Monday, December 27, 2010

Best & Worst Manners List 2010

As the year draws to an end, we are besieged by the endless lists of the best and the worst of 2010. From television programs to magazine covers, lists of every kind appear whether it’s in the form of a Barbara Walters special or a Time Magazine cover spread, you simply cannot pass through to 2011 without a proper recount of 2010. We certainly did not want to miss the boat, so we painstaking compiled eleven (a nod to 2011) of the greatest and poorest manners moments of the last year. Unfortunately, there was no shortage of entries for the year's worst contenders. Twenty-ten presented to us a fair share of politicians, celebrities and athletes who had clearly lost their way, but of course, we wished to also honor those special few that deservedly held a place at the very top of our list. So in chronological order, here they are...

1. BEST Conan O’Brien. In early January, when Conan O'Brien received the news that NBC intended to move him as host of "The Tonight Show" to 12:05am to accommodate Jay Leno whose "Jay Leno Show" would be moved to 11:35pm, he was definitely unhappy. Rather than begin a negative campaign against NBC or Jay Leno, Conan took the high road. He made the decision to leave NBC, but not without obtaining adequate compensation for his many employees who had moved out from New York to Los Angeles. Throughout the ordeal, he remained polite, patient and committed to his work. On the last night of his show he said these words, "Every comedian, every comedian dreams of hosting The Tonight Show and—for seven months—I got to do it. I did it my way, with people I love, and I do not regret a second [of it].... All I ask is one thing, and I'm asking this particularly of young people that watch: Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism; for the record it's my least favorite quality. It doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen." What a classy guy!

2. WORST John Mayer. If you happened to catch a glance at his Playboy interview back in February or read the complete transcript online, you will understand why John Mayer made our list. For someone who apparently was growing tired of his "douche bag" reputation and poor interview skills, we're not so sure this guy cares to change anything. He comes across as overly arrogant, pompous, self-indulgent and self-aggrandizing. Besides his kiss and tell remark about Jessica Simpson, he provided a bevy of other slanderous statements and racially insensitive comments completely embarrassing himself. We hope this ridiculous egotistical attitude will wear off in 2011 so we can go back to enjoying his beautiful music.

3. WORST Jesse James. On March 17th, just ten days after his wife, Sandra Bullock accepted her winning Oscar, reports of Jesse James infidelity during their 5 year marriage were igniting all over the place. The affair with tattooed stripper Michelle ("Bombshell") McGee, rumored to have occurred during the time Bullock was filming "The Blind Side," was the longest transgression. We wonder what James must have been thinking as Bullock attended the awards circuit thanking him profusely for staying by her side during her career. When the news came out, he issued a public apology claiming, "There is only one person to blame for this whole situation, and that is me." While Jesse James made his best efforts to take full responsibility and reconcile with Bullock, the irrevocable damage had already been done.

4. BEST Sandra Bullock. In striking contrast to Jesse James' unscrupulous behavior, "America's Sweetheart", Sandra Bullock, was a pillar of strength and dignity in the days and weeks following the news of her ex-husband's sexual escapades. The bittersweet irony that she would receive a Best Actress award for her film "The Blind Side" while simultaneously experiencing being blindsided by her own husband would have left anyone devastated. Rather than go for the jugular and spew public hatred towards James, Bullock made the conscious decision to rise above the tabloid gossip and conduct herself with poise and decorum making sure to never mention anything contrary regarding the situation.

5. WORST/BEST Lady Gaga. The talented glam pop singer has a pension for stirring things up. Most of the time it is for her outrageously flamboyant outfits that actually landed her the Best Dressed of the Year Award by Vogue Magazine (remember the meat dress she wore to the VMA's?) and other times it is for her misguided public behavior. One moment stood out for us in particular over the summer in June when she wore only a bikini, fishnets and a baseball jersey to a New York Mets game. Inappropriately dressed and apparently "lit", she was moved from her front-row seat and into Jerry Seinfeld’s empty box. When the photographers went to take a picture, she gave them the finger. Cut to several months later and hopefully a bit wiser, Lady Gaga has focused her energy on her role as a rising iconic figure for the Gay community standing up for Gay rights and speaking on behalf of the US military in favor of reversing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” campaign.

