Monday, November 28, 2011

Manners Monday – “Taking the Stress out of Holiday Shopping on Black Friday, Cyber Monday & Beyond”

Now that the last bit of turkey leftovers has finally settled in our bellies and the guilt of the extra five pounds that we gained from that second helping of stuffing and sweet potatoes has set in, we are more than ready to take our minds off of ourselves and all of the food we have consumed and channel our energies into others by tackling our holiday gift list. 

Back in the day, before the invention of smartphones and the web, life was a bit slower and the shopping experience was certainly more civilized as patrons took to the streets with their handwritten lists and mapped out their routes to make the best use of their time.  With a multitude of shopping bags in hand, they retired to their homes exhausted and content at a day well-spent.  Things have changed over the years and not necessarily for the better.  Nowadays, it’s a dog-eat-dog world where shoppers everywhere are stressed to the gills and fighting one another for the latest Xbox like it was the last morsel left on earth.  

Personally, I love the idea of holiday shopping.  The hustle and bustle of the crowds doesn’t deter me.  I thrive on the holiday music and the smell of spiced cider in the air.  I’m invigorated by the cooler weather and the shorter days of winter.  I also enjoy the in-person shopping ritual.  I like to use all of my senses as I make my purchases.  For me there is something about being able to see and feel the items that I am buying that heightens the ceremony of it all and makes me feel more invested in the purchase.  

As I’m writing this, I know I am in the minority.  There are many that would rather cut off their right arm than deal with the throngs of people and be forced to wait patiently in line.  They may care less about seeing a product firsthand and more about crossing off the person on their list and that’s perfectly fine.  To each his own as the expression goes and thank goodness for Cyber Monday so that this group of purchasers may take advantage of the special savings online without having to fight off the masses.  For the rest of us who’ve made it through Black Friday unscathed and will continue to brave the shopping malls on foot through December, here are a few guidelines that will hopefully make it a little easier.

Fuel Your Body Before Heading Out.  Shopping on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster. If you are hungry, you cannot possibly be patient about anything.  Before leaving the house, eat something substantial or at least pack a few satisfying snacks that will keep you satiated until you can take an official break for a proper meal.  Remember to also keep hydrated. Keep a large bottle of water handy to swig through the aisles so you avoid getting parched.

Allow Ample Time for Parking.  How many times have we spotted the perfect parking space, only to be swooped upon by another driver who acted like they own the parking lot and claimed the space first!  Knowing that the stores will be quite busy this time of year, make sure you allow ample time for parking and never fight over a space.  If you meet a parking hog, just move along and find another parking spot.  It is not worth the mental and physical energy you will have to expend to convince the irrational driver otherwise.  At all costs, never park in a handicap space. Not only is it a federal offense and you will pay a hefty fine, but I would be more worried about the karma!

Keep a Close Eye on Cart Items.  We’re all used to watching our purses and wallets while shopping, but at this time of year, we have to keep a close watch on the items we put into our cart as well.  Never turn your back on your cart or you might find yourself the victim of aisle theft with one less Xbox game console for your kiddies.
Avoid Confrontation at All Costs. Speaking of Xboxes, the mother in Los Angeles who pulled out the pepper spray on Black Friday to gain a lead on her competition at Walmart crossed lines that may actually result in criminal charges.  When you set out on your course to shop for the holidays, be mindful, stay focused and by all means stay as far away from those irrational shoppers who seem to be out with a vengeance.  Do not raise your voice in a verbal argument or lash out with physical retaliation and if you see a crazy person running down the aisles with pepper spray, part like the red sea and get the you-know-what outta there!

Wait Patiently in Line.  If you are not prepared to stand in line patiently, don’t bother heading to the stores during the holiday season.  No one enjoys waiting, but complaining, pushing and crowding a line certainly does not make the experience any easier.  Never try and force your way into the line ahead of others.  People find this particularly offensive and it is sure to set off a firestorm of rebellion amongst the crowd.  If you are holding a place for someone else, explain this to the people behind you.  If someone is holding a place for you, it is courteous to thank the people behind when you arrive. When you finally get to the front of the line, do not engage in a lengthy discussion as this is both burdensome to the attendant and inconsiderate of those waiting behind you.  Sometimes, it is a simple courtesy to let another patron go ahead of you especially if your cart is filled to the brim and they only have a few items to purchase.

