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.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

An Introduction to Tea

Taking tea with my grandmother was a special treat for me and a tradition that I remember as far back as any in my childhood. To me it was a simple pleasure and one where I always felt safe. Doing something the same way everyday does tend to have that effect, especially on a young child. Every summer my sister and I would visit our grandparents in Connecticut for two weeks, providing a nice break from home life. At five o’clock each afternoon the tea tray was arranged and the tea table was carefully set. We would all sit down and drink a cup of tea with a nice freshly baked Scottish oat and ginger cookie centered with a blanched almond slice. We would talk about the fun we’d had during the day and see if we could earn another nickel for another wagon full of apples we’d collect.

There was a certain ritual to taking tea and when done correctly turns this afternoon snack into an open-eyed guided meditation. I always remember how quiet the pouring of the tea was. My grandmother taught English to a wealthy Chinese lady and we had access to some rare Chinese teas. Frankly at a young age, I wouldn’t have known the difference and today I have several favorites, none of which come from China. The tea was always steeped in a porcelain teapot with a lovely thick tea cozy hand knitted by my grandmother. There was a silver hot water pot used to dilute the tea to a desired potency, a sugar bowl with small white sugar cubes and a pitcher with cold milk. There was a glass plate with slices (not wedges) of lemon. I quickly learned how to use sugar tongs and a lemon fork. I remember one day when I was in Sea Island Georgia, I decided to go to the Cloisters Hotel for a cup of tea and some of their delicious cookies. I was about 11. The hostess asked me if I’d like milk or lemon. I confidently stated that I’d like both. I soon realized that “less is more” and that the acid from the lemon causes the milk to curdle. The hostess very politely asked if I would like a new cup. I looked at her, having turned beet red, and with an embarrassed tear in my eye, said yes thank-you. Thank goodness for those delicious cookies.

Tea rituals in any household or hotel will vary. But there are a set of principles which stay very much in play in almost every case. These principles ensure a pleasant experience. The Japanese tea ceremony has the strictest of rules and many years of study and practice are required to master this – many years. But in the Western world, tea service is quite different. And there are different kinds of tea service. One of the most misused names of services is that of “high tea”. Many people think that this is the be-all-to-end-all of teas. In fact high tea is a very hearty meal usually including meat and is served family style, at the end of a long hard day of work. It was developed during the Industrial Revolution. It includes tea as well as alcoholic beverages. Tea served in the afternoon with scones, tea sandwiches and sweets is properly referred to as ‘afternoon tea’. It was correctly named ‘low tea’ as well as it served on a low table. If you add a glass of champagne to the mix you are now serving “royal tea”.

I was recently in Washington D.C. where I was fortunate enough to take a workshop from one of world’s leading tea experts. My eyes were open to a whole new world thanks to Bruce Richardson of the Elmwood Inn in Perryville, KY and a mentor of mine, Dorothea Johnson, founder of the Protocol School of Washington. I learned about the different types of teas: Black, Oolong, Green, White, Scented and Flavored, Herbal, and Chai.

Most interesting to me was the fact that all teas (other than herbal and Chai) come from a single plant – Camellia sinensis. The difference in the tea types comes from the specific leaves that are picked and how they are grown and processed.

Another thing to which I was introduced was the concept of honoring the ladies that actually pick the tea leaves. Without their tender loving care, we would not be lucky enough to imbibe in this most refreshing and at the same time relaxing of beverages. This is done silently and privately but is a fine way to honor those women. After tea, discard the tea leaves in your garden. This completes the whole cycle.

I will cover the faux pas, dos and don’ts of tea service in both social and business settings in an upcoming column. In the meantime, enjoy this most delightful time of day. And for heaven’s sake, don’t hold out your pinkie!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Finding the Grey

I was having a conversation online with a group of people recently when suddenly the tone turned from friendly to confused to angry.

The conversation crossed a line of civility in the mind of one person, but not in others. This resulted in an impasse.

This elicited the following question: “Can good manners hurt relationships? I just think that relaxing the rules sometimes is healthy. Is this ever a problem?” She added, “I think that the expectation of good manners leads to judging a person and then that leads to alienation. Just like when people were horrified when the guy wiped his fork on his napkin (a behaviour discussed during a previous conversation). I was grossed out too, but then in the end, it was judged as wrong so maybe he was looked at as lacking civility as a result.

