Thursday, December 30, 2010

Monday, December 27, 2010

Etiquette for the New Year

The time has come once again to begin to set our sights on the fast approaching New Year. It's Christmas after all and a time for most of us when our families get together to celebrate this joyous holiday. We can look back over the past year and contemplate the many blessings we have received. For me, the year was one for new endings and new beginnings. As I often do, near the start of a new year, I make a list of all of the projects I would like to start or finish during the coming year, dividing them into business, personal, and spiritual. This helps me to set goals and to monitor my progress throughout the year, making necessary adjustments along the way. It's interesting to compare the lists from year to year and in so doing, catch a glimpse of how I am changing both within myself and in my relationship to others. This is a very grounding activity, one which allows reflection as well as an opportunity to be grateful.

The world is facing some very tough challenges in the coming year. Across the globe many societies are in dire need of help. The planet is experiencing the effects of global warming and we are waking up to the idea that we must act responsibly as stewards in order to avert almost certain disaster. The economy is forcing many of us to endure struggles we had never hoped for. And, in many ways, we are coming together as humans to work to solve these problems more cohesively than ever before.

Those of you who have followed this column may have noticed that I have emphasized the need for compassion in our every day lives. What we do every day and how we do it is in fact the etiquette by which we choose to live our lives. The choices we make affect those around us continually. Being aware of how much of an impact we have on others helps us in making our choices. Therefore the more aware we are of what we are doing, the more careful we will be in how we choose to do it. Although this principle is widely accepted, it comes with no manual, no set of instructions on how to make the best choices we can.

During this coming year, I hope people will feel more comfortable putting others first, even if only a little bit more than they do now. I hope we can all learn to give ourselves and each other a break, even if only a little more frequently than we do now. And I hope we can protect our children from making uninformed and potentially harmful choices, even if we reach out to only one child more than we already do. If we all made a conscious effort in the coming year to be a little bit less self absorbed, a little bit more patient, and a little bit more compassionate, especially toward ourselves, we will wake up one day to a happier and more peaceful world.

The golden rules of etiquette will never go out of style and how we choose to use them will define who we really are to the world. Be kind always. Be truthful in all communications. Be grateful for everything. Respect all creatures equally. Have a wonderful New Year filled with joy, good health and many magical moments!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Reader question: Saying it with gifts

Dear Jay,

For many years, our President has hosted a formal holiday party for staff and board members. This year, because of the economy, a decision has been made not to hold it.

I have been asked to put together a card to all employees and board members informing
them, thanking them for their commitment to the organization and wishing them a happy, healthy holiday season.

I am having a VERY hard time putting together appropriate wording - that will not offend, anger, or upset people. And will leave them with a warm fuzzy feeling.

In telling them that the party has been canceled, which is the main purpose of the card, how do I convey that the company is strong, but it is felt that in these sober times it is best to spend money on essentials, without sounding dour or making them feel like the company is not on steady ground?

What should be included in a VERY brief card sent to all employees?

Thank you!

Erin

Dear Erin,

Thanks for asking this good question. You do not need to feel embarrassed. Nor should you take responsibility for another’s feeling by worrying about angering, offending or upsetting them. Remember that your intentions are pure. I would word it something like this. "Due to the severe economic downturn, we have decided to cancel plans for our annual holiday celebration. Although our company is on solid financial ground, it seems inappropriate to display extravagance at this time". I would recommend printing this as a separate insert into the holiday card. The holiday greeting on the card could say, "Thank you for your commitment to (name of company) and wishing you and your family a happy, healthy holiday season".

Another suggestion, Erin, is to have a simpler gathering - if the feeling is that people want to have a gathering. This involves the individuals in the company creating such a gathering. Yes, making things to eat and bringing drinks either alcoholic OR NOT and if anyone insists on gifts let it be a secret Santa type thing with a dollar amount limit on the gift. This is a nice way to celebrate without totally eliminating a holiday gathering-people can wear whatever they like-formal, office dress and it keeps morale up and the spirit of the holidays alive. Simply canceling is depressing-economic mess or not.

-Jay

Fiscally responsible companies owe it to their employees to set a good example in the arena of gift giving. The severity of the current financial crisis is not over yet and is likely to have a permanent effect on personal finances not experienced in almost 80 years. The days of extravagance are over. This is not something we have to apologize about. It is the result of a number of greed motivated factors aligning and bringing us back to a more responsible reality.

Proper etiquette in gift giving is as critical now as ever. The interesting thing about the protocol here is that it is no different than when the economy was racing ahead out of control. People often ask me how much an appropriate amount of money to spend for a gift is, whether it is for a holiday, a birthday or a graduation. There is no set correct answer. One person asked me if they should increase the amount they spend on a child when they reach a certain age. I personally don’t think age is an important consideration.

The bottom line is that you need to examine your own financial situation, decide what you feel you can afford, and then make an informed decision. If you used to spend $100 on a gift and this year you can only spend $50, then so be it. Only you can decide how much your relationship with the person means and how much you can afford to spend. It isn’t the amount of money that is important in gift giving. What is important is the heartfelt thought that went into the selection of the gift. Be sure it is personal.

People who are expecting or even counting on receiving a gift, especially cash, are going to be in for a big surprise. People are scrambling to make mortgage and automobile and insurance payments. Others are striving to eliminate all debt. Lavish gifts and envelopes filled with cash will be taking a back seat. But we do, as a society, love giving gifts. It makes us feel good inside to know that we have made someone else happy and cared for. It shows we have respect for one another and in turn respect for ourselves.

Remember when receiving a gift that someone has put you ahead of themselves one more time. They are not buying your friendship, but they are honoring the relationship they have with you. It is a form of respect which is a universal symbol demonstrating the importance of relationships. Cherish them during the holiday season. Take this
opportunity to reconnect with friends you haven’t seen or spoken to in a long time. You may never know how much gratitude they will feel. The gift of love is priceless. Be generous with it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Etiquette of the Past

Perhaps I had the cart before the horse in last week's musings on etiquette of the future, but as a follow up I am going to discuss briefly etiquette about the past. I went south this week to visit my family and friends which I always enjoy doing. While going through some old boxes from my grandmother, my mother and I discovered some 'treasures'. It always amazes me what people decide to hold onto and what to discard. In this case there was a poem I had written when I was 11 and other notes and letters which were important to a lady who was so influential in my youth. I had to wrack my brain to remember writing the poem and in so doing my mind was flooded with many happy memories. Here is my short poem from 1962:

The Tiny Creche

Simplicity of the tiny creation,
The darkness of the shelter;
Leads me into meditation,
And takes me from my welter.

The stillness of the tiny creche,
It is so good, quiet, and fresh;
The shelter dark, and the figures light,
Gives me the feeling of a mid-winter's night.

There is an angel inside the roof;
I think he is praying, though I have no proof,
And in the manger, Baby Jesus is laying,
With Mary and Joseph beside him praying.

But the small light figures,
Inside the tiny creche
Has made my mind clean and fresh.

This short time which we spent together reminiscing about olden days was an opportunity to remember the values which were instilled in me, namely respect for others, not taking anything too seriously, and valuing your heritage. As we leafed through a photo album which I had never before seen, my ancestors sprang to life and instantaneously revealed the roots from which my whole life philosophy evolved.

Connecting with our past and honoring it in some way can have a very positive effect on our lives. It removes from us our feelings of isolation. It helps to explain and to validate why and how we do the things we have chosen to do. Such opportunities also allow us to connect past and future generations and to share new discoveries with others. Without even realizing what is happening, we place ourselves in the back seat and, if only for a short while, we have a chance to put those who came before us in the forefront of our minds.