6. WORST Mel Gibson. Still fresh in our memory was the actor's anti-Semitic rant following his DUI arrest in 2006 and now Mel has done it again. Gibson was back in the news this July for his massive tantrum caught on audio tape with ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva. After a series of countless allegations including everything from his abusive nature to racist remarks and a bitter custody battle over his daughter, he was finally dropped by his agency, William Morris Endeavor Entertainment.

7. WORST Lindsay Lohan. The innocent Lindsay Lohan of the "Herbie the Love Bug" and "Parent Trap" fame has certainly seen better days. This year found her grappling with endless legal troubles, rehab stints and court hearings. One particular court hearing that took place over the summer made headlines over her controversial nail polish. Miss Lohan had taken the liberty of writing in tiny letters "F--- U" on the nail of her left middle finger. The surveillance cameras in the courtroom caught the blatantly disrespectful message on tape and enlarged it for easier viewing. Within minutes, it was all over the Internet.

8. WORST Charlie Sheen. Playing true to his character on "Two and A Half Men," Charlie Sheen made headlines in October for his reckless and shameful behavior in the famed Eloise Suite at the Plaza Hotel in New York. Just a couple of months fresh out of rehab, Sheen digressed into the world of drugs and escorts and went off the deep end trashing his hotel room while naked and frantically searching for his missing cell phone and wallet. The worst part about the incident was that his ex-wife, Denise Richards, and their two daughters were also staying in the hotel at the time for a planned vacation.

9. WORST Meg Whitman & Jerry Brown. There was quite a bit of mud-slinging leading up to this year's race for Governor of California. A particularly low point found Democrat Jerry Brown's campaign calling Republican challenger, Meg Whitman, a "whore." This came on the heels of another unfortunate incident in which Meg Whitman's housekeeper of 9 years sued her for wrongful termination and hired Gloria Allred to represent her. A series of negative television ads were created by both camps and then fired back and forth for the remainder of the campaign. The smear tactics became so prevalent that it prompted Matt Lauer, who was moderating an impromptu discussion at the Women's Conference between the candidates, to get them to pledge a truce for the final week of the campaign. No such luck, the race was a fight until the bitter end.

10. BEST Nacho Figueras. In comparison to most of the athletes we hear about in the tabloids on a daily basis, Nacho Figueras has all the right stuff. While Tiger and Derek, Brett and Tony are busy getting press for all the wrong reasons, Nacho has been making a positive impression as a charming and passionate polo player and a committed family man. This year he travelled extensively spreading the word about polo and working diligently to turn it into a mainstream sport that is more accessible to the masses. In addition to being a star athlete, he is also a celebrity in his own right as the face of Ralph Lauren’s fragrances and a model for his Black Label collection. His stunning good looks and natural talents could easily make him arrogant and entitled, but instead Nacho is known for his eloquent style, polite nature and genuine friendliness emitting warmth and charisma wherever he goes.

11. BEST Elizabeth Edwards. This December Elizabeth Edwards lost her long battle with cancer. Despite the many months dealing with her husband's unsuccessful campaign for Vice President, the scandal surrounding his infidelity and the fathering of a child with his former aide, Edwards maintained her composure, remained poised and put on a brave face. The words resilience and grace do not even begin to describe her strength and courage as she knew the end was soon approaching. She had these final words to share. “You all know that I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces — my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope. These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined. The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that. And, yes, there are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It’s called being human. But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful. It isn’t possible to put into words the love and gratitude I feel to everyone who has and continues to support and inspire me every day. To you I simply say: you know."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Rules of Regifting - Seinfeld Style

In 1995, an episode of Seinfeld entitled "The Label Maker" was the first time the word regift was coined. It all started with Elaine who purchased a label maker as a Christmas gift for her friend Tim Whatley. He then apparently regifted the item to Jerry as a thank you for Super Bowl tickets Jerry had given him. This obviously upset Elaine and prompted her to exclaim, "He recycled this gift. He's a regifter!" She later discovers that the reason Whatley regifted the label maker was because the label adhesive wasn't strong enough, it was defective.

