursuit, on the contrary, the art of fine dining is meant to be upheld and mastered. After all, the way we hold our fork and knife reveals a lot about who we are, where we came from and where we aspire to go. 

Whether dining on fine china or handcrafted ceramic dishes, all items are placed on the table in neat order guiding us through the courses with ease and dictating what we will be eating and when. The goal always to seamlessly enter the contents of food into our mouths thus eliminating any possible distraction and keeping the focus on the more meaningful endeavor of building relationships and forming bonds.

Step 2/Week 3: Dining & Entertaining: Navigating the Table. This week’s challenge heightens our awareness at the table from the dining room to the board room as dining skills are essential to success both personally, as well as professionally.  Use these next seven days to pay closer attention to how you eat. Notice your napkin usage, how you enter and exit your chair, how you speak to the wait staff at the restaurant and how you set the table for a meal at home.  Observe your dining style. Do you know which side your drinks and bread plate are located?  Do you use both the fork and the knife or do you break out Mr. Finger? Did you learn the American style switching hands and bringing the food into your mouth with your right hand fork tines up? Or, were you taught to dine Continental style with the fork in the left hand tines facing down and the knife in the right?  Are you familiar with the resting and finished positions?  Do you know how to pass foods around the table? Which side to serve and which side to clear?  Do you prefer formal sit down dinners or more casual experiences? Are you open to trying new foods?  All of these questions factor equally into the dining equation. What we eat and how we eat provides valuable insight to others.  

Discover the details that go into the daily occurrence of dining. Use this week to refine your skills just in time for the Chanukah and Christmas festivities around the table. Find out where you feel most confident or where you may need a bit more polish?  Share with us what you observe in yourself and in others. Join us now! Make the vow to #daretobepolite!  

Monday, December 8, 2014

Manners Monday – #DareToBePolite – Assembling the Elements

It takes a village to assemble just the right elements to masterfully pull off any special occasion.  Any expert entertainer knows that whether creating a casual or an elaborate affair, a perfect balance of ingredients must be carefully orchestrated in order to present an appearance of calm and create an atmosphere of enjoyment.

The small details dictated by the host ranging from the meticulously selected guest list to the decidedly imaginative invitation, the inventive menu, and the desired setting, all play an equal part in the party’s ultimate success.  While some hosts get a thrill in taking on the task themselves, there is no shame in enlisting help.  A good host knows their limitations and has a list of professionals ready to dive in and tackle any task.  Food may be homemade, catered or brought in from a favorite restaurant as long as it is transferred onto serving platters and made to look presentable on the table.  Most important on the list is a happy host who puts their guest’s needs first and is willing to make any concession to ensure they have a positive experience.

The gracious guest is an integral player in the party’s triumphant outcome. After all, they have been carefully selected and vouched for by the host and they should perform accordingly.  Grateful to be a part of the festivities, an exemplary guest puts effort into appearance, arrives on time with a thoughtful gift in hand, is geared up to make witty repartee with both hosts and guests alike, and follows up with a grateful note of thanks.

Step 2/Week 2: Dining & Entertaining: Assembling the Elements. This week’s challenge is highly applicable as we head closer to the Chanukah and Christmas holidays where endless opportunities for entertaining and dining abound. In these next seven days, if you are hosting a party, take a few extra minutes to pay attention to the particulars. Add fresh flowers to your table, light candles, pipe in a little mood music.  Go the extra mile to check in with your guests to make sure there are no severe allergies or other dietary restrictions. Set the table with the fancy dishes and glassware you keep locked in a cabinet for most of the year. Add a few new guests to your list and arrange place cards to encourage interesting conversation.  If you are attending a party, be sure to RSVP right away as the holiday social calendars tend to become quite full. Find the perfect host gift and write a little note to present upon your arrival. Offer to bring a holiday dish or bottle of wine to accompany the meal. Perhaps the host needs a bit of help with the dishes or taking out the trash? Step up and you’ll guarantee future invitations.

Notice your strengths as well as your pitfalls.  Do you prefer to host or attend a party?  Are you a happy or harried host?  Are you a gracious or impolite guest?  Which elements do you enjoy and which feel like torture?  Share with us what you observe in yourself and in others over the course of the week. Join us now! Make the vow to #daretobepolite!  