Many people today are finding great satisfaction in discovering their roots.Genealogy is as popular as scrap-booking, both of which transport us into another world. These departures are adventures into worlds beyond present time, opportunities to escape the hustle and bustle of our busy lives and to appreciate the people and events that gave us so much pleasure. These searches into our past evolve quickly into passions, even obsessions. When I was a young man I found great joy and fascination by studying my family tree and occasionally filling in missing leaf. Thankfully today, other family members have become equally interested.

This glimpse is a window into the importance we place on our past is also a reflection of traditions we choose to pass onto our children (or others' children should we not have our own). Finding comfort in continuity is a human condition which transcends political fads and foolishness.

Perhaps during this holiday season we will find some time to reflect on the many blessings those who have come before us have given us. Reflecting on the joy in our lives and how we are connected with our past can be very relaxing and peaceful. For those of us who feel loneliness or stress over the holidays can experience some relief by making such connections. We can rediscover why we do the things we do and who shaped our approaches to life. For those of us who get into the full swing of the holiday season, taking the time to really connect with others will help to ground us and make the time we spend with friends and family even more enjoyable. By connecting with our roots, we can find compassion for ourselves and for those around us.

As we unwrap gifts from loved ones we can reminisce about the times we spent together and take the time to appreciate our friendships. We can use this time to show our children how important others are in our lives and in our ability to be happy. Demonstrating by example the positive influence our friends and family have on us today helps those around us see how to be appreciative of how short life is, to be thankful for even the smallest blessing, and most importantly to put the needs of others ahead of our own.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Etiquette of the Future

I was fortunate enough recently to attend the 2nd 21 inc Ideas Festival. This conference was hosted in partnership with the Public Policy Forum and followed on the success of the first such event held two years ago. The focus of the forum was to examine how tomorrow's leaders will evolve from today's global economic climate and how their priorities will differ. The etiquette of tomorrow will need to be flexible, yet play a key role in how we as a province succeed on the international front.

The depth of quality of speakers and presenters that Tim Coates and his associates assembled was even greater than the first conference and I was privileged to listen to and meet some of Canada's greatest minds. From Roots of Empathy author Mary Gordon to Roger Jackson, the olympic gold medal winning oarsman and CEO of Own The Podium to newly elected Premier David Alward, the guests were treated to wonderful discussions on the visions these people and others have for the future of business in New Brunswick.

There appears to be a shift from focusing primarily on making as much money as possible to being as happy as possible. This is a large generational leap and one which, in my opinion, will result in a more civil business climate as well as a more successful one. I believe, as do many of my colleagues, that civility in the workplace is the key to improved productivity and innovative thinking. The effect that simply being a little nicer to those people with whom we work and do
business, i.e. our co-workers and our clients, has the potential to change the face of how we do business throughout the world.

I was somewhat surprised at the casual interchangeability of the words "Chinese" and "Asian". As time goes on, it will be increasingly important to be aware that Asia today is comprised of as many as 17 different countries, each with its own distinct culture and way of doing business. To compete and be a real player internationally, companies must not only be aware of these sometimes not-so- subtle differences, but take steps to understand and respect them as well. Asian history predates Western history by millennia and therefore their patterns and habits of intercultural discourse are even more deeply seated than we can imagine.

This is not to say that respect for our fellow man is going to change in any fundamental way. It does mean however that there will need to be a more sensitive and fuller awareness in understanding and respecting other people. Much of the political posturing in the world today smacks of bullying and is based in greed and distrust. The "millennial" generation is already becoming aware of this necessity, but is often lacking the diplomatic skills which would make this
new way of interacting, both socially and in business, easier and more genuine.

Taking the time to study the people from whatever country we plan to do business with and to understand what really makes them tick is time well spent. This is an exciting time in world history (not unlike most times), and a chance for us to become global citizens in character and responsibility. The old adage, "people like doing business with people they like and trust", has never rung more true than it does today. What a privilege it is to meet and befriend people from all over the world! We all want to live in a world where peace reigns supreme. In order to this we must conduct ourselves in ways which demonstrate a real respect for other cultures. We would do ourselves a favor by dropping the notion that we are in some ways superior to others and that our ways of doing things is the best way for everyone. This is simply not true and evident in light of recent international financial hardships and failures.

As humans we all have frailties. It is our nature. With these frailties also comes a need for compassion and respect. If today's leaders cannot show us how to do this by example, we must be prepared to raise the bar ourselves. The greatest message for me which came from the conference was a line from Mr. Jackson where he stated that "hope is not a strategy". We must take action and we must take it now, much the way he did by devising the system whereby Canada had the best winter Olympics, in terms of medals won, ever! Canada is a great country and the Atlantic provinces are well positioned to be leaders on the world stage. By acting with greater civility and having more respect and compassion for all of mankind, we're well on our way!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

The gift of gift-giving

For many, the holiday season can be summed up as festive. For others, however, it can be painfully depressing and stressful. These emotional extremes often involve family and gift-giving. Generosity and inadequacy swirl around the Christmas tree while compassion and gratitude sometimes play a secondary role.

There is perhaps no more important time of year for us to be grateful while being generous.

In thinking of others compassionately, let's include ourselves. Try to bolster what you may experience as inadequacy and believe that you too are appreciated and part of a larger holiday picture.

It is a widely held view that the first Christmas gifts were the gold, frankincense and myrrh given to Jesus. These are considered hidden treasures, holding significant spiritual meaning. Both their spiritual and intrinsic values are the true symbolism behind the gifts we exchange today.

O. Henry in The Gift of the Magi summarizes (and I paraphrase) in his final paragraph the meaning of giving at this season:

The magi, as you know, were wise men - wonderfully wise men - who brought gifts to the babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones. Oh, all who give and receive gifts such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

Throughout history, special and significant gifts have been given from one person to another as a way of commemorating this tradition, but also to show our love for family and friends. Many extend this gesture into our communities to ensure so as many people as possible can share in this tradition.

Many have their tightened belts when deciding how much money we can afford to spend this holiday season. There are many gifts that we give year-round to people that cost nothing.

Sharing a simple experience with someone, even a game of checkers or a walk in the park, can qualify as a priceless gift. Visiting with people who are suffering from an illness or old age is a gift of enormous importance. Have you ever stopped to think how much you treasure some of the personal notes and letters received over the years? We can all create such messages with little effort and time.

For those who prefer giving tangible gifts, there has been a shift away from discretionary and luxury items to those that are useful.

Food is always a favourite in my family, especially something the whole family can enjoy making or giving together. I actually look forward to a jar of green tomato pickle with as much anticipation as anything else. I think I would be quite sad if it didn't arrive.

Warm clothes, kitchen gadgetry and some favourite chocolates can often carry with them the meaning that someone thought about what we personally need and enjoy.

How a gift is received can be as important as the gift itself. If we feel genuine gratitude upon receipt of a gift, we give that gift double strength. Likewise, if our gift is small in stature, the sincerity with which it is given has an untold power to make someone happy.

Remember to be grateful for your family and friends this holiday season even though you may have intermittent disagreements. Have compassion for those who have their own, often deeply private, struggles. Give extra hugs and smile often. Share with children - your own and others - the real meaning of the holidays.

The phrase "it is better to give than to receive" has much more meaning when we learn to give with the same passion and energy with which we receive. The surprising thing about this simple act is that it takes very little practice before we become real pros. Get out and practise. Put your heart into it, and feel your spirits soar.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

'Tis The Season - Almost

Lately readers have been very forthcoming with their questions about families and holidays. The season will soon be upon us and excitement and enthusiasm can be mixed with anxiety and impatience. Let's see if sharing some of their concerns can help to alleviate some of yours.

Elizabeth wrote in these comments and questions.

