Post-Modern Manners, on CBC Q

I had a great time as a guest on CBC Q – you can find the “listen” icon below the image on the landing page, here.

Post-Modern Manners: What’s rude in the age of oversharing?

Conflicted about taking that selfie? Perhaps you’re right to overthink it. Small dilemmas illuminate bigger shifts in culture and society — and norms forming around these micro decisions will define acceptable behaviour in the 21st century.
So, let’s talk about post-modern manners. Joining guest host Daniel Richler to discuss etiquette in the digital age we have:
  • Jen Agg, owner of the popular Toronto restaurants The Black Hoof and Rhum Corner.
  • Karen Cleveland, etiquette advisor at
Click here or on the listen button above to hear the full segment (audio runs 0:13:15) and tell us: how would you handle the situations we described on air?

(Originally appeared on CBC Q, Feb 2, 2015)

Holiday crowds getting to you? What did you expect?


Expect to see lots of other people shopping this month, plan to be patient

Sure, there will be lots of people at the mall ahead of Christmas. But there will also be lots of people in stores on Boxing Day and in the days leading up to New Year's.Sure, there will be lots of people at the mall ahead of Christmas. But there will also be lots of people in stores on Boxing Day and in the days leading up to New Year’s. (CBC)

Patience is key

Whether shopping for gifts or party supplies this month, Toronto-based etiquette expert Karen Cleveland says Canadians should have two things on their shopping lists — patience and empathy.

Because that’s what they will need when standing in line and dealing with grumps they encounter, likely before and after Christmas Day.

Shoppers at Toronto Eaton CentreFigures posted to the Statistics Canada website indicate that Canadians spent more than $4 billion on food and drink at large retailers in December of last year. They also spent hundreds of millions of dollars on gifts in many different retail categories. (CBC)

According to Statistics Canada, consumers spent more than $4 billion on food and drink at big retailers last December, as well as hundreds of millions in various retail categories. The numbers suggest that consumers will find it busy whether they are seeking Boxing Day bargains at the mall, or simply trying to pick up groceries through Dec. 31.

Cleveland said another key is for shoppers to remember that “our time is no more valuable than anyone else’s time.”

And while they may gripe on social media, many shoppers realize what they are getting into, if they choose to head to the stores. As Cleveland puts it, when Christmas shopping rolls around, we all know “it’s not our first rodeo.”

On the retail side, the businesses selling merchandise to the public know what to expect when these shoppers pack the stores — and clearly, it’s something they like to see.

But knowing that that these same people are feeling the stress of the holiday season, retailers employ strategies to help their customers to get what they need as quickly as possible.

‘A marathon, not a sprint’

At Dollarama, shoppers will have seen more cashiers on hand and longer store hours this month. The discount chain also takes steps to ensure its shelves are well-stocked.

That’s the “simple but successful formula to keeping customers happy (and not cranky!) during the holiday season,” spokesperson Lyla Radmanovich told CBC News in an email.

Extra helpMany stores have extra help on hand to deal with the many customers hitting the stores this month. (CBC)

Ditto for Sobeys Ontario, where spokesperson Monika Strzalkowska says the chain ensures there are “plenty of staff on hand” for the busy holiday period.

Having more hands on deck seems to be a standard approach across retail.

Michael LeBlanc of the Retail Council of Canada said many retailers will bring on temporary staff, to help deal with the increase demand from customers.

“Holiday sales are a marathon, not a sprint,” LeBlanc said in a recent telephone interview, suggesting that it’s not just the shoppers feeling the stress.

Retailers will also take steps to ensure post-Christmas shopping runs smoothly as well. LeBlanc said that’s part of the reason there are restrictions on returns after Boxing Day — so that people seeking deals can do so unencumbered.

Just as Cleveland advises, LeBlanc said people heading to stores should bring some patience with them, whether they are picking up gifts or making returns.

“A little bit of patience goes a long way,” he said.

(Originally published on CBC, December 2014)

5 ways to avoid gift-giving gaffes this holiday season

Etiquette experts give their tips on how to give (or not give) presents

CBC News

Holiday celebrations can be a wonderful time, but they can also become awkward when people don’t share the same gift-giving philosophy.Experts say honesty is the best policy for navigating the social landmines associated with holiday gift-giving.Experts say honesty is the best policy for navigating the social landmines associated with holiday gift-giving. (AFP/Getty)Due to economic hardship or simply a principled stand on presents, some people prefer to pare down Santa’s shopping list to only the youngest children, or implement a gift-exchange system rather than purchasing presents for everyone in the extended family.

But for occasions like Christmas, which are steeped in tradition and emotion, broaching the topic with loved ones or co-workers can be uncomfortable.

“It’s probably the most challenging time of the year,” when it comes to stress, says etiquette expert Karen Cleveland. “There’s an intense amount of pressure. It’s very emotionally charged, there’s a lot of idyllic expectations. It’s steeped in family traditions.”