In the Season of Giving, Give Others the Benefit of the Doubt.  With emotions already running on overdrive at this time of year, we are more inclined to accuse others of a wrong-doing.  There may be more than one occasion when another shopper will bump into you without notice or a cashier will shortchange you without paying attention or tend to another patron when you were their first.  Rather than respond defensively with disagreeable words or actions, take the high road and act as if the gesture was purely an accident.  If you are bothered in any way, you may always call attention to the incident by quietly making clear that you assumed it was unintentional.  Find restraint within and do everything in your power to avoid a full blown altercation. 

A Final Note for Shoppers.  The great news about Cyber Monday and online shopping is that you don’t have to be on your best behavior in the privacy of your own home.  There is no one looking over your shoulders minding your P’s & Q’s. You can wear your pajamas, stuff yourself with food and chain yourself to the computer screen all day if you wish.  Happy holiday shopping!

What’s the worst behavior you’ve encountered while holiday shopping? Share your stories.  We’d love to hear form you!!

Monday, November 21, 2011

"Manners Monday" - Toast Your Host on Thanksgiving Day

Whether hosting your own Thanksgiving feast or guesting a Thanksgiving with relatives or friends, everyone can agree it takes a tremendous amount of effort to pull it all together.  As Thanksgiving has become quite the coveted holiday, hosts begin formulating their invitations weeks, months and, in some cases, years in advance to get a jump start on their competitors.  Other more casual feasts may be thrown together on a last minute whim, but that does not make their affair any less significant. 

Regardless of the number of attendees in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, hosts both grand and low-key are busy mapping out their marketing lists, figuring out when to thaw the turkey, counting the number of green beans they’ll use to make their green bean casseroles and belaboring what outfit they’ll wear to bring the festivities all together.  They may painstakingly figure out every detail of the event making sure the hors d'oeuvres are set just so, the candles are strategically lit and the perfect mood music is playing softly in the background. 
With hosting comes the great responsibility of taking care of your mixture of guests.  Oftentimes they will be called upon to strike a delicate balance between elegant host and marriage family child counselor making sure everyone is getting along and having a nice time.  They must be able to put out fires in the kitchen with the same effortlessness that they put out firestorms in the living room.  They must be armed with the resourcefulness to remove a red wine stain on the rug with the same proficiency that they are able to remove an inebriated relative away from the cocktails.  Basically, they must be infallible and able to meet any challenge with grace, ingenuity and composure.

Such skillfulness and dexterity is more than deserving of a proper toast on this special day of thanks.  So how do we honor our illustrious hosts with the most?  We do so by toasting them at the beginning of the meal when everyone’s attention is focused and excited about the eating extravaganza ready to take place.  To ensure that you sound your most eloquent in front of family and friends, here are a few tips for both toasting your host and receiving a toast if you are the host on Thanksgiving Day. 

Proposing a Toast to the Host

  • Although typically a host would make the first toast, before the Thanksgiving meal, it is nice for a designated individual at the table to invite everyone attending to raise their glass to toast their host. 
  • Begin by obtaining everyone’s attention in the room by using a projecting voice and repeating the words, “I would like to propose a toast.”  If you must, you may pick up a clean knife from the table and use it to gently tap the side of your glass as a way to alert people that you are going to begin your toast. 
  • Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on what we are thankful for, for the incredible food we are lucky to have on our tables and for the graciousness and generosity of our host. When preparing your toast, be sincere and speak from the heart.  Keep your toast simple and to the point, about a minute in length. 
  • Remember to stand, make good eye contact with the host and end the toast with an endearing phrase such as “Cheers, Here, Here or Here’s to You" along with your host’s name.  Conclude by inviting everyone in unison to raise their glasses together.

The Host as Recipient of the Toast
  • Most importantly, the host never raises their glass along with others when they are being toasted. One never toasts to oneself. 
  • When being honored, the elegant host simply stays seated and with a warm and generous smile, graciously says, “thank you” to their guests.
  • Once the toast is completed and the attention is diverted, the host may take a sip of their beverage.