Dear Etiquette Guy,

I get very annoyed if my dinner guests (who are often in-laws) do not use their napkins. Is this just a lack of good manners on their part and poor upbringing? I have another question brought on by a situation where a waitress picked up my napkin and placed it on my lap before taking my order. Was this the "proper" thing for her to do? Actually, it was a rather high class eating place and I assumed this must be done at such a place, as I could not imagine it happening at your local Pizza Hut. Perhaps you can set me right as to the do's and don'ts of napkin etiquette. Thank you.

Elizabeth

Dear Elizabeth,

Your in-laws are exhibiting a lack of manners most likely as a result of an up bringing where manners were not as important as they are to you and being taught these basics was not emphasized. As you are noticing, if you teach etiquette fundamentals at an early age, you might well avoid awkward moments such as this later on as children reach adulthood. As far as the placing of the napkin on your lap by the waitress goes, in some high end restaurants this is the custom. My advice to you is of course always to follow the lead of your host or hostess. What should happen is as soon as everyone is seated, the host or hostess should unfold their napkin on their lap and the guests should in turn follow. If there is no host to follow, once everyone (even if it's two) are seated, the napkin should be unfolded on your lap. If this is not done, an attentive waiter will likely do it for you. This is not to be construed as being rude or condescending, but rather as a silent service gesture to indicate that the rituals of the meal are underway. It is a way of communicating to the guest that the staff is now ready to serve you. I hope this answers your question. EG

Another reader wondered, "I was thinking maybe a little closer to the holidays you might do a column about etiquette for children. You know, people drag them everywhere especially at Christmas time, and there’s no time of the year when they’re so spoiled and wound up. You could have fun with that one!"

Fun indeed! Christmas is a time of year when children are the focus. The holiday does after all celebrate the birth of a child. There are so many traditions associated with holiday times which are filled with family memories. Passing these traditions on to our children is important. In order to ensure that these busy times will be filled with joy, there are a few ground rules which may be helpful. The safety of your family and your pets is of the utmost importance. Making sure all electrical wiring and cords are in perfect condition and out of the reach of small, exploring hands is key. Keep poisonous substances such as chocolates and Poinsettias out of the reach
of dogs.

Take time with your children to be together without the hustle and bustle of the mall, bazaar, parade, etc. Decorating the house, baking cookies, reading a Christmas story, watching a holiday film, listening to and singing Christmas songs. Driving through your town after dusk and looking at the Christmas displays are the special times that allow you to do fun things together and to create memories.

Try to plan and schedule your time as well as possible including time for shopping, wrapping, cooking, cleaning, and on it goes. A wonderful way to teach children is to include them in of these activities. This kind of experience is a wonderful way for them to have a hands-on idea of how things are done.

‘Tis the season to think of others. This is the surest way to have the most enjoyable holiday season. This is also a way to teach children about sharing and caring for others. The simple act of putting a can of soup in the Food Bank collection box will become a life lesson, one which they will take and practice throughout their lives. Now you have created a tradition.

Be grateful for the many blessings which surround us - family, friends, delicious food and good cheer. There is a familiar saying - "it is better to give than to receive". This time of year is when this saying comes to life. It instills gratitude in ourselves and others which stretches throughout the year.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

Holiday Obligations

Ready or not, it's that time of year again. This holiday season, some people will find themselves in the same quandary as years past. Do we drive to see our families, or do we get them to come to us for a change? A reader recently wrote me this question; my answer follows.

Dear Etiquette Guy,

This will be my first holiday season in my own apartment with my boyfriend of 2 1/2 years. As excited as I am to decorate, bake and enjoy the holidays as an adult, I am a little concerned about how to handle some of the holiday activities.

We are going to see our entire family (his and mine) on Thanksgiving. Is it wrong of us to want to spend Christmas Day in our own home this year instead of hiking from house 1, house 2, etc.? My family has a bit of an old mentality, and expects us to be there since we are 1) not married yet and 2) are not hosting the holidays ourselves.

Should we suck it up and travel all day during Christmas, or enjoy a couple's Christmas in the place we worked so hard to obtain?

Thanks for your advice,

L.P.

Dear L.P.,

Thanks for asking this really good question. I have found myself in this position both as a single person with a significant other and as a married person. My experience tells me that parents usually do want their children to make the trek, sometimes even if they are burdened with kids. I can totally identify with your position of wanting to spend Christmas in your home with your beloved. My advice is to be as compassionate to yourselves and to your families as possible. This means being accommodating when possible, yet protecting your private time as well and without feelings of guilt. I think family traditions become traditions because most of the time they work well. If you step and back and look at the big picture, you in fact may be the most flexible; in which case you would be appropriately expected to bend more.

This in no way diminishes your desire to spend a quiet private Christmas in your own home. The symbolism which surrounds that is very strong and important. It is also resilient. My advice is to follow your instincts and "suck it up". Be grateful that you have two families to visit on such an important holiday.

I hope this helps,

Jay

We all have challenging schedules. The larger our families and extended families grow, the more complicated these schedules become. When I was young, our holiday schedules were fixed. Routines were never broken and we knew what was to be expected of us and of our valuable time. As I grew older and my own world expanded, my time had to be more cleverly divided. The holidays are times when we want everyone to be happy and feel as though they are the most important people in the world. From a practical and logistical view point, this is not always possible. My rule of thumb is that those family members who are most senior in age deserve the most consideration for a lot of obvious reasons. Many are on a fixed income and travel is too expensive. Elderly people don't travel as easily as they once did physically. In the end it is easier to call on them or to spend the holidays with them than it is to expect them to do so.

Married couples are often faced with deciding which in laws to spend time with. Many have no choice but to drive between both families, weather conditions cooperating or not. This is trying, but it is often times the only solution. The festivities around the holidays carry with them many traditions which families want to share and pass on to their children and grandchildren. These traditions are important to a healthy society and facilitating this within a family is a good thing.

In addition to sharing with your larger families, the holidays are a time to create your own traditions. Pick a day during the season to spend with one another. Decide to cook a special meal, open a gift. Decorations can be put up and removed at your discretion. I have a friend who keeps a few Christmas items around her house all year long. It’s all up to you.

I can think of no better time of year than to pass on the number one cardinal rule of etiquette. Put others first. Whenever possible, this is a guideline not to be ignored. If we take the time to consider what may be best for others, we can be surprised at how easy it for us to be accommodating. The old adage "it is more blessed to give than to receive" became an old adage because it is the right thing to do.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010

Honor Our Troops

November 11 is Remembrance Day. This is the time day when we take a moment to give thanks and pay respect to the men and women all over the world from countries far and wide whose jobs it was to protect the free world? We are reminded of the ultimate sacrifice they made. We honor past fallen heroes as we watch the news of the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq. So many countries work together towards the common goal of a free world. We so often not only take for granted the choices that we can make, but in fact that we have the ability to make those choices at all. On Remembrance Day we show our gratitude.

Many of us have seen the advertisements on television showing troops carrying their heavy gear through crowded airports to the cheers and applause of well wishers. Some troops are going off to war; others are returning; yet others are on their first trip to basic training. What a nice way to openly show our gratitude. We take a moment; look them each squarely in the eye; smile and say thank you. Some will likely not return.

Remembrance Day is an official flag flying day too. Customarily, the flag is raised in the morning and lowered to half mast from 11 am to 12 Noon, when it is once again raised fully.

The armed forces serve to protect our country from harm and to help defend democracy around the world. They also are a wonderful way for young men and women to get a great education and to learn how to impart good values to their own children as well as to children overseas left homeless as a result of war and bloodshed.

