How to Handle the Sticky Situations and Prickly Guests at the Holiday Table

Thanksgiving etiquette tips. Who needs 'em? We all do! Whether you're hosting or joining someone else for Hanukkah, Thanksgiving or other big event types of dinners, it is that time of year when nerves can be sensitive and tempers sometimes short. Couple that with free-flowing booze and the potential for fireworks increases. We've all endured the rude comments, bad behavior, and even shouting matches that can ruin the dinner for everyone.

The best cure is a little preventive medicine. Here are some tips to help you avoid the dyspeptic dinner disasters. Whether you're a host or a guest, a brief review might help everyone relax and enjoy. Here are some tips for being a good guest, being a smart host.

"The more wine you drink, the more interesting your relatives become."  Josh Wesson on Talking with My Mouth Full 

1. If you are invited: Offer to bring something. If your host does not want additions to the menu, offer to bring wine, flowers or offer to help clean up after. Marron Glacé are lovely and won't ruin anyone's menu. Especially if you have dietary restrictions, offer to bring a dish that will be safe for you to eat and good enough for all to enjoy. More tips on handling food allergy issues here.

2. During the Thanksgiving day of feasting: Offer to pick up empty glasses or refresh people's drinks. Little things like that can help a lot when your host is probably minding the timing of all the last minute food preparations. If you're hosting and people want to help, let them. Even kids can help with things like offering ice to grown ups, tearing lettuce.

3. What to do if you're served or offered something that you really dislike? A gracious way to turn it down, instead of saying "I don't like brussels sprouts" is to say "I've had so much good food I couldn't possibly eat another bite, thank you so much. They look lovely, though!"

4. How to handle the family members that you know are going to get into a heated argument? Try the preemptive strike:  take whichever of the pair that is more reasonable take them aside ahead of time and appeal to their good nature beforehand. Say "Listen, I know that you and Dad don't agree on healthcare and we know how he gets when he had a few, so I'm gonna count on you being the more reasonable one. Help me sidestep an argument at dinner by changing the subject or not taking the bait? Thanks so much for being reasonable and helping out that way I really appreciate it."

5. Include, don't exclude: I like Thanksgiving because it's a nondenominational day of gratitude, rather than greed disguised as religion. And, it's all about abundance, friends, and football. Try to include everyone in that good feeling of gratitude. Rather than a prayer which might feel exclusive two people don't share the religion, why not start with going to run the table and everybody sharing something they're grateful for?

6. Be calm, make like a duck. Serene on top, even if you're paddling madly under the surface. If you're hosting, remember that guests will take their cue from you. If you're hassled and snippy they won't relax. Try to do ahead, plan and let go. If it won't be the perfect Norman Rockwell painting you have in your head, remember that a good time can still be had by all. Your attitude will set the mood. Pour another round and enjoy what worked, be thankful for the friends and family you have to share the day with. Laugh off the disasters and invite others to join you in good humor. (And make notes while they're fresh in your head what worked and didn't for next year.)

Today is the day to set yourself up for a good tomorrow. Plan a walk in the fresh air first thing in the morning, get a good night's rest.  Chop the veggies that you can for stuffing, make a butter for gravy (1:1 flour and butter) or make the gravy now and just add pan drippings later. Ditch the extra cleaning or extra dishes you won't need to make. No one will notice that you dusted every shelf if you're frazzled.

Hi My Name's Bob, Please Give me $700 - Netiquette Rules of the Road - and Chickens in Sweaters

These were the very words I wrote not five minutes ago:

"I'm sorry. We may be Facebook friends but I really feel it's a breach of etiquette to ask me for money when I don't believe you've interacted with me at all online. Have you shared my posts? Conversed with me? Supported me in any way? Would you walk up to a stranger at a cocktail party and utter a request for money before even introducing yourself?"

I wrote this in response to a private, direct request that I support this Facebook friend in his project. This is a person who has not once commented on anything I've posted, not shared a link from me or by me, not interacted at all with me. And yet, he feels it's okay to privately and directly ask me for money.

You might be surprised to learn that I got pushback. "Well I'm not actually asking for money.." In fact the initial communication WAS a request for money, lots of it. Because he really believes in his pet project and offers me the opportunity to support him. And $700 was only one of the suggested donation levels. And it was not a program for the greater social good.

Excuse me, but, WTF?

I'm used to donor-fatigue as a concept. When I've worked with non profit agencies that are supporting programs that fill in the gap between community needs and public programs, these conversations come up. I'm talking about things like Big Sister Association. But these days it seems everyone with a keyboard or mobile device believes they are entitled to have their dreams funded by the public.