Monday, December 1, 2014

Manners Monday – #DareToBePolite – Dining & Entertaining

December marks month two of our #DareToBePolite campaign.  Fresh off the Thanksgiving bandwagon, it’s time to now prepare for the throngs of holiday party soirees and the endless amounts of invitations, obligations and appreciations that will ensue from now until New Year’s. Whether an intimate gathering with a select few or a massive affair with hundreds, the basic tenets still apply and are expected to be upheld. Always make your guests feel welcome, create a cozy atmosphere, keep the conversation flowing, avoid stirring the pot, don’t disgust your dining partners, and have an endless supply of libations on hand.

For the next several weeks we will be exploring everyday table manners as well as formal dining skills in a variety of settings from the living room to the board room and over power breakfasts, lunches and dinners. We will dissect food idiosyncrasies, dietary restrictions and culinary options to expand both the palate along with the mind.  We will delve into the vast world of entertaining from the invitation and décor to the preferred cuisine and select entertainment. We will investigate the roles of the happy host along with the grateful guest and uncover the many quandaries that arise from the RSVP’s and attire to the requisite thank yous and goodbyes. Many of life’s most meaningful moments involve a degree of dining and entertaining and we need to bring our A-game to ensure we enjoy it to the fullest.

Step 2/Week 1: Dining & Entertaining: Setting the Tone.  The world of dining and entertaining offers an excellent opportunity to display ones best manners and perfect the art of feeling confident while putting others at ease. In these next seven days, we begin specifically with setting the tone. This is the first step in planning any occasion from a business dinner to a birthday party. The choice of venue, the degree of formality, the budget, the personality of the guests and the number of attendees must all be taken into consideration. Are you courting an international client over lunch?  A review of the continental dining skills may be in order to avoid sawing your steak.  Organizing a big birthday bash for your 80 year old mother? Selecting a venue with easy access for elderly guests as opposed to a venue for purely aesthetic reasons will hopefully be top on the list.  Setting the tone on a more symbolic level has more to do with frame of mind. Attending the annual office holiday party?  You may want to eat a little nibble beforehand to take the focus off of the free shrimp and more on the benefits of stress-free socializing with co-workers. In-laws invited you and your spouse to join them for a holiday weekend in the mountains?  You may wish to push aside personal differences and approach them with a willingness to get along rather than being just being right. Handling these subtle, yet vital issues beforehand sets the tone both mentally and physically and ensures the best outcome for all.    

A successful dining experience builds bonds and solidifies relationships.  A pleasurable party leaves warm lasting memories for years to come. How will you choose to set the tone or improve the tone in the next week?  Share with us what you discover in yourself and in others. Join us now! Make the vow to #daretobepolite!  

Monday, November 17, 2014

Manners Monday – #DareToBePolite - How We Behave

Step 1/Week 3: First Impressions: How we behave.  Turn on any morning television news show and you’ll witness the barrage of stories dedicated to people’s bad behavior. It may be a fallen politician, an enraged sports figure, a bawdy celebrity or a regular Joe who committed a heinous crime.  Sure these may be extreme examples amplified in the media for pure entertainment, but oftentimes they are not.  Our public role models (save the Joe criminal) tend to disappoint.  And what about our own behavior that is not publicized for all the world to see? How do we conduct ourselves on a daily basis with our families, with our friends and when we’re out and about on our streets and in our communities? 

Each and every day we are confronted with choices that test our behavior and moral makeup.  There is always a clear right and wrong choice and the wrong choice is typically much more appealing because it feels reckless, carefree or fun.  While this may be an acceptable excuse for a two year old who is too young to know better or a reality show star who is being paid good money to behave like a two year old, there isn’t much tolerance anywhere else. 

Granted, none of us are perfect and we do slip up.  It’s hard to hold it altogether 24/7, especially in today’s frenetic society. And if children are in the mix, then all rules are pushed aside and the claws come out.  In “Terms of Endearment,” mama Shirley Maclaine could care less what the hospital staff thought of her as she cursed at the top of her lungs demanding medicine for her daughter who was experiencing pain.  Perfectly understandable.