The natural disasters which occur on an unfortunately unpredictable and frequent basis are further occasions for various branches of the military to come to our rescue. It amazes me how often I read about the National Guard moving in to help out in one serious situation after another. Those men and women are so skillfully trained in so many important skills. Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, forest fires and other forces of nature leave a path of destruction. We are so blessed to have a well trained army of people who can step up to the plate when called upon. Remembrance Day remembers those who lost their lives in this line of duty as well.

I think about the day when war will sleep. The world will be quiet from gun blasts and rocket fire. Pirates will no longer threaten our precious cargo. Disagreements between us will be handled civilly. We as a human race can value life for what it is, free of discrimination, free of oppression, free of the need to exert unnecessary power over our fellow man. Until that time, our armed forces are important. There are tens of thousands of troops strategically placed around the globe keeping a watchful eye over potential harm. Second guessing the master minds of evil, while at the same time battling the dreaded diseases and poverty of the third world, are all in a days work for these brave men and women in uniform. And their valiant efforts were not done on some lush tropical island with gentle breezes. These folks were subject to the worst of conditions with danger lurking around every corner.

I like days like Remembrance Day. It is another of those punctuations on the calendar which reminds us to count our blessings and to be mindful of those who made our life of freedom possible. The next time you see an enlisted person in uniform, take a moment to look them in the eye and extend your hand from your heart to theirs. It shows how much respect we have for them and how much the dangerous jobs that they have chosen do not go unnoticed by any one of us. They will appreciate this kind gesture and so will your heart.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

More Civility on the Roads

I received this letter from a reader several weeks ago. As I was sitting at my desk watching winter approach, I thought that perhaps a column addressing driving might be a good idea. Driving in the snow and ice of New Brunswick present its own set of problems. Let’s first address the concerns of this reader.

Dear Jay:

I was disappointed that your previous column, "Civility rules on the road, too," did not address civility between different users of the road, as for example, automobiles and pedestrians or automobiles and bicycles.

In particular, I wish that more automobile drivers were aware of the following:

1) Your "right" to make a right turn at a red light is limited by the presence of pedestrians crossing the road in front of you.

2) Even though pedestrian-activated red lights are not part of what you personally may consider to be part of the normal signal cycle, you are still required to stop for them. If you fail to notice them in time because you are driving too fast or because you are overly distracted, as for example by your cell phone, it is your responsibility to amend your behavior, not the pedestrian's responsibility to stay out of your way.

3) Where a sidewalk crosses the entrance or exit to a driveway or parking lot, pedestrians on the sidewalk have the right of way, as do cyclists moving along the right-hand side of the road. You are required to wait until the way is clear for you to proceed. Patience is a virtue, possess it if you can...

4) Cyclists are required to ride along the right-hand side of the paved roadway. They are not required to ride on unpaved surfaces, across broken glass, through potholes that would rip their front wheels off, etc. If the presence of a cyclist at the right-hand side of the paved roadway does not leave enough room for you to pass, this does not give you license to run the cyclist off the road. You need to wait until you have room to pass safely. Patience is a virtue...

And finally, a word addressed specifically to young male drivers:

While you personally may think it fun to yell at pedestrians and cyclists as you go by in order to see if you can make them jump, no one else thinks it's fun. Grow up - or turn in your license until you're mature enough to handle it.

S.R.W.

Dear S.R.W.,

Thanks for pointing out these important rules which people do tend to forget. There is a civility which must be practiced while driving, peddling and walking so no one gets injured. It is advisable for pedestrians to walk on the left side of the street, thereby facing into oncoming traffic. This enables them to clearly see approaching vehicles and step off the road surface if possible as they pass. Cyclists need to stay to the far right hand side of the road when motor vehicles are passing. In many communities there are actual bike lanes specifically designated for their safety. The addition of more of these lanes will only enhance the safety of those riding bikes. Motor cycles and automobiles must follow traffic rules carefully and be prepared for any surprises that a pedestrian or cyclist may present. Even though there are designated cross walk areas in many towns, out of town visitors, of which we have many here in this tourist town, may be unaware of them and are particularly vulnerable.

Children need to learn about traffic and traffic rules at an early age. Although there are often well marked signs prohibiting bicycles on sidewalks, a lot of folks are unaware of them. Children feel and are safer riding on the sidewalks, signs or no signs. However it is up to a parent to teach their children that pedestrians have the right of way on or off sidewalks. This is an easy way to begin to instill the concept of respect for other in the minds of our youth. Being aware of traffic safety regulations protects youngsters against traffic dangers.

As far as driving around here in the winter, the same rules apply. However, because it is far more difficult to stop or swerve on an icy pavement, great caution must be practiced. Test your brakes from time to time as road conditions change. Drive defensively and slower than you normally would. There are also deer that leap onto the road coming seemingly out of no where. To enable you to be as safe as possible in the winter, make sure your car is winterized by a licensed mechanic. Keep warm clothes or blankets in the car. Remember to charge your cell phone and carry it with you in case of an emergency. Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return. If you are going to travel a long distance, check road and highway conditions before hand to be prepared for any delays. By taking these few precautionary measures, your winter travel will be safer. Erring on the side of caution demonstrates the respect you have for your fellow travelers and for you as well.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Etiquette of Making Small Talk

Last week's column prompted a reader to ask me to go into greater depth about how to initiate conversations at the dinner table, especially with people you don't know well. What encouraged me to pursue this topic was partly because it is a skill which is incredibly useful to have; and also the person asking me to talk the art of conversation seemed to me to be self assured and a good conversationalist, yet shared with me the fright and discomfort they feel when they find themselves in this very situation.

Whether you find yourself at a business mixer or a large family dinner, there will be times when you find yourself face to face with a stranger, be it a new business acquaintance or a distant cousin. The silence which can linger can make both people feel uncomfortable and starting a short conversation is one of the easiest ways to break the ice. It is as simple as beginning with, "hello my name is" and moving on to ' isn't this a lovely gathering; I'm glad to be here tonight with such interesting company."

When meeting someone for the first time in any situation, be prepared to shake hands, standing up straight and with confidence. Smile and repeat the person's name a couple of times in the next few sentences to help you remember it. Diving into personal questions or areas where there could be a difference of opinion, such as religion and politics, is best avoided during the initial introductions. Stick to noncontroversial topics such as the lovely hospitality, the weather, world news, food, books and hobbies. It helps to stay current on world events. Matters of health, wealth, gossip, age and other unpleasant subjects can also wait until a relationship of a more familial nature develops.

I find that people do enjoy talking about themselves and in a way, because it is such familiar territory, it relaxes them and makes conversation easier, albeit a bit one sided. Speaking about your family and other personal interests opens the door for your new acquaintance to ask questions or reveal information of a similar nature without fear of embarrassment. Finding common ground is the end result of these initial exchanges, which although referred to as small talk, can have a very large influence on what sort of first impression you make and how successful the friendship might be in the future.

While logic would lead you to believe that your initial nervousness and discomfort can be eased by talking about subjects near and dear to you, the same can also happen when you focus your attention on putting the other person's level of comfort ahead of your own.

Have you ever noticed how the different tones of voice and topics of discussion change from when men are speaking to other men and women to other women, to when men and women are speaking to one another? This is our inherent, often disguised way of posturing for position and this posturing can differ greatly from one situation to another. This is where the black and white lines of the social and the business worlds become spectrums of grey. Being aware of your tone of voice and being sensitive to other people's feelings helps to make it easier not to cross lines inappropriately.

Although the nature of these initial conversations appears unimportant on the surface, it does reveal a great deal about the speaker, especially his personality. Such seemingly superfluous chats can be quite brief and act as catalysts for more substantial, perhaps even urgent matters; or they can carry on indefinitely as is occasionally the case with some difficult family relationships.