Just because there now exist ways to "kickstart" your projects by asking the world for money, does not give you license to act like an ill-mannered boor. A final note about crowd-funding. Please be professional. Some of us have been around the block a few times and we've worked very hard to develop business plans. Some of those have succeeded or failed but when we've done the work, you can understand how it irks us that you have not and yet you still feel entitled to have our financial support for your dream? If you think guinea pigs need socks, show me some data. Show me you've done your homework. Tell me who your competition is and how you're different. Demonstrate your skills and experience that will make your booties rock harder than others'. Then, and only then, should you ask the public for money.


Rules of the Road

As is often the case, there are real world parallels (not that the Internet is not real world) that I think are instructive. I don't think these are new rules, really, just old rules applied to new forums.

1. Make friends first.

Don't ask for money before you have taken the time to introduce yourself. Just because YOU believe in your dream to knit booties for guinea pigs*, does not entitle you to asking for financial support from the world. And they are not obligated to share your dream, to supply you with funds for yarn, or to spread the word on your behalf to support your quest of clothing cold rodent feet.

Sweaters for Chickens * full disclosure, this is not a guinea pig in socks. To my astonishment, I could not find an image of one. This is a chicken in a sweater. This I could not make up.

2. Make a connection between new friends and old.

If you've started following me because you like something I have to say about knitting, introduce me to another knitter you like. That's an easy "give" that costs you nothing.

3. If you see me posting about my latest knitwear creation, share it with your community.

Sharing is caring. We all want to grow our online communities. It's a nice way to show me you care - before you hit me up for a favor or a donation.

4. Check in before you check in.

If we're meeting over coffee to discuss our new yarn discoveries, don't tag or update with my name until you ask me. Perhaps I begged off another meeting without saying I was going for coffee, or maybe I'm taking a midday break but a client might think I'm goofing off (even if I worked through the night) - just ask first.

5. Hello? Introduce yourself properly on the phone.

Now with Siri it's possible to begin a conversation with Janet thinking you're talking to Janice. It happens. Better be sure that you are speaking to the person you thought you were speaking to, and also, not insignificantly, that they can hear you. I don't know how many times someone's launched into a long explanation of why they're calling and all the while I'm politely waiting for the right moment to tell them I can only hear every third syllable due to a poor connection. (remember the poor news anchor who went to the loo forgetting she was still mic'd and wound up saying something unflattering about her sister in law? yikes.)

To paraphrase the wonderful Lily Tomlin, be sure it is the party to whom you are speaking before you speak.

6. Connect in public, schedule in private.

While it's fine and good to connect online, when it comes to actually nailing down the time and place to meet, you should revert to email or direct, private messaging. I wouldn't schedule drinks with friend A right in front of friend B without inviting B. It's rude. Same applies online, no need to make anyone else aware that super fantastic fun plans are being made and they are not invited. Also not necessary to alert the world when you will be not at home.

7. When you meet someone IRL (in real life) or face to face, introduce yourself in a way that let's them know who you are.

Maybe your online name is "RedSoxFanatic" and you have a picture of Fenway for your icon. Those will not help me remember that you are a 6' tall Norwegian named Hank. I'm @LDGourmet and although I have a photo of myself, I try to remember to say, "Hi, my name's Jackie or @LDGourmet" if it's a tweetup so people don't have to feel awkward that they don't know or can't recall who I am. Then, they don't have to call me "LDGourmet" either. (BTW if you're still using an egg for your Twitter icon - get with the program. Pick a photo of you - clothed please - or something that connects to your brand if you must.) (what's with all the bikini and shirtless pics, anyway?)

8. When we meet in person, be there.

Don't spend the time I've carved out to spend with you, on your phone. If you'd rather be tweeting, it's no big thing, I've got lots to do, too. But if we made time to be together, let's really be together. I will often say "I'm just going to update my status because this is a place people have been asking me about, is it okay if I check in with you then I'll put the phone down?" 

9. Tag - you're it! It - being the insensitive clod.

Don't be that guy. Ask before you post a photo and tag someone in it. Also, if you don't like a photo someone posted of you, just ask them privately to take it down. They should do so w/o protest.

10. DON'T SHOUT, don't spam, don't cc.

These seem to be so old and common sense that I almost didn't include them here but you might be surprised that others still don't know this. ALL CAPS is the same as SHOUTING in person. Why are you SHOUTING at me? Spam includes endless chain letter appeals on Facebook (Most are scams by unsavory mills that boost their page views and sell their numbers to advertisers. You're only helping them.) As well as the email types.

And why do some PR professionals still send out emails w/o using bcc? You get only one of those mistakes then you're toast.

What are your top Internet Pet Peeves? What have I missed? How do you feel about asking for RT? I don't think it's as offensive as asking for money or liking your own picture on Instagram, but it should be used sparingly, like when you're promoting an event.


chicken jumpers

Hurrah for rescued chickens and for the ladies who knit to keep them warm!