For the next seven days we are focusing on every day behavior.  In other words, the way we go about our day when not faced with a traumatic or dire situation.  Starting with our early morning routine, from the way we greet our household when we arise to the way we treat the barista at our local Starbucks. Are we cutting in the carpool line at school drop off or giving someone the finger who just cut us off on the road?  At work, are we sending scathing emails to the entire department or stealing someone else's marked food in the kitchen?  Are we chewing out the lunch lady for giving us the wrong change? During the day, are we waiting patiently in line at the pharmacy for our prescription to be filled? Are we treating the restaurant staff with as much respect as our boss sitting across from us at the table?  In the community, are we cordial to the librarian, the policeman, and the gas station attendant? At home, after a long day, are we impatiently screaming at our kids or ignoring our significant others?  When we say goodnight, do we lovingly kiss our loved ones or grunt our way to bed?  

While most of us don't have the luxury of being followed around by our own personal reality show crew, all of us are living under a constant microscope where our every action may be taken out of context and misconstrued. There are a million ways to make a grave mistake and our actions, reactions or inaction has a domino effect on others.

How will you choose to behave over the next seven days?  Share with us what you observe in yourself and in others. Join us now! Make the vow to #daretobepolite!  

Monday, November 10, 2014

Manners Monday – #DareToBePolite - How We Sound

Step 1/Week 2: First Impressions: How we soundWe live in an incredibly social world where we are called up upon to share our thoughts and speak our mind on an endless variety of topics. When given our platform, it is always in our best interest to sound our most intelligent. This is not the time for text-speak, filler words, swearing or slang, however tempting.  This is the age of sound bites where we have to make every second count and speak articulately, audibly and with perfect elocution to make sure our message is clear.

For the next seven days, pay close attention to your verbal communication. Notice your voice. Do you speak loudly or softly? Is your speech high-pitched or low? Do you converse too quickly or slowly?  Are you a chatterbox, or is your delivery slow and methodical? Are you a close talker?  Notice your choice of words. Do you use all those three and four syllable words you learned in school and do you know their meanings?  Do you swear like a sailor?  Do you sound like a teenager sprinkling filler words throughout your sentences? Do you talk in text preferring to say,  ‘brb’ instead of ‘be right back’?  Do you have an accent, and if so, from where?  Boston, New Jersey, Louisiana, the UK? Does it make you sound smarter? Do people make fun of it? Does it help or hurt your personal or professional life?  What is the tone of your voice? Do you sound annoyed? Do you sound happy? Are you curt or do you speak at length? Do your words move people into action or do you feel like no one is listening?  Each of these questions is up for discussion in this second week of our focus. 

Let’s use this period to discover the impact we make or do not make on others. Are we effective in getting what we want at home? With our families and friends?  In the dating world and in the corporate world? How do we come across to other people? Do we sound cheery?  Do we sound critical?  While our technological communications have taken precedence, it is our interpersonal connections that still hold the most weight. In these rare instances, we must know how to speak face-to-face and tailor our tone of voice, our velocity, and our volume depending upon whom we’re speaking to or the size of our audience. 

More careful examination should be paid towards what we are saying. Are we repeatedly throwing up words out of our mouths?  Do we apply filters to prevent saying something we will most surely regret later?  How many of us actually think before we speak?  This is certainly not easy in a world where the complete opposite is heralded by society, especially in the media where shock-value is upheld. Take, for example, the latest cultural phenomenon, the Potty Mouth Princesses, who would probably have gone unnoticed if not for the F-bombs sprinkled throughout their video on feminism. How else to perk up the public’s ears? On the other end of the spectrum, are the increasingly popular TED Talks which in a distilled eighteen minutes of mindful word selection are able to educate us, enlighten us and instruct us to make our lives better.  How will you choose to use your voice over the next seven days?  Share with us what you observe in yourself and in others. Join us now! Make the vow to #daretobepolite! 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Manners Monday – Launching #daretobepolite

What’s the manner with people? Rarely does a day go by without someone doing something or saying something to upset us. It may come in the form of an insensitive comment disguised as constructive criticism. Or a rude remark designed to elevate themselves and put down another. Sometimes it’s a piece of gossip for pure entertainment purposes. Other times it’s an unfiltered observation pointing out a serious character flaw.  And oftentimes, it’s a blatant lack of respect for our time, our money or our commitment. At what point did we turn into such a nasty, negative, cutthroat, backstabbing, dishonest and competitive society?