The ability to be comfortable initiating these opening conversations comes very naturally to some people; to many others it takes time and practice. The effort put into honing these skills is well worth it. As mentioned last week, the dinner table is a perfect training ground for such practice. As adults, it is our responsibility to teach our youth, tomorrow's leaders, these important skills, and with practice, they become comfortable and healthy habits. Feeling confident and at ease around strangers makes it far easier not only to make friends but to begin establishing meaningful relationships.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Reader Question: Invitation Debacles

Whose responsibility is good manners?

I am often asked questions which revolve around guilt and blame. Good manners and civility, even though based on common sense, tend to bear their fair share of this topic. I received this letter recently which is a textbook example illustrating the lengths people will go to in order to blame others and avoid feeling guilt as a result of their own basic lack of respect for others, in this case their own family.

Question: Dear Jay,

I was hoping you would lend your impartial ear to this debate between my brother and I. This Saturday was my son's 5th birthday and, earlier in the week, my wife and I decided we would invite the grandparents and uncles (my two brothers) over to celebrate. My son had his own party with his friends in the morning, but we were hoping family could stop in Saturday evening just to socialize a bit. I called my brother on Thursday evening and left a cell phone message asking him to call me, and then I left a Facebook message with his girlfriend also saying we wanted to get together over the weekend. He called me back and left a message, but due to some cell phone problems, I never received his message. On Saturday, he called me to tell me he had plans Saturday and would not be able to come over. He also informed me that it was rude to ask him to Saturday's birthday get together on Thursday evening. He had plans with his girlfriend and felt that this was not enough advance notice. It should be mentioned that my brother lives in town and does not work on the weekends. I thought a Thursday notification was not unreasonable, given that he knew his nephew's birthday was coming up and that we have had the family over for every birthday in the past. Again, this was a get together of just the immediate family and I left my initial message vague because I was willing to negotiate the time of the "party". He attempted to reach me a few times by my faulty cell phone, but never spoke with me directly about the matter until Saturday. He could have e-mailed me at any point and he could have called my house phone. I would greatly appreciate your opinion on how this situation unfolded and whether or not I should feel guilty for not informing of him of the get together before Thursday.

THANKS! - Confused

P.S. I would like to add that my wife and I did not even formulate the plan ourselves until Tuesday or Wednesday. We are both full time teachers with two young sons...so things sometimes get rather busy and thwart advanced planning.

Dear Confused,

Thanks for asking this important question. You are a master of making excuses. Unfortunately none of them are any good. You and your wife are not the first people on the planet to hold down two full time jobs and have two young children. If this is your son's fifth birthday and you and your wife can't arrange a party until three days prior to the date, why would you assume your brother would have his schedule open for you, - simply because you've had such a party in the past? If your cell phone doesn't work, you need to tell people and get it fixed. No one is a mind reader. Clearly your system of communicating using facebook, emails and cell phones doesn't work. I suggest picking up the telephone. Even consider enlisting the help of your collective parents to track down the errant sibling. But don't blame your brother for your negligence. Let's face it, the birthday party for a five year old child, which is in fact not even the real birthday party with the cake, etc. will not trump previously made plans with a girl friend. Such a gathering barely made it onto your own books. Finally, in life woulda, coulda, shoulda does not count. Hindsight works all the time and is an unfair argument. What you must practice is foresight, and try not to create so much ado about nothing.

You must remember that as the host of a party, it is your sole responsibility to make sure everything runs smoothly. That includes extending invitations in a timely manner. As far as feeling guilty about all of this, my advice to you is to let it go. Guilt is a huge negative energy drain on all of us who find the need to carry it. You did nothing illegal. You did not harm anyone. Your intentions were good. Learn from this experience and don't do it again. I hope this helps.

Jay

Let this be a gentle reminder that good manners begin at home. By practicing them consistently, you will instill in your children healthy social behavior. Respecting one another will always stand us in good stead for the challenges life provides us.

Monday, October 25, 2010

CHCT Etiquette Guy Episode 3

Another episode from the my local show on CHCT:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Etiquette Guy on CHCT TV

Those of you from outside my home region of St. Andrews, New Brunswick might not realize I have my own TV show on the local station CHCT that discusses different etiquette subject each week. Check it out:

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Etiquette of Thoughtfulness

Recently I had the honor of teaching a short dining etiquette class to a group of 50 senior high school students from across the province. They are participating in a leadership program designed to give them helpful tools in either continuing their educations or entering the competitive world of employment. This potentially daunting exercise turned out to be one the most exciting of my career. Dining skills in and of themselves are important to learn. They build self confidence, help you to make a good impression during a meeting or job interview, and they make the entire dining experience more pleasurable and successful.

I decided to focus on one of the most important of all dining skills during this workshop, namely conversation. How we speak to one another and what topic we choose to speak about play a significant role in determining the overall mood of the meal and even influence how well be digest the food and utilize its nutrients. One of the arts of conversation which are slipping away is that of speaking to the person seated on one side of you during the first course, and to the person on seated on your other side during the second course. I find this guideline quite restrictive if followed to the letter; however it is a very useful way to break the silence around the table and to avoid general mayhem. This can be extremely helpful with a group of people who are meeting
for the first time.

I helped the students along with this exercise by choosing a variety of inspirational words to use as topics. Each of the words was numbered from one to nine, copied onto bits of paper, folded and put into a paper bag. Everyone picked a word randomly from the bag and proceeded to the table with the number corresponding to the word, not knowing with whom they would be sitting. Each table was asked to discuss their word, albeit briefly, to help to set the mood for the meal and to help to make learning the rest of the steps of dining etiquette more enjoyable. The words included compassion, respect, self respect, harmony, and so forth. Although this exercise caught both the students and their teachers a bit by surprise, for the most part everyone participated in
and enjoyed it.

I asked each table to then have a short round table discussion during the third (dessert) course about the particular topic and to choose a leader to deliver a one minute summary of the discussion surrounding it. Clearly there had been some real thought given to the discussions and the words seemed to really come to life. Each speaker communicated what the significance of the words meant to them as a group. It is heartwarming to watch people speak about these topics cheerfully, clearly and from the heart. This was of course the point of the exercise. The best conversations to have around the dinner table are those which are uplifting and which reinforce the principles of a healthy and civil society.

The more mundane skills such as how to butter and eat a dinner roll, which water glass is yours, and how to properly hold and use a knife and fork all became easier to understand and execute. Everyone was at ease despite the fact that they were sitting with people whom they had never met and were being taught skills which they wished they should already have known.

Several days later I was discussing this process with some of my friends and one of them suggested that these kinds of discussions should take place on a regular basis, not only in schools but at home as well. Naturally I concurred. Discussing principles which guide us through our busy lives in a healthy productive way are good topics of conversation around any dinner table. Being well grounded in such topics as respect, civility and compassion is what makes a strong foundation for tomorrow's leaders. I applaud the schools for recognizing and promoting this and thank them for the honor of assisting them in their efforts.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Reader Questions: Funerals and Etiquette

I have recently received a number of unrelated questions concerning the subject of funerals. Funerals and memorial services are somber occasions for many, but the celebration of life is what is important to me. Here is a sample of some of the queries.

Hello Jay,

I am a regular reader of your column. Would you please address sometime, funeral parlor visitation etiquette? It has been my experience that "visitors" often spend too much time reminiscing with the bereaved, especially when there is a lengthy line of people waiting to pay their respects. I feel that it would be more appropriate after expressing condolences to say "lets get together in a few weeks and catch up" instead of talking and talking as others wait their turn. It may be a sensitive issue and I don't suppose the parlor staff would be comfortable in "moving things along". What are your thoughts? Keep the columns coming!