Holiday time is flush with gift-giving. Composing the long lists of whom to get gifts for and how much to spend. Should I give the person something I like or something I think they will like? Will they be happy with their gift or will it make them want to spit in my egg nog? Even if you spend hours deliberating over what you think may be the perfect gift, chances are it may wind up as a regift to someone else. Couple that with the current state of the economy and the overwhelming unemployment rate and you'll understand why regifting has become a more acceptable pastime. If you are the recipient of a regift or a serial regifter, here are a few etiquette rules we think will ensure goodwill to all this time of year.

1. To save your item from being regifted, make sure it isn't flawed. In Tim Whatley's defense, Elaine's gift was indeed defective and therefore he was unable to use it. Rather than tossing it in the garbage, he decided to pass it along to a friend. Should he have done that? Probably not. One should only regift an item that is in perfect working condition.

2. Inspect each item carefully before regifting. Conduct the equivilent of a Silkwood shower by removing all signs of previous ownership. Make sure there is no hidden writing with a personalized message, monogram or name. There should be no evidence of prior wrapping or packaging torn from being previously opened.

3. Regift items that are relatively new. There is nothing worse than receiving a regift from a store that no longer exists or an item that shows it's age like a boom box with a cassette player. Have the decency to at least re-gift something purchased within the same calendar year.

4. Some items should never be regifted. Gifts that have been opened or used should not be regifted. Nor should one-of-a-kind gifts or handmade gifts from loved ones, as that would be truly crushing. Mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law should never re-gift items received from each other. Some relationships are so fragile that one re-gift given to the housekeeper could send them over the edge, and trust me, you do not need that!

5. Keep detailed records. Make sure you keep careful records each year of who gave you what gifts from holidays past. This will prevent you from accidentally regifting an item to someone who gave you the same gift the year prior.

6. Make the regift look spectacular. If you regift an item, at least take the time to make it look presentable, even spectacular. Purchase some new wrapping paper, tie on a ribbon and attach a well written, thoughtful card to the new recipient.

7. Acceptable circumstances for regifting. (1) If you are financially strapped and you are positive the recipient would enjoy the gift as much or even more than you do. (2) If you are attending a last minute party and do not have time to purchase a hostess gift. (3) If it is an act of generosity such as an article of clothing, a toy or a gift basket that you do not need and would be more appreciated by a local charity organization. (4) If you are participating in a secret holiday gift exchange. The cap for these gifts is typically $20 and just might be the perfect time to unload a re-gifted item that has been stashed in your closet.

8. Regift responsibly. Make wise choices and avoid conflict. Don't regift Uncle Fred, a recovering alcoholic, with a bottle of champagne you received from your client. Don't bring attention to Cousin Sheila's thyroid problem by regifting a giant popcorn canister from the office. And, avoid regifting your sensitive friend Susie with a collection of self-help books you received from your therapist.

9. Accept regifts graciously. Never point fingers at a re-gifter and don't feel obligated to tell the recipient they just received a regift. There is never a good way to mention a regift so it is better to keep this information to yourself on either end of the equation. If you receive a regift, simply accept it with grace and say "thank you". If you are the regifter and you are caught, the best you can do is pass it off as an intentional gag gift and then high tail it to the nearest store to buy something new and fabulous and include a gift receipt!

A final thought to regifters. A gift that is given from the heart that is either handmade or purchased is the best gift of all. Sometimes a re-gift feels like a slap in the face and conveys a feeling of I don't care enough about you to spend the money and that can feel pretty hurtful. Gift giving and receiving should induce pleasure. It should not feel obligatory. After all, it's not about what you give or receive, but the sincere thought that goes into the exchange.

Monday, December 20, 2010

“Naughty vs. Nice” – Why Be Nice When Naughty Seems To Have All the Fun?