Final Toasting Tip for All
Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to clink glasses when toasting and there is quite a history as to how the ritual of clinking glasses originated. As society has evolved so have the theories that have gone along with it.  The first, and most popular, is that the clinking glasses was performed to ensure the safety of the drinks and make sure no poison was exchanged. The gesture was also made, some thought, to create a noise to scare off evil spirits. Other theorists believed the clinking was added to create an audible sound to satisfy the final sixth sense of hearing.  Today the clinking of glasses is simply a gesture we perform as an expression of goodwill towards others. We generally toast on special occasions, for weddings or other significant events.  The most popular toast is to good health.

Any time honored Thanksgiving toasting tips you would like to add? Share with us, we'd love to hear from you!  Happy Thanksgiving!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

“Manners Monday” – Means of Communication or Weapon of Mass Destruction – Twitter Etiquette Rules

I first heard of Twitter back in January of 2008.  A gentleman I was working with on marketing my business alerted me to the tool and explained it as a distilled form of communication, namely 140 characters that basically answered the question in real time, “What are you doing now?”  For months, users would post such mundane musings as what cereal they were eating for breakfast to where they were heading off for their next yoga class.  Since this was an election year, I also remember hearing the word used heavily around President Obama’s campaign.  While other more senior candidates were busy communicating the old-fashioned way, a younger Obama and his social media savvy staff used the new tool to reach their constituents and encourage a national dialogue in a way that had never been achieved before.  Twitter may have even helped to secure the election for our President and today this is still a very big part of his presence. 

Nowadays, Twitter is everywhere.  Politicians, athletes and celebrities all use it to spread their messages, tout their achievements and increase their platform.  Twitter has had an increasingly powerful impact on the corporate world where major brands hire social media staff to tweet hourly messages about exciting products and services or other relevant information.  Twitter has also taken on the responsibility of being the first line of communication during natural disasters.  We witnessed this up-close and personal back in March with the tsunami in Japan.

I personally got into the Twitter game about two and a half years ago posting tweets with basic etiquette tips every now and again, but it wasn’t until this year that I realized the magnitude and gravity of this powerful tool.  Today, I have two Twitter handles, @90210manners for the majority of my posts on a variety of etiquette topics and @redcarpetmanner for more celebrity driven etiquette posts and try to post topical items on both.  To help streamline and organize my posts, I often turn to Hootsuite, a tool that also allows me to schedule my posts when I’m crunched for time, but want to appear current.  For me, Twitter has taken over as my preferred method of social media interaction much more so than Facebook. I suppose I find it easier to communicate using the condensed language. 

As I’ve grown to feel more comfortable using Twitter, I have become acutely aware of the positive aspects, as well as the negative pitfalls.  I’ve heard the countless news stories and witnessed the careless tweets that brought upon the demise of various politicians, athletes and celebrities.  Not to mention, the innumerable thoughtless tweets that are posted daily that result in irreparable repercussions.  It is for this very reason that we find it critically important to review the rules of etiquette surrounding Twitter so that we use it wisely as a means of communication and not abuse like a weapon of mass destruction.  Here are our top etiquette tips to consider!

Stay out of the kitchen, if you can’t take the tweet.  If you have made a career of living in the public eye and taken to tweeting to share your most intimate and inane thoughts, then you are also opening yourself up to tweets of equal criticism and backlash. Case in point – when Kim Kardashian announced her divorce from Kris Humphries after a mere 72 days, she set off a firestorm of tweets chastising her for not returning the engagement ring and the wedding gifts.   Whether you are living under the scrutiny of the public eye with millions of followers or the master of your own domain with 5,000 followers, you have to be willing to play the game and take the heat.  Tip: Take the high road and only engage in positive commentary on Twitter.  Avoid responding to angry or upsetting tweets.

Check yourself, before you wreck yourself.  Ashton Kutcher, the poster man for Twitter himself, took a major tumble this past weekend learning a very important lesson the hard way.  Before doing his due diligence, Ashton Kutcher irresponsibly launched an opinionated Twitter comment about the firing of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno that landed him in some pretty hot water.  The result was apparently so shaming that Mr. Kutcher vowed to leave the tweeting to his staff until further notice.  When you have that much influence, it is imperative that you think before you tweet, lest you say the wrong thing and suffer the turbulent consequences. Tip: Do your homework and make sure you know all the facts before dispensing your opinion for all the world to see.