So, how can one navigate these social landmines? Experts say it’s best to approach your co-workers and loved ones early and honestly.

“A lot of time, the spending frenzy is a function of habit versus a function of choice,” says personal finance expert Bruce Sellery.

“[People say] ‘It’s kind of always how we do it. And we’ve never really thought of doing it differently.’ Ask the question so you can have the dialogue going.”

1. Talk to them immediately.

If you haven’t had that gift-giving discussion yet with your friends, co-workers and family, time is running out, says Cleveland.

“Someone very well may have already found the perfect gift for you… So it’s a little precarious to assume that a month before Christmas you can wipe the slate clean and reset traditions,” she says. “Broach that far earlier.”

Thanksgiving is a good opportunity to talk with your family members, or even co-workers, about how you want to handle gift-giving this year.

Louise Fox, an etiquette expert based in Orillia, Ont., talked with her family several months before the holiday festivities.

“Right now, some keeners already have a gift… Just be kind and thoughtful and considerate of the person, and they can agree or not agree.”

2. Be direct.

No matter what your motivation is for changing the gift-giving protocol – whether it’s finances or a strike against excessive consumerism – the discussion can be awkward.

The best way to handle it is to be honest, Fox says.

“There’s no point beating around the bush,” she says. “You have to be straight forward about it… You should never have to spend more or buy a gift if you’re not comfortable with it.”

‘There’s no point beating around the bush… You should never have to spend more or buy a gift if you’re not comfortable with it.’—Etiquette expert Louise Fox

Explain your reasons, she says. If you are really having financial difficulties, people are likely to be understanding.

“Not everyone has the same financial means,” Fox says. “If it doesn’t work for you, you say, ‘I’m sorry. This year, it’s been a rough year for me. I would love to contribute, but I’m really not able to.’ Certainly, people have to be able to expect that.”

It’s also key to have the conversation in person, or at least on the phone, she says.

Another option is to make it clear early on, to everyone, how you plan to participate in the gift-giving tradition, says Cleveland. She cites a friend of hers who is embarking on a big trip in 2013, and has made it well known that she is making all her Christmas gifts this year.

“Which is a smart cue, because everybody knows that’s diplomatic-speak for she’s on a tight budget,” says Cleveland. “And smart friends will reciprocate with something in sync with that.”

3. Compromise.

Even if the discussion is honest and direct, people still might not come to an agreement. The only way to navigate this situation is with an easy-going attitude, says Cleveland.

“You can cross your arms, and pout and say that you are definitely not exchanging gifts, and run the risk of ruffling some feathers in the process. Do you want to be right or do you want to get along with people? Do you really want to use Christmas as an opportunity to make a point? Or, do you want to find a way to make it work and compromise?”

Another option is to alternate the gift-giving traditions from year to year, says Vancouver-based etiquette expert Margaret Page. For example, you could give everyone gifts this year and set up an exchange for next year, she says.

Other options include pooling money to make a donation or sponsor a child in need, says Sellery.

Still, it’s possible that you can’t get everyone to come to a decision, says etiquette expert Julie Blais Comeau.

“They can do whatever they want,” she says. “It may not end where everybody is going to agree. The magic words at that time are, ‘Why don’t we both agree to disagree? I just wanted you to know. I can see you’re really passionate about your traditions, and I’m really passionate about this new way of living.’”

4. If you’re going to re-gift, make sure your worlds don’t collide.

Another option for people who don’t want to spend the money on new presents is to pass on a gift that was once given to them. As people push to be more environmentally friendly and cut back on waste, there are times when this is appropriate, says Blais Comeau.

But make sure the original gift giver won’t find out and take offense, she says.

“If your worlds are going to collide, don’t do it,” says Blais Comeau. “Don’t do it if it is a family heirloom, don’t do it if it’s handmade or personalized in any way for you… Make sure to freshen up the package, and make sure the original wrapping is still there.”

5. If you get a gift anyway, accept it graciously.

Despite telling everyone that you did not plan to buy presents for everyone, a friend may give you a present anyway.

‘Christmas should not be about ‘I give you, and you give me.”—Etiquette expert Margaret Page

If that happens, etiquette experts say accept the gift, send a loving thank-you note, but do not feel obligated to reciprocate.

“You accept it graciously and say, ‘Thank you so much,’” says Page. “Christmas should not be about , ‘I give you, and you give me.’ [Gifts are] a way of celebrating life.”

Resist the urge to tell the generous gift giver that you got them a gift if you didn’t, says Blais Comeau.

“Don’t lie and say that theirs is on the way, that you special ordered, or that you personalized it and you have to pick it up… Whatever it is, don’t lie. If you sincerely want to reciprocate, do so at a later time,” says Blais Comeau.

(First published on CBC, December 2012)