Maybe I am confused. I should never think – not good for anyone.”

Another added, “Thinking is good; speaking what we are thinking, well not always good. Sometimes we need to sleep on it! Don’t beat yourself up. Think on it, then sleep on it!” The dynamic here is one in which the offender is relating a similar situation to her own. Her confusion is actually an admission of being hurtful without apologizing.

Of course it is uncivil to wipe your fork with your napkin, just as it is when rude language is used.I think her feelings of confusion may have been more likely of guilt. Furthermore, this scenario illustrates an example of what can happen when a little too much enthusiasm enters a conversation and the importance of being right or establishing the prevailing opinion becomes tantamount to the topic of the conversation itself.

In this case, the incivility took the form of coarse language and clearly caused a high level of discomfort in one person in the group. The confusion resulted from a lack of acknowledgement by the offending party that she had been hurtful, embarrassing and insulting.

This was followed by the two individuals going on the defensive. A battle of nasty exchanges ensued.

People in the group were horrified when a guy wiped his fork on his napkin.I was grossed out too.It was judged as wrong. He was looked at as lacking civility as a result.

We all have been a part of conversations that deteriorate into an unpleasantness no one wanted.

The answer to whether relaxed good manners is ever a problem is a resounding yes. There is never an occasion where relaxed good manners serves any good purpose. The reason is simple: There is intentional disrespect, perhaps subconscious, but nevertheless intentional, and therefore rude and hurtful.

This will almost always result in a complete shutdown or a raising of one’s hackles and a setting up of a battalion of defences.

Just like the guy who wipes his fork on his napkin, the person who insults someone else is in the wrong. And just as she was grossed out by his behaviour, so another person was hurt by her careless remarks.

These dynamics leading to a dismal end need to be recognized by both parties immediately and they need to become private. Once a derogatory remark is made – pointing out a particular bit of bad behaviour or expressing disagreement with what is being said – that remark cannot be retracted. There is rarely a good time to air one’s dirty laundry in a public forum.

The advice to“sleep on it”is sound and necessary. Thinking before speaking is paramount.

Fortunately there are peacemakers present during many of these unravelled conversations who can bring things back on an even keel and often take them to a calm conclusion. It is the responsibility of those having the dispute, however, to end its public venue.

This is easier said than done. Black and white needs to become grey. It becomes important to recognize that right and wrong are states of mind and neither party is likely to be all one or the other.

Once these conversations head south, a good infusion of compassion may be the only solution.

This isn’t going to happen readily without a cooling off period.

Time does bring with it a welcome wind of compassion, where apologies can be delivered and accepted with grace and honest intention.

If public discussions suddenly bring up bad feelings, take them private as quickly as possible. Insulting anyone in public is never acceptable as proper etiquette, which, when relaxed, is never healthy.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Reader Question: Teaching Etiquette Early

Reader recently wrote me this note which I felt was very thought provoking as the holiday time of year is fast approaching.

Dear Jay,

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 our local Pizza Hut. Perhaps you can set me right as to the do's and don’ts of napkin etiquette. I hope you don’t find my questions too trivial.

With thanks,


Dear Elizabeth,

Thanks for asking these good questions. There are no trivial questions when it comes to proper etiquette. Your in-laws are exhibiting poor manners most likely as a result of an upbringing where manners were not important enough to be instilled in them at an early age. As you noticed by your frustration, not teaching children how to behave properly early on does them a huge disservice as they 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 as soon as everyone is seated is that the hos or hostess should unfold and place their napkin on their lap. The guests should in turn follow. If there is no host to follow, once everyone (even if it's only two) is seated, the napkin should be unfolded and put 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.



I really liked answering these questions because they point to the importance of teaching proper etiquette and good social manners at an early age. There is nothing complicated or sophisticated about napkin etiquette. Nor are any of the myriad of other topics which revolve around good manners terribly complex or tricky. However, they must be learned behaviors. No one is born with good manners or bad manners. What we are born with is the ability to adjust to our social environment by following the lead of our parents, and in many cases our school teachers, especially in the case of boarding schools.