Think before you tweet your own horn.  It’s hard not to be boastful, especially when we want to share an achievement of some sort, but the delivery of the message must be carefully thought through so that it doesn’t come across as arrogant. A perfect example of this was Alaskan Republican Senate candidate, Joe Miller, who took to Twitter to jab his opponent by suggesting that he was already taking measurements for the drapes and purchasing furniture for the office. When blasted for his insensitive comments, he blamed it on a volunteer claiming they were responsible for the tweets.  Little did he know, his opponent, Lisa Murkowski, would have the last laugh as she later went on to win the election and chastised him for his inflated self-confidence. Tip: Be humble and gracious.  If you are lucky enough to share an achievement, be sure to thank those who helped you get there.

A tweet paints a thousand words.  Just ask past Representative Anthony Weiner, who in a fleeting state of narcissism, decided to take a vulgar picture of himself to send to a female college student as a flirtatious introduction. When word got out, he was confronted and denied the allegation.  After a series of facts were uncovered, Representative Weiner admitted his fault and wound up suffering the wrath of the people and the state of New York.  The result of this one casual photo led to the removal of his position in office and branded him a disgrace.  Tip: Everything on Twitter is permanent and can be traced.  Stay away from tweeting photos that present a negative image.
Tweet this, not that.  There are good tweets and bad tweets.  Good tweets are full of valuable information that enlighten, inform, entertain and educate. Bad tweets are filled with gossip, slander and vulgar information. Twitter, when used properly, is a tremendous springboard for making announcements as Billy Crystal did when he humbly proclaimed that he would be taking over the hosting duties for Brett Ratner who recently stepped down from the post due to his poor behavior.  Twitter moves people into action as thousands rallied to help the victims of hurricanes Katrina and Irene, as well as the tsunami victims in Japan.  Tip: Use common sense and look before you tweet.  Take a moment and think to yourself, “Do I really want/need to share this thought with the world or am I about to jump off a bridge?”  A quick soul searching should provide you with the right answer.

Tweet responsibly! 

Twitter celebrated its fifth anniversary earlier this year.  Here is a list of 30 famous first tweets  Have any unique Twitter tips you would like to add? Share with us, we’d love to hear from you!

Monday, November 7, 2011

“Manners Monday” – “Feeling a Bit Under the Weather?” – Try Minimizing the Spread of Colds & Flu with Manners

Each year at the same time, I make the ceremonious phone call to my physician, as well as the girls’ pediatrician to schedule our annual appointments for the flu shot. The moment I make the announcement my youngest starts to freak out!  She would rather eat lima beans than get the flu vaccination, or any shot, for that matter.  Thankfully, all the lead up to the shot winds up being much worse than the shot itself.  We all manage to escape without any signs of flu-like symptoms and our only reminder is a little soreness in the arm, or in their case, the tushy.

I have no clue if the flu vaccine really works or is just a placebo to pacify our nerves.  Last year, my girls and my husband all had fevers and their share of the stomach flu more than once.  Somehow I miraculously dodged it, which is crazy, especially since I was the one cleaning up after everyone!  Maybe mothers have some special “get out of flu” free pass because if we go down, the family will not be able to function without us!  Who knows?

What I do know is, I am not a fan of the flu or colds and will try to stay as far away from them as possible.  Frankly, I just don’t have the time to get sick!  I know there can be something cozy, and even romantic, about it. After all, it does offer us an opportunity to slow down, to stay in our pajamas all day, drink hot soup and curl up in bed with a good book, but after a day or two I get major cabin fever.  Personally, I would much rather wear garlic around my neck and avoid the whole mess altogether!  Side note – garlic actually has powerful anti-viral, antibiotic and anti-fungal properties that help boost the immune system. 

So when cold and flu season rolls around (usually around the beginning of October), I try to do my share as a responsible parent and respectful citizen to make sure that a few rules are in place to help minimize the spread of germs while maintaining my good manners.  Here are my top tips for properly handling oneself and preventing the proliferation of infection.