I've had a lot of issues with this "naughty versus nice" dilemma. As a mother raising two impressionable girls and an etiquette instructor attempting to make headway in a society where vulgarity is the preferred norm of existence, I have a double interest in the cause. Just listen to the news on any given day and you'll hear countless stories of celebrities, athletes and politicians who have fallen from grace and made headlines with the naughty things they have done. These clips are tenfold in comparison to the lesser known good deeds or simple acts of kindness these same figures may have demonstrated in their past.

What happened to the innocent young children who were once consumed with getting on Santa's good side to ensure a gift? I wonder if they find the naughty side more attractive and appealing? How could they not when they are inundated by these images in the media? This whole "catching flies with honey business" (being nice) isn't necessary in order to grab your 5 minutes of fame. All that is needed is a little cat fighting, some hair pulling and name calling and you're in like flint with a new television contract and a product licensing deal. These are the messages our children are receiving and this is what is influencing their behavior. Although there is still the sprinkling of interstitials by well-known figures reminding us to give to those less fortunate or be mindful of others, those are few and far between and hardly make a difference.

So this December when children everywhere are contemplating their fate to determine which side of Santa's List they will appear on, I thought I'd take a closer look to find out why being nice has fallen by the wayside and being naughty has become the new aspirational goal.

1. Being nice does not mean you have to be a doormat. People sometimes confuse being nice with being a wallflower or a doormat. The type that lets everyone walk all over them. This is absolutely not the case. Being nice does not mean you must be agreeable all of the time or play the martyr. You can be nice and still be real and true to yourself as well as others. Being nice simply means being considerate and respectful. It also implies that you take a moment to put other people's feelings before your own and that you act with civility.

2. Only the good die young. Billy Joel's famous last words remind us that if we are good (nice), then our time on this earth is limited. Could there be some truth to this phrase? How else do we explain the untimely deaths of everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. to Elizabeth Edwards? On the flip side, think about how many rat bastards (naughty people) seem to stick around forever virtually unharmed! Unconsciously, perhaps this is encouraging us to err on the side of naughty to ensure we'll live well into our nineties!

3. Do not confuse the word "nice" with wallflower or milquetoast. A nice person may surprise you. If someone is described as nice, it does not mean they are meek or timid or even unassertive in their nature. It may simply mean that they have mastered the fine art of socialization. Their intentions are not calculated or cold. They do not have to resort to anger or crazy behavior that is typically associated with being naughty or nasty. They are just naturally able to make others feel good while still getting what they want or achieving their goals.

4. Nice guys finish last. The term "nice guy" originated in the dating world to describe a man who was emotionally supportive, kind and considerate towards women. The nice guy was the man who got the woman in the end because he was the marrying kind and would make a good father to their children. Rather than spend a lifetime of heartache and headache chasing the naughty boys, wise women learned to settle down with the nice guy who treated them with respect and put them on a pedestal. Note: Don't underestimate the nice guy, just because they're nice doesn't mean they don't know how to get naughty in the bedroom.

5. It is the nice thing to do. We are constantly being told this phrase by others. Parents especially like to impress this upon their children to teach them how to behave in the world. Oftentimes, these words come across as patronizing and actually have the opposite effect making us want to do the naughty thing instead just out of spite. Rather than making this feel like a chore, we have to begin internalizing the act of being nice to thereby make it feel more automatic. With practice, it should feel more comfortable and natural.

Finally, making a case for a return to nice. Isn't it time we got over all this naughty behavior and concentrated on just being nice? After all, it does reap its own rewards and it certainly feels a lot better. Take Kelly Osbourne, for example. Here's a young girl who was best known for her naughty escapades, lewd behavior and even more crude language on the MTV reality series, "The Osbournes." Now, several years later, she has slimmed down considerably, curbed her language and has actually become quite the young lady appearing as an expert for her generation and commenting on everything from style to deportment. If you were to ask her which way she prefers to view herself, I guarantee it would be in the present form. She has really transformed herself, a far cry from her peer Miss Lindsay Lohan (pictured above) who has continued her naughty ways. So think twice kiddies before making your decision this year and let's see if we can make a concerted effort to lengthen Santa's "nice" side of his list.