But what if our parents don’t know? Sadly, often times we are left to learn through the school of hard knocks. Why didn’t we get the job; why didn’t we get the promotion we were so expecting? Important interviews are often conducted during a luncheon or dinner. This is not because the interviewer is worried that you may be hungry. As stated in a previous column, it is because they are checking you out. If you don’t know such a simple skill as eating a meal properly, they are wondering what other simple skills you are lacking. Poor manners are what are known as ‘the silent killer’. No one will actually tell you why you didn’t get the job or the promotion. This happens all the time. What’s even more evident is the fact that you feel very uncomfortable in situations involving meals, corporate social gatherings to meet clients, mingle and discuss business. A person without the confidence of good etiquette will inevitably be at a disadvantage. Take the time in your life to learn good manners and realize what a difference this makes in all social gatherings.

It is never too late to learn all the basic social graces and corporate etiquette you need to know in order to feel comfortable and confident in any situation. There are consultants, such as myself, who teach short seminars. There are many books in the library which deal with this subject. We have, today, as a society hit the bottom as far as good manners go, either in social or business circles. If we hope to succeed in the global society, we must make a concerted effort to improve on these skills. And it is at home that this must begin.

Take the time to have family meals where the table is properly set. Learn to have civil discussions around the dinner table. As was pointed out recently during the debates, it is okay to disagree, but is not okay to be disagreeable. Make good manners a priority at home. The schools around here are doing brilliantly at teaching many important core values. Parents must lead the charge in teaching and instilling the soft skills which will make the youth of today the leaders of tomorrow.

So during this upcoming holiday season, take the time to make sure that these family get-togethers are not only joyous, but that they are imbued with civility. You will find that the joy becomes even greater.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Reader Question: Sportsmanship

This question came in recently and I think it is an important issue to address because school is about to start and athletic competitions will begin.

Dear Etiquette Guy,

When am I obligated to represent a group I belong to? My son's little league gave us money to help pay for travel costs to an out of town tournament. We stayed in a hotel for several nights. One night, outside the hotel, I got into a fist fight with the coach. People seem to think we were both acting as representative of our league. I was acting as a parent and nothing more. Is it fair for them to label me as a rep. for my sons team. This did not happen at the baseball field.

Confused Parent

Dear Confused,

No matter where you go and under whatever circumstance, you will always be representative of your many activities and business associations. Parents and coaches who are involved in fist fights have no business being involved in children's sporting activities, as you are both uncivil and ill equipped to be giving advice to anyone, especially children. Imagine the messages you are sending to your child. Both you and the coach should grow up and learn to settle your differences in a civilized manner with out the use of physical violence to express your differences. You ought to enjoy your son's team participation without turning a disagreement into a bad life lesson. Parents set examples through their actions and children mimic these behaviors as acceptable. You should both be ashamed of yourselves and consider yourself lucky to be labelled anything other than foolish.

Another reader chimed in with:

"I agree with Etiquette Guy. People will consider you a representative on this one. Leagues don't give parents money for travel costs just because a parent wants to go. A parent chosen to accompany the team does represent that team. They are going for a reason. Otherwise, the league would have to give all of the parents money to go too. Since you were given the responsibility of accompanying the team, you are therefore a representative, and that is for 24 hours of every day day until you and the team return home. It doesn't matter where you got into the fist fight. The fact is that you DID get into a fist fight. You and the coach should do everyone a big favor. Quit the league and spend that time at anger management classes instead. It will do you both a world of good."

And another stated:

"I agree 100 percent with your response Jay! When my sons were younger, they both left soccer due to over the top parents, yelling at referees, yelling at children who weren't there own, and confusing their play. Parents put their children in sports (or should) to get exercise, learn teamwork, and to see if they might have an affinity for a particular sport. NOT to watch parents act like imbeciles!"

Judging from the amount of input on this matter, it is of paramount importance to many people. Not only are children pushed by parents for completely wrong reasons, such as their own ego issues, lack of self esteem and incivility; but coaches are challenged by parents who think they know better how to coach a team. Coaches are also guilty of poor judgment from time to timebecause they do not have the best interests of the children in mind.

One of the most important places we learn life's lessons and civil and respectful behavior is on the athletic field. Here we are taught sportsmanship, the rewards of fair play, and how to both win and lose with grace. If this opportunity is fouled up because adults don't know how to behave appropriately themselves, how do they expect children to learn good social behavior?

It is on the athletic field where we are instilled with the behaviors and values which we carry forward into all of the other arenas of our lives. Ask any sports star how they became top athletes and they will tell you that it was through the positive influences from family and from coaches. No athlete achieved anything positive by witnessing juvenile incivility which is demonstrated with reckless abandon in epidemic proportions in the peewee and junior leagues of athletics.