J.H.

Dear J.H.,

I recently spent a couple of hours at a local funeral parlor speaking with the funeral director and his staff. We discussed, among other things, receiving lines and how long it can take to navigate them. There are a couple of considerations. First of all, a long receiving line can take a long time to go through. This is not comfortable for anyone involved, be it the bereaved or their guests. If there are several family members present at the funeral home, consider not having a line. Family members can be given the task of circulating amongst the guests and accept their condolences on behalf of the family. This avoids unnecessarily long conversations with only one person in a line where it is important to move along as quickly as possible.

As far as receiving lines are concerned you will have to practice patience. The family in mourning is certainly not in a hurry to go anywhere nor is the deceased. Out of respect, it is your turn to wait. If you are not prepared for a lengthy line return at a different time; it is utterly disrespectful to think that things ought to at these moments accommodate your needs.

At a Catholic wake, it is traditional to have a receiving line and/or have elderly relatives seated near the family greeting people paying their respects. Wakes take place over a number of hours. Sometimes the family divides the time between several days or two 3 hour periods for receiving persons. This makes a lot of sense to me. But the number of persons who attend a wake is very variable and there is very little way to predict numbers and length of lines. Be prepared to be respectful and spend the time needed if it is your intention to pay your respects to the family who has suffered the loss.

If you feel that it is applicable, keep your condolence remarks brief and move along through the receiving line.

Jay

Dear Jay,

Close friends of ours recently lost their young son very unexpectedly. While attending the services I noticed people handing over envelopes to the family. My parents told me that people donate money to the family to help with funeral costs. Should I do the same and how much is appropriate?

Thank you.

Phyllis

Dear Phyllis,

Thanks for asking this good question. What a very sad situation. There are many ways people can help at such times. Helping with the costs of a funeral is completely appropriate. Other envelopes might simply be condolence cards or in the case of a Catholic death, Mass cards. If the family has asked for donations to a charity in lieu of flowers, that is another option and appreciated by the bereaved. Naturally, what you can afford to give is contingent on your own personal financial situation. There is no specific amount which is correct. You could also donate to the charity if you are so inclined and able. Whatever you are able to do will not go unnoticed or taken for granted. I hope this helps.

Jay

Dear Jay,
Is it customary, necessary or expected that a widow write thank you cards in response to sympathy cards. I have received over 50 and to reply would be a very daunting task.

Pat

Dear Pat,

Thanks for asking this good question. A notice in the local newspaper is sometimes published for the family. In most instances it is polite to at some point acknowledge the cards and letters which have been received. This is a daunting task and might takes months. Printed thank you cards are usually supplied by the funeral home and are the way for the family to acknowledge the kindness of people at a horrendously difficult time. Further if a charity is named in lieu of flowers, the charity will supply you with a list of those who made donations (not the amount of the donation). It is appropriate to acknowledge these people with a hand written note. I hope this helps.

Jay

Remember that if you go to a funeral or a memorial service that respect is the order of the day. Dress appropriately. You do not have to wear black. Men ought to remove their hats and caps upon entering the house of worship. Children should be dressed appropriately and should be well exercised, fed and been to the bathroom before the service so as to create the least disturbance. This is another opportunity for one’s parenting skills to be employed. Teaching young people about respect at such occasions is important. It also is a time for us to reflect on the many blessings we have in our own lives and how fragile life is.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thanksgiving

Ready or not, it's that time of year again when we pop that oversized turkey into the oven and hope for the best and that it's moist and delicious! Perhaps it's time to shine the silver and polish the wine glasses reserved for special occasions. It is most certainly a time for families to get together and give thanks for the bounty provided by the good earth and for the many blessings of our lives. Although gratitude is an expression of thanks which we hopefully develop as a habit, even in our busy lives, Thanksgiving Day has rituals and customs which are special. For one thing, it is a time when families and close friends gather to share in a feast. In many cases, guests are asked to help out by either providing a part of the meal, such as a vegetable dish, a dessert, an hors d'oeuvres or even by performing a task such as carving the turkey.

I am often asked to carve the bird or roast wherever I go for reasons, which still elude me. I imagine if a host is not acquainted with carving it will be left to someone like me or another guest. And there are those times when speed and precision do come in handy if the host is not adept at carving. Perhaps the art of carving which is an intricate part of the Thanksgiving holiday and a tradition ought to be part of an etiquette lesson. As with any skill, if it is taught properly and practiced it will make a perfect addition to any holiday. Whoever is carving, be sure that there is a sharp knife available and all the other tools necessary to make carving and serving the all-important bird on Thanksgiving. There are many ways of carving just as there are many recipes for cooking the perfect turkey. All methods work when executed properly.

This celebration comes at the end of the fall harvest. This year's bounty was especially plentiful and therefore there is a lot for which to be thankful. Expressing our thanks is an important tradition to pass on to our children and grandchildren. Instilling the virtues of feeling thanks and giving thanks are customs which permeate human societies everywhere. It is what makes societies healthy and able to thrive.

In the seemingly busy lives which we lead, sometimes we not only forget to give thanks but we also are guilty of not feeling gratitude in the first place. Such occasions as Thanksgiving afford us the opportunity to take the time to both feel and express our gratitude for the lives with which we are blessed. Perhaps focusing on only that for which are grateful gives us a chance to see some of our hardships and challenges as opportunities. Even family squabbles can be put into perspective and viewed in a different light if we were to stop and count our blessings of even having a family with whom to celebrate in the first place.

As I have discussed in previous columns, I am not a fan of putting people on the spot at the dinner table. However, there is no better place for people to be given the opportunity to express what they are feeling thankful for than at the table. If offered as a voluntary chance to speak, those who are in the mood and feel so moved can show others how easy it is, and by their example encourage more shy people to at least consider giving it a try. Who knows, with any luck, one day everyone sitting around the table will feel not only grateful but moved to express their feelings.

Of all meals, the Thanksgiving dinner is one where almost all of us stop to give thanks to the source of all of our bounty, no matter what that source may be. We give thanks for the food, our shelter, our health, the many opportunities set before us and our friendships and love for our families, friends, neighbors and others who make our lives complete.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I hope the gratitude we feel at this time of year is expressed freely and continues throughout this and every year!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Say Thank-You, Often

A couple years have come and gone since my first column on etiquette was published. I am very grateful for all the positive feedback I’ve received as well as ideas for additional columns. So I am taking this opportunity to say thank-you and to discuss the whole etiquette behind saying thank-you. The very first thank-you notes I wrote were for Christmas presents. My mother, sister and I would sit down the day after Christmas with our boxes of note cards and lists of gifts and who had given them to us. Everyone who had given us a gift received a hand written thank-you note. This at first seemed like a daunting task for an eight year old, but as the years rolled by it became a routine which we looked forward to. Learning to compose a note that had some personality was the challenge. Penmanship was also important. Cards with mistakes had to be discarded and begun anew. In this day and age where actual hand writing has unfortunately taken a backseat to the computer, penmanship is atrocious. Teachers take note! Even students in high school can barely write their names in a legible way. Nonetheless, I have received numerous heartfelt notes from students which meant a great deal to me. And because they were so personal, I know the gratitude that the students felt was sincere.

There are many times when writing a note of thanks is important. There also is a certain feeling of warmth that one gets from writing them. You should send a thank-you note when you are given a gift, sent flowers, asked to lunch or dinner, invited for a weekend, asked to a concert or performance of some kind or when someone does something nice or helpful in a business or social situation such as an introduction or letter of reference. I write far too few thank-you notes. However, I do make a point of phoning whenever I am invited to dinner. People appreciate knowing that the effort that went into cooking dinner and the camaraderie of the time spent together with friends was genuinely enjoyed.

