Thursday, July 29, 2010
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Monday, July 26, 2010
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
There are many groups of friends who gather to enjoy a meal together with some frequency, perhaps even weekly. In those situations, exchanging hostess gifts becomes unwieldy. It would also be presumptuous in most cases to expect the host to provide all of the wine and other beverages for his guests on a regular basis. Guests generally bring whatever they are planning to drink, whether it is spirits, wine or diet Pepsi. Beware of the guest who brings cheap (or even worse, homemade) wine and then drinks the host’s good stuff. If it is a special occasion such as a birthday, anniversary or major holiday, guests could bring not only what they want to drink. But also a special gift is appropriate to show thanks to the host for all the hard work which goes into preparing for such a party. Some hosts have already selected a wine(s) to go with the meal in which case they expect you to drink their selection(s). Some people, me included, have very specific and/or simple tastes for wine. In many instances I bring what I want to drink and that is perfectly acceptable.
Often times, guests will bring a pot luck dish. In these cases, I find it always beneficial to know what each guest will be bringing to the pot luck. If not, you run the risk of having too many desserts or too many salads, or none at all. As host, I find it makes the most sense to be responsible for the main entrée. That takes the burden off of any of the guests. At the same time, by having them bring side dishes of vegetables and appetizers or salads and desserts, it relieves the host of slaving away in the kitchen all day long.
There are several gifts which are wonderful to give a host from an appreciative guest. A small box of specially selected chocolates, beautiful bath soaps, a beautiful arrangement of flowers, a special bottle of wine, an unusual kitchen gadget or bar accessories are all excellent choices.
Beware, however, that there are a couple of things that your hostess will not want to see coming through the door. Flowers which will require finding a vase interrupt the whole show, no matter how beautiful, because instead of putting coats away, and hosting, you're stuck trying to house the flowers as the person who brought them will want you to show them off and is "anxious" for the reveal. When people show up with little gifts, they can be placed aside and no one will ever question them. The minute someone brings an unwieldy bunch of flowers, they can become the "white elephant in the room" and will quite often upstage other gifts or people who didn't bring any. This is especially true of long stemmed flowers such as roses or lilies. Finding a suitable vase may be impossible and then cutting the stems under water and attractively arranging those takes up valuable kitchen space and time. Either have them arranged at home or by a florist ahead of time or bring them in a vase.
Don’t bring any dishes of food to be served either before or during the meal unless it has been requested by or discussed with the host ahead of time. I remember at one dinner party, a guest arrived with a beautiful casserole. The problem was that the oven was full. As a result, dinner had to be delayed. This seemingly thoughtful gesture actually threw a bit of a monkey wrench into the works.
I recall another time when a guest was excited about being invited to someone’s new home for a party. She arrived with a bottle of champagne wanting to toast the new house. The host accepted the bottle with thanks and happily put it in the fridge for later use. The guest just didn’t realize it wasn’t going to be used until a later date. The lesson here is to let your host know you are bringing a bottle specifically to toast the new house.
And finally, another reader wrote asking what to do when an invitation asks for “best wishes only”. She tells me that she is the only one who shows up ‘empty-handed’. My comment to her is that she is the only one with proper etiquette. People ask for guests to not bring gifts or even cards for a variety of reasons which may be very personal and none of our business. This is especially true when having a party for an elderly person. It is equally true when a real cross section of guests will be invited, many of whom may not be in a financial position to buy a nice gift. It is out of respect to your host and hostess to follow the wishes on the invitation. After all, that’s what good manners and proper etiquette demonstrate – respect for your host, for yourself and for your fellow guests.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
You Are Welcome!
There are a number of basic phrases which are part of any good arsenal of etiquette words. I have discussed the virtues of please and thank you in previous columns. Here I would like to share my thoughts on the phrase 'you're welcome'. This phrase usually follows 'thank you'. But more times than not, we forget to complete this communication.
What exactly do we mean when we say you're welcome? For one thing, we indicate that we have heard and accepted the thanks conveyed. For another, it shows that we are happy that whatever effort we have made or whatever gift we may have given was appreciated. It actually gives us a feeling of satisfaction.
I have noticed however that some people have a tough time with this phrase though. That is probably because some of those same people have a tough time receiving thanks to begin with. Giving and receiving thanks are two very different acts and they are so very important to learn to do gracefully.
Take for example a graduation ceremony when the diplomas are handed to the graduates. The principal or dean will hand the diploma to the graduate and say, "Congratulations". The new graduate will respond with "Thank you". The Dean would then appropriately say, "You're welcome". That remark gives a sense of deserving, an acknowledgement of accomplishment, and an exclamation mark to accompany the congratulations. The transaction of the giving and receiving of the diploma is this completed.
In another instance, someone holds a door open for another person to leave or enter a car, a room or a building. 'Thank you' is quickly and logically followed by 'you're welcome'. Now that seemingly simple phrase means something akin to 'it is my pleasure', 'no thanks necessary', or 'be my guest, please'.
In yet a third example, when an applicant for a job position is hired, a similar series of 'congratulations', 'thank you' and 'you're welcome' ensues. In this scenario, it implies 'welcome to the company', 'this process is finally concluded' and even 'thank you' in return. This use illustrates what a win-win result looks like in business.
In these three examples the phrase takes on slightly different meanings, and it does complete a transaction, a long term scholarly pursuit, or a difficult protracted interview process. In each example, without using a clear and sincere 'you're welcome', something would be missing.
Using these two words regularly is a skill we need to begin developing at an early age. We often hear parents teaching children to say 'please' and 'thank you', but often times 'you're welcome' is left out. Learning to incorporate this expression of understanding into one's communication style is important because it demonstrates that we 'get it'.
The fact that this phrase takes on several different meanings depending on the situation leads me to the conclusion that its use is in some ways similar to the often insincere answer 'I'm fine', when asked "How are you?". Knee jerk and automatic responses are quite commonplace today, yet when delivered with sincerity can take on a real significance.
It is routine for children to actually be taught that the various meanings of this phrase can be used almost interchangeably. This is certainly better than not teaching anything at all or reinforcing that no answer is acceptable. I would caution however that as we mature and conversations and situations become more complex, learning the distinctions between the various alternatives is important and each should be delivered with purpose. After all, this is one way that we can show respect for one another. It solidifies relationships and ties up any loose ends of an exchange.
Like all key phrases, you're welcome will become routine when practiced with regularity. It makes one feel that the 'thank you' they have just delivered is appreciated. The exchange of these polite and genuine phrases also means that there is an acknowledgement and recognition of one human being to another. A healthy society thrives on these niceties. And this is one that does make a difference.