Extra curricular activities are important venues in which children grow. They will succeed most readily with a strong support system in place. The very nature of athletics and life in general is that there are winners and losers and we all play both roles from time to time throughout our lives. It would be much easier if we accept these as truths and show compassion for one another and for ourselves. There are so many parents and coaches who do the right thing. They have a great time and so do their children and students. Those who act with disrespect and who act inappropriately need to be sidelined. Tomorrow's leaders yearn for and need mentors. They will grow into great people with good nurturing.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Reader Comment: Rude Guests

Dear Etiquette Guy-this is written to express my dismay at having worked hard to share a meal with people and found that I was just insulted and hurt by what I witnessed and heard at the dinner table. Your input is welcome of course.


A disappointed host.

Do You Have Any Ketchup?

This is a question no host/hostess ever wants to hear as he or she is about to serve a well planned and well executed dinner. Nor is it a question to be asked during the meal. It seems that some people do not get the opportunity to eat breakfast, lunch, supper or dinner "out." By out I mean in another person's home or even in a restaurant or other eatery. We lapse and before we are even aware our table manners no longer exist.

If you are invited "out" please think about how you know you ought to behave. Don't blow your nose into a well used handkerchief at the table with everyone eating. If you are served something that you do not care for, don't eat it and don't comment about your dislike. If something is served with a serving utensil use the utensil to put the food on your plate. And use the cutlery provided to consume your food. If you do not care for the assortment of tea offered, politely ask the host/hostess if there might be another variety available. Again keep your critiques to yourself. What we do in commenting about our dislikes is to bring too much unnecessary baggage to the table. If you insist on behaving badly, stay home. What everyone must think about is that there is a lot of work that goes into creating a meal which the host/hostess wants to be pleasing to all guests. Ah, there's the operative word: you are a GUEST and for this reason alone you ought to be on your best behavior. Leave the quirks, idiosyncrasies and bad manners at home if you have accepted an invitation particularly if you ever want a return engagement.

Dear Disappointed,

Thanks for taking the time to make your observations. Being a gracious guest is indeed very important. Preparing a meal for friends and family is energy consuming both in terms of time and money. A special party takes a lot of planning as we all know. As an invited guest, if you have any food allergies, be sure to let your hostess know well ahead of the party. And remember that an allergy is not just a dislike, but a potential serious medical situation. A good host will take great care in designing a menu, whether it be for an afternoon tea party or a more formal dinner (or an informal one for that matter), to please his guests. I do disagree with asking for another variety of tea other than what is offered. It’s not far from asking for ketchup. As a guest, sometimes it’s best to simply be thankful for what is provided. On the other hand, a good host wants to please and will most likely ask his guests if there is anything else anyone would like or need. That is the time to ask for a condiment or sharper knife, etc. It is also a great time to be enthusiastically appreciative. Give a fun toast thanking the host and hostess for the chance to be together. If the party is for a special occasion and the assembled group is not likely to ever be together again for a special anniversary or birthday and people have traveled great distances, give a toast to “this magic moment in time” as a close friend of mine does.

If there is something served to you that you don’t like, try moving it around the plate a bit. At least that way, it looks like you tried it. And, you are quite right in stating that you should not comment about your dislikes. Meals are times where lively discussions and happy thoughts are exchanged. Guests should avoid controversial topics such as politics and religion, although that is nigh unto impossible so close to this most exciting US election, where I think people in Canada are more interested in that election than their own. However, there are plenty of topics for dinner table discussion and of course having an interesting group of people together, there are sure to be life stories and anecdotes to share with the other guests.

If you have a coughing or sneezing attack, excuse your self from the table until it has passed. I am famous for my 14-sneeze episodes. I know when it’s happening and simply excuse myself and go to the washroom. Coughing and sneezing at the table is not only disruptive but is disrespectful of other guests who don’t want your germs on their food. And be sure to wash your hands well before returning to the table. Coughing and sneezing is the fastest way to spread germs during the flu and cold season and shaking hands is next. Be considerate of others at the table and everyone will have the enjoyable time so wished for by the host.

A gathering of people is meant to bring us together as polite, well mannered individuals. Just follow a few sage bits of advice about proper etiquette and you will be invited back and no host will be disappointed.