There is an excellent book which was recently published by a colleague of mine entitled 101 Ways to Say Thank You. In it Kelly Browne gives excellent examples of what to actually say in such notes. It has great tips on buying stationary, superlative words to use in a note and many helpful suggestions.

Imagine the delight in receiving a thank-you note. I find that it strengthens friendships and relationships, especially in business situations which are just budding. Whenever someone extends themselves to celebrate a happy occasion, lend a helping hand, make an introduction for you or acknowledge a difficult time you may be experiencing, take the time to write a note. It takes only a few minutes. In some cases notes with “Thank-you” can be purchased at a stationary store or in the case of St. Andrews, at some of the local gift shops. Some of the highest quality stationary is sold by Crane & Company in the US. They have an excellent website and have a wide variety of cards and stationary which can be personally engraved if required. You can buy note cards at the Dollar Store as well, so there’s not a lot of expense required to accomplish this mission.

In business situations, thank-you notes can be sent via email. It is a matter of discretion however and a hand written or typed note may serve your purposes better. Whatever you decide, be sure that the note is sincere and includes a reference to the purpose of your meeting. If you are sending a note to an interviewer from whom you want a job, be sure not to send a gift. In most companies as well as in government, there are policies against accepting gifts.

In the case of weddings and the tremendous joy and love and support you receive from friends and family, thank-you notes are essential and absolutely must be hand written. And there is no reason why the bride needs to be the sole writer. The groom should share in that responsibility. Be sure that as you open your presents at showers that someone records the gift and the sender. For wedding presents which arrive in the post, one trick which comes in handy is to cut off the return address from the package and attach it to the gift or gift card. Again be sure you have a list and as each thank-you note is written, check it off the list.

The most important thing to remember is to say thank-you often. There are so many more occasions to verbally express your gratitude to another person than there will be reasons for a hand written note. Use the phone if you want to. Speak directly to the person to whom you are grateful. I know of no one who says thank-you too often. Say it with a smile on your face and make direct eye contact. This will go a long way to show the respect you have for others and for yourself.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Tipping with Comfort

Curious readers appear to be occupied with the subject of tipping as I look at the questions which readers have sent in lately. Not to confuse this with the cutting of hemlock boughs to fashion Christmas wreaths, here I am referring to gratuities. How do we graciously go about handing out tips, both in restaurants and other public establishments and also during the upcoming holiday season to individuals in various service industries who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to make our lives just that much more pleasant. Establishments might also include hotels, salons, taxi services and couriers. Individuals might include household staff - gardeners, housekeepers, pet sitters, trash collectors and newspaper carriers.

What comes across in the questions is the confusion over who should be tipped, how much they should be tipped and when and how the tip should be delivered. There is a general lack of surety surrounding this simple yet important act. In general, if you are wondering if you should tip, you most likely should. Remember that almost everyone in the service industry relies in a large part on gratuities to round out their incomes. This is especially true in North America. As an aside, when traveling overseas it is important to find out what the policies are in the countries in which you will be visiting as customs can vary dramatically and faux pas can and should be avoided.

For public establishments, a 15 to 20 percent tip is expected. This standard has risen slightly over the years, but not significantly. And if you frequent a restaurant or hotel and you treat the staff appropriately, they will remember you, and at times when a you want a special table or other favor, having shown respect in the past will pay you dividends. This is not to be confused with kickbacks and bribes although there are obvious similarities. The key difference is that tipping is a form of respect; bribery is a form of control and involves gain of an illicit nature. Discerning the difference is an important skill to have.

The question of tipping shopkeepers continues to surface and the answer continues to be yes. Shopkeepers should not be overlooked as having some special exempt status from receiving tips. They are after all the people who create the stage on which you are being treated to services supplied by someone other than yourself. If they are providing the service, they deserve the tip - it's just that simple!

In certain instances, giving money may seem inappropriate or awkward. For example if you have a favorite store where you buy exotic foods, have clothes tailored, cars repaired and so on, a gift during the holiday season may feel more comfortable to you. Be sure to put some thought into the gift. The days of handing out cases of scotch whiskey and boxes of candy wholesale are over. Many people don't drink scotch whiskey nor does everyone automatically like candy. Be as generous as you can afford and feel comfortable with. Remember that it is indeed the thought that counts more than the actual gift. Be sure to include a hand written note of thanks for the good services provided throughout the year. Such sentiments carry huge meaning.

The great bonus to giving gratuities is not as much in thanking people for services rendered and to hopefully insure good service in the future. The real bonus comes from the feeling tipping gives you. If tipping doesn't feel good to you, give yourself a shake. It is one of the most time honored traditional ways of showing respect in the western world and dates back centuries if not millennia. The connection between gratuity and gratitude are clear. If you don't feel gratitude when someone does something nice for you, life is a lonely place. Especially during these stressful economic times, where tipping is more important than ever to the service provider, so is it all the more important to be grateful and to demonstrate that gratitude.

Tipping is not a substitute for saying thank you either. It is a supplement. Look at it as the punctuation mark at the end of the sentence. What tip you leave will either resemble a period, and exclamation point or a question mark. Remember that the next time you leave the dining table, check out of your hotel room (yes, chamber maids still get tips), or head out of the coffee shop with with your morning cup of 'oh be joyful'. I'd rather be an exclamation point than a question mark any day. You will carry the feeling of gratitude with you throughout the entire day. It's well worth it!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Conference Etiquette

I was privileged enough to attend the Ideas Festival this past year here in St. Andrews. It was a remarkable few days where I had the chance to meet an amazing array of leaders in a variety of fields such as journalism, filmmaking, publishing, music, corporate leadership, education and politics. I also met with the young leaders who were part of a group of ten month projects on leadership development and innovative thinking. Tim Coates, executive director of 21inc. was the man, along with Don Dennison, executive director of the New Brunswick Business Council, who brought together the conference speakers, managed the ten month projects and pulled together today’s industry leaders as sponsors of this inaugural event. For me this was a humbling experience and one which left an indelible mark on my mind. For those of you who know me well, this happens to me far too infrequently. I have been passionate about youth development as well as provincial sustainability since I moved here 15 years ago. And these three days helped confirm for me that we as a society in New Brunswick are advancing in a positive direction.

This conference also gave me the opportunity to observe people interacting with one another in several different contexts. I preface my comments by saying that no where is it more important to be civil, have good manners and understand certain protocols than in the arena of leadership. This festival demonstrated to me that my chosen profession has a future.

I remember one young man sitting down next to me at lunch one day and commenting that because he was sitting next to ‘the etiquette guy’ that he would be paying very close attention to my every move. Perhaps he was paying attention, but there was no apparent attempt on his part to emulate such things as posture, style of handling the cutlery, or use of napkin, seating or excusing oneself from the table. As I looked around the table I could see that some of the soft skills so important to grasp and to learn and to implement in order to become tomorrows polished leaders were sadly lacking. Nonetheless, we had lively conversations about the content of the festival and how much we were enjoying ourselves. Wielding cutlery deftly would have produced a less distracting background and added an air of professionalism to the picture.

I remember overhearing another person accosting the event host wanting to know “what are you trying to sell here?” implying that there was an ulterior motive embedded within this conference. And if that weren’t bad enough, he felt obliged to berate another attendee for wearing a kilt. The young proud man of Scottish decent proceeded to tear a strip off the offender which sent him on his way. My point here though is that there is no time at a conference for disagreeable behavior. Mean spirited remarks are uncalled for at any time and certainly never in a public forum where such remarks can be overheard by innocent bystanders. Perhaps the gentleman thought he was being funny. I hope so. But one of the fundamentals of building business relationships is to curb your humor until you know the other people better. Not everyone shares the same views and humor can come off as offensive.