Symptoms & Signs. You’ve seen the commercials, the close-ups on someone coughing, sniffling or sneezing. We know when we begin to feel that tickle in our throats, the heaviness in our eyes or a queasy belly that something most definitely is awry. Most of the time, we ignore it and do our best to carry on and sometimes we are knocked completely off our feet and forced to lay low.  The important thing is to recognize our own bodies and know when we should stay home as opposed to going out and infecting others.  This is a sign of respect and others will thank us for it. 

Washing Hands. This is the number one rule to protect us against the spread of germs and infection.  Washing hands is also part of a proper hygiene routine.  Adults and children alike must remember to wash their hands with soap and warm water to protect themselves and maintain good health.  A good rule of thumb is to wash hands after bathroom use, returning home at the end of the day, before eating a meal and after shaking hands with someone who may be sick.  Children should also get used to washing hands the moment they come home from school. 

Boosting Immunity.  Eating warm food on a cold day not only fuels the body, but feeds the soul.  Adding preventative ingredients such as garlic, ginger and spice into our diets not only helps with digestion, but also assists with staving off colds and flu.  When we are feeling under the weather, a bowl of warm oatmeal for breakfast and homemade chicken soup for lunch or dinner is best. Liquids are also important for hydration and flushing out germs.  Drinking a hot cup of chamomile or mint tea with honey or a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice may be just what the doctor ordered.   

Dressing Warm.  I absolutely love the cold weather and I am the first person to break out the coats come Fall.  Although Southern California is warm by comparison to other parts of the U.S., we still have a cold day or two and it is necessary to know how to dress appropriately for the weather.  The key areas to keep warm are the neck, head and feet.  No matter how cold you may be feeling, if you put a scarf around your neck or a hat on your head, you will be just fine.  As far as shoes go, I am a huge proponent of wearing cozy Uggs or similar slippers around the house in the winter time rather than bare feet.  It turns out that I may be on to something.  Apparently, there is a connection between the walls of our nose and cold feet that actually breaks down our defenses.  If we protect our feet and keep them warm, we’re actually helping to fight off potential infection.  

Shaking Hands.  As an etiquette instructor, handshaking is a must.  I can’t tell you how many people I have come across who refuse to shake my hand due to illness.  Would they refuse the President’s hand if he had a cold?  I think not! My feeling is if you’re too sick to shake my hand hello, then you shouldn’t be wandering out of the house in the first place.  It is plain rude!  To bother to go out and socialize and then refuse to properly greet others is awkward and insulting.  If you are too sick to shake hands, simply stay home!  If you are the recipient of a handshake and worried about the spread of germs, discretely head off to the restroom to give a good Silkwood wash with soap and water.

Covering your Mouth.  Believe it or not, sneezing and coughing without covering your mouth ranked as one of the highest manners offenses.  Adults should know better, but how many times have we yelled these words to our children just after they’ve let loose and showered us with their germs.  They are constantly forgetting to cover their mouths when they cough or they sneeze.  And where are the little hankies or boxes of Kleenex around when you need one?  At school, children are taught to sneeze into their elbow (a/k/a “the Dracula sneeze”) and at home they are asked to use a tissue. Either way, the proper way to capture a sneeze or cough is to turn your head towards your right shoulder away from others to avoid spreading germs directly, or, if you are lucky enough to have advance notice, carry tissues and use them when you feel a sneeze or cough coming on. Finally, if you see a fellow sufferer let out a sneeze with no tissue in sight, be polite and offer them a Kleenex, it might actually save you from getting sick.

Acting Responsibly. As adults we know there is never a good time to get sick.  With the pressures of everyday life and a society that expects you to be available 24/7, getting sick seems like a luxury not many of us can afford.  With children, however, we have no choice but to stop and alter our plans. It is inevitable that a child will come down with a cold or flu at the most inopportune time and as parents it is our job to act responsibly and keep our children home, especially with fever or a stomach virus.  It is wildly inappropriate to bring them to school or schedule a play date unless they have had a minimum of 24-48 hours symptom free.

Do you use your best manners when it comes to spreading germs?  Be honest, have you ever sent your child to school when they should have stayed home?  Share your stories with us. We'd love to hear from you!