Be Merry: etiquette education

Face it. No matter where your education takes you, you will need to know some basic rules of etiquette. It’s especially important to keep these rules in mind during the Christmas season where alcohol abounds at both formal and informal gatherings.

While there are many situations where etiquette is front and centre, the most common are company parties, significant others’ family dinners and the holiday BYOB bash with your friends. Half of your adult life is spent at a job, while the other half might be spent looking for or appreciating your soul mate and maintaining friendships. The outcome of these events depends upon your impression and behaviour.

The Company Party

First things first: attire. Make sure you know whether the party is black tie or casual, you don’t want to be the only one in jeans or a tux. If there is no specification, dress classier than how you normally dress for work.

When the company Christmas party rolls around, alcohol will most likely be present. The stereotypical party-gone-wrong involves someone who has drunk far too much: the workplace lush. I’m not saying avoid alcohol completely at an office party, but know your limit. You won’t ruin your reputation with your boss and coworkers that way.

No matter what profession you are in, company parties provide time to mingle and network. Having a positive first impression will spread your reputation through the grapevine while leaving a bad impression will spread like wildfire. Try to know the “important” names before they know yours. Introduce yourself with a strong and firm handshake, commenting on how nice it is to see them. Talk about the latest news in your industry. Mention a future goal of yours and move on to the next person.

There will be much discussion during the party, so I feel it necessary to include these fundamental rules: don’t talk with your mouth full (or if you do, cover your mouth), don’t interrupt and keep it PG (unless you have already established camaraderie with the person).

The Family Dinner

If this is your first time meeting your partner’s family, ask for an informal background check. Know their names, jobs and quirks beforehand. If you’ve met the family before, ask for an update on recent events or basic things like names. Having this information will help you come off less intimidated and more comfortable.

Dressing conservatively also helps you feel more comfortable. If you’re a girl you won’t have to worry if your blouse is see through, or if your wife-beater sweat stains are showing if you’re a guy. Make sure to check with your boy or girlfriend about what would be appropriate to wear. If you dress too formally, you’ll look like you are trying too hard.

Keep the discussion topics PG especially if the grandparents are around. Maybe even go down to G. Try to join the conversations, but don’t force yourself into them. For example:

Grandpa: “What is up with healthcare today? The wait times are crazy!”

Uncle Bob: “We should change our policies to be more like the French!”


This is wrong. I find it best to just sit and nod while listening to conversations. I have a tendency to do the above when I’m nervous, so silence is better than nonsense.

Remember, you are eating their food. Thank them for the meal, for including you and for the conversation (if you join in on one). As stated for the company party, don’t chew with your mouth open and don’t interrupt.

The BYOB Party

As the season of final exam studying ends, the season of relaxing and celebrating begins. Student Christmas parties abound often for the sole purpose of getting plastered. While that is all well and good, don’t think that the comfort level and familiarity of drinking with your friends excuses you from acting like a decent human being.

Before the party starts, make sure you have a game plan for when the party ends. If you are going to drink, make sure you have a ride home with a designated driver, or enough money to take a cab. Don’t ask to sleep on the couch or floor at 2:39 a.m.– check with the host beforehand to see if he or she is okay with you staying over after the party ends.

Stay out of personal areas like bedrooms– especially when looking for a make-out spot. Your host did not invite you to invade his or her privacy and spread your love juices across the furniture. If you absolutely must make mistletoe-induced love, leave the party and go back to your own house.

Don’t drink your host’s or other guest’s alcohol unless they have made it clear their drinks are for everyone. Bring your own alcohol and ask permission if you would like to try someone else’s. At the same time, be generous and share what you have with others– smiles, drinks and friend ship.

And finally, know your limit. Drink as much as you want, but avoid getting sick. It ruins the fun for everyone, including yourself. Your host invited you to party, not throw up all over the floor. If you do get sick or spill a drink, be responsible and clean up after yourself.

Many of these rules are interchangeable between settings and only change if the people change. Most of these rules are universal though, because no matter whom you are out with, etiquette influences how people see and interact with you.

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