And then there was the rather vociferous person who plunked himself down beside two people at a table who were engaged in a somewhat private conversation. Clearly the two people in conversation were surprised and feeling somewhat intruded upon. They politely asked him if there was anything they could help him with. He replied, “No, I just like to eavesdrop.” I think they were as flabbergasted hearing this as I am actually writing it. This is an easy to understand example of showing total disrespect for others. Of all places, a conference where there are 200 people, all leaders, discussing various topics either privately or in break out groups or with larger audiences, respect of one another’s space must always be a priority. The irony of this is that there were so many opportunities during this three day event to hear people having ‘private conversations’ on stage that for this guy to intrude here was baffling.

This points to another cornerstone of building business relationships. If you are trying to introduce yourself into a group of people, try to choose a group of three or four or more people engaged in what would look like an open conversation. Avoid interrupting two people who are obviously engaged in a more private discourse. This intrusion not only disrupts their trains of thought, but it immediately black lists you from any chance of building any kind of future relationship with them. Acting with civility and showing respect for your peers and, in this festival, your mentors will greatly improve your chances of becoming a community leader and a mentor yourself to the future leaders of our society.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Planet Etiquette

Why did it take me months of writing etiquette columns to think of perhaps the most important topic I could address? It is in my mind really the quintessential of all etiquette columns. How is our etiquette concerning the planet on which we live? I try to be mindful of taking care of our delicate planet on a daily basis. I am serious about recycling as is my partner Greg. All of the wine and beer bottles, cans, newspapers, cardboard, plastic bags and vegetable scrapings are all recycled. We use to recycle over 2000 pounds of vegetable scrapings every year when operating the Windsor House. Our garden has good soil as a result, although a ton doesn’t really make as much difference as it sounds. However, every ton of waste not put into the landfill is to the good of the planet. It amazes me how reckless people are today about the garbage they produce. Coffee cups are strewn along the highway. There are some people who I see regularly picking up discarded pop cans from the roadside as supplemental income, there are so many. The highways in the US and Canada capture so much litter that there are now laws in place to combat offenders. We should know better.

And to those of us who smoke, it is hard to believe how cavalier we have become of making the streets our own personal ashtray. Nothing could be more disrespectful to our visitors and fellow citizens. The town of St. Andrews actually employs someone to pick up cigarette butts as a summer job. How pathetic is that? This reflects so badly on our beautiful town and on the self esteem of our residents who feel it is their right to use the streets as a trash bin. And the sad fact is that no one can point a finger at any one group. I have witnessed this behavior from young and old and all socio-economic classes. It is arrogance at its very worst.

Before I come across as too self righteous, I admit to contributing to this total disregard for the fragility of our planet. I waste water like there is no tomorrow. I don’t turn off lights as I might when not in use. I don’t follow through on certain excellent suggestions from the Department of Energy on ways to use less electricity and conserve natural resources. I drive too much, although I must admit to ‘using’ other gas guzzlers to pick up and drop off my mail in Calais.

So, what do we do? What do I do? Here we are living in one of the most ‘happening’ places on the planet as far as energy goes and we treat it with little respect. We take it for granted. We don’t want to see our streets littered with cigarette butts, yet we constantly flick them away. We’re not doing that consciously because we know someone needs employment to pick them up. We do it unconsciously. It’s like spitting or swearing or wearing clothes that don’t fit, or bullying or beating our children or spouses. It has become a way of life and it must stop. It soils our surroundings in such a negative way.

I can remember a time when there were no leash laws and there were no ‘pooper scooper’ laws. Walking down the streets of Paris or New York was a bit of a mine field. Suddenly people decided to end this horrible and lazy disrespectful behavior. Today, even in our small seaside tourist town, there are leash laws and special dispensers of plastic bags. For the most part, everyone with a dog is careful to follow these regulations. That is considered real progress. And fortunately no one is inconvenienced.

It’s time to take the next step. We have made a major step forward by banning herbicides and pesticides in our small town. And a local company is testing organic fertilizer. The province provides home energy analyses for practically nothing, with incentives to improve energy efficiency. There are recycle centers which are constantly improving. There are many chances for us to all make a smaller footprint on the planet. What is keeping us from taking advantage of them?

In my opinion, these values must be taught at home and reinforced in the school system. Given the high cost of ‘deposit’ fees, this should be pretty easy when it comes to bottles and cans. Newspapers are trickier because you actually have to stack them up and take them to the recycle bin, and you get no cash in return. What a pity! Do it anyway. I find that every trip I take to the recycle bins gives me a sense of doing the right thing and it feels good. But maybe that’s just me. So many people feel the same way. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all did?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Too Much Information

Readers are a great source of material for this column and this week demonstrates this clearly. One would think that after 130 columns, subject matter would be getting scarce, but the reverse seems to be the case. The dynamic of imparting too much information to others when having a conversation is a new topic. A reader submitted the following observations.

"In this information age it is not surprising that we can get caught up with the idea that we must embellish our conversations with lots of personal details when we are talking about ourselves. What we often fail to consider is how these thoughts are received by another person. Sometimes we also forget to examine our relationship to that person, with little or no regard for the fact that they may not agree with us; or even worse, they may simply be an acquaintance and what we have just blurted out is something of a personal nature which they do not want or need to know about us.

"Sometimes in our rush to impress someone, we do not filter our messages and can either overwhelm or even repulse someone. We take a huge inhale of what is on our minds and exhale the details in a single stream with no place or chance for the person receiving the message to get a word in edge wise. What we succeed in doing in our exuberance is to convey way too much information about ourselves which the person probably cannot nor wants to begin to try to digest. This sort of tactic throws them off guard and succeeds only in being annoying and embarrassing.

"If we think before we speak and organize our thoughts and feelings, this certainly makes for better communication. Another element to consider in conversation is how interesting and relevant our particular bit of news is to the other person.

"We might want to consider whether or not we are wasting everyone’s time. Although easy to change the channel on the television, when you are face to face with someone or have engaged them in a telephone conversation, proffering too much information runs the risk of turning the person off.

"This process revolves around the dynamic of respecting others as well as ourselves. Letting too much personal information out of the bag is not appropriate. Rather than embarrassing yourself or running the risk of putting the listener off, sift through what you are saying and be discerning about the content of your message. There is no harm in erring on the side of caution when it comes to deciding what we do and do not need to know."

These thoughts illustrate how important it is to be aware of what we are saying with the advice to even think about what we will say before blurting it out. What this process will effect is putting the importance of other people ahead of our own. My colleague across the pond, etiquette guru and social commentator William Hanson, repeats this principle almost as a mantra when advising people on matters of etiquette and good manners. We completely concur on the crucial importance of putting others ahead of ourselves in terms of social interactions. Having respect for ourselves and exhibiting good manners ourselves is very important, but making sure that those around us are not embarrassed, belittled or made to feel inadequate or inferior in any way is the most important.

I find that people are so unsure of themselves and how they should behave that they allow their egos to completely take over, that suddenly becoming superior, being right, and the final word becomes their safety zone. More often than not this lack of self esteem results in making those around us feel worse about themselves so that we can feel better about our own selves. This is the root of disrespect and something which we need to be mindful of and which we need to
point out to our children at an early age. Making friends, preparing for job interviews, and being comfortable in our own skin becomes second nature when we put others ahead of ourselves.

The next time you suddenly feel like you have just divulged too much personal information, take a look at your motivation. If you are feeling low in the self esteem department, stop and have compassion for yourself. This is a very human condition and one which need not beat ourselves up about. By putting others first, it's amazing how quickly our feelings about ourselves improve.