“Good old what’s his face” – Canadian Business

Delighted to be quoted in Canadian Business, by the indomitable MrArdle.

Ask McArdle: Canned wine and Twitter feuds

And good old what’s his face

(Illustration: Peter Arkle)(Illustration: Peter Arkle)

There’s a guy in my office I’ve worked with for years, but I still don’t know his name. How do I fix this gaffe?

During my tenure with a government agency, there was a comely woman in my department. We worked on counterintelligence measures at the Ministry of Agriculture—let’s just say I encrypted, she decrypted. I could tell she admired the bristle of my moustache, yet I failed repeatedly to ask her name. This awkwardness continued for months, until I finally left an encoded letter upon her desk. And that, dear reader, is how I met Mrs. McArdle. For those not employed in state-sanctioned skullduggery, a more direct approach is warranted. “You can play the earnest card, or the humour card,” advises Karen Cleveland, an etiquette expert and proprietor of the delightful Manners are Sexy blog. Regardless, start by approaching the person with your hand extended, ready for a handshake. Then, either simply confess you are embarrassed to not know their name and introduce yourself or, if you are witty, make a quip about how “your memory recall started to go downhill at 25 years old.” (Cleveland warns “if you’re not funny, stick to the earnest approach, it will feel more authentic.”) If you are too sheepish for the direct approach, you can engage in a fact-finding mission by sneaking a look at their mail when it’s dropped at their desk. That way, you’ll at least know their name when you find yourselves next sharing