What ever happened to polite? When passersby would greet one another with a knowing nod and smile. When sitting down to dinner meant giving your undivided attention to your dining partners. When a suitor called the object of their affection on the telephone to arrange a date. When an act of kindness was acknowledged with a handwritten thank you note.  

The #daretobepolite campaign is designed to wake up the nation and raise awareness on the importance of politesse and good manners. For the next three months, we will be challenging (daring) the public with three separate 21-day campaigns. Why 21 days each?  Because it takes 21 days to form a new habit and we want these skills to stick.  November launches the campaign with the very basics, otherwise known as first impressions, focusing on how we look, how we sound, and how we behave. December, at the height of holiday season, is devoted to the vast realm of dining and entertaining.  January, we begin the New Year by examining communication in all its forms whether spoken, written or electronically transmitted.

Now, please do not get me wrong. I do not espouse on a pedestal looking down shaming everyone else.  I turn the mirror on myself with every intention to walk the talk. I am the first to admit that I am a work in progress and that I actively practice polite.  I am in the trenches with you, so let’s take the first step together. Shall we?

Step 1/Week 1: First Impressions: How we look.  The first thing people notice is appearance. They sum us up in the first few seconds before one single syllable has been uttered from our mouths.  Everything from our posture and gait to our grooming and attire is being scrutinized.  Is our outfit too revealing or too schoolmarmish?  Are we well-kempt or disheveled?  Do we have any noticeable bad habits?  We are all very quick to judge. We can't help it, we're human. However, we’re not talking about the vacuous pursuit of vanity, rather more about taking pride in the way we look which shows respect for oneself, as well as others, and has a direct positive influence on our relationships whether dressing for a job interview, a first date or a social function. For the next seven days, we are focusing on outward appearance from our skin, hair and nails down to our clothing and accessories. We’ll dissect style guidelines, which wardrobe staples are best, and fashion faux pas to avoid along with a few tips on exercise and diet. We’d also love to hear from you.  Share with us your photos and videos, post your personal do’s and don’ts. Our polite armor sets the tone and is the foundation for virtually everything. Join us now! Make the vow to #daretobepolite!  

Monday, October 27, 2014

Manners Monday – Oscar de la Renta – Paying Homage to a Man who Epitomized Effortless Elegance

I was deeply saddened to learn the passing of Mr. de la Renta just one week ago today. My first and only encounter with the legendary designer was at the wedding of his step-daughter Eliza Reed to Alexander Bolen in June of 1998.  

Their nuptials took place at the de la Renta estate in Kent, Connecticut. Having never attended a summertime society wedding, I was advised by my father to purchase a hat for the occasion so out I went in search of the perfect accompaniment to compliment my buttercup dress and coat ensemble.  We were shuttled to the property by coach and escorted through the gorgeous gardens to the ceremony grounds.  It was a veritable sea of who’s who figures from the worlds of fashion, media and international society, but what struck me most was the vivid memory of how many dogs were in attendance.  Almost as many as guests!  

The weather was hot and muggy and a last minute torrential downpour made its best attempts to put a damper on the festivities. But not for long.  As if taking a cue from the spirit in the skies, the rain began to subside and out of the mist appeared the dashing Mr. de la Renta steering a golf cart with one hand while simultaneously holding on to the bride-to-be with the other. What very well could have been an afternoon wedding of pomp and circumstance was properly replaced with a warmth and effortless elegance that was welcome by all.  

Oscar de la Renta happened to embody elegance in every sense of the word endearing himself to throngs of fans spanning the globe from first ladies and celebrities to socialites and fashionistas. His elegance did not threaten his masculinity.  On the contrary, it added to it. He was the quintessential gentleman, both dapper and debonair who created a fashion empire that exemplified his zest for life as well as his eye for quality and impeccable taste.  Flawlessly dressed for any occasion, his sophistication and style went unrivaled setting a high bar for future male fashion designers climbing the ranks.  His sun-kissed skin, amiable smile and charming accent disarmed and captivated everyone he met. 

The Dominican-born American icon didn’t skip a beat working tirelessly up to his final days including designing the wedding dress for Amal Alamuddin who stole the heart of longtime bachelor George Clooney.  He will forever be remembered for his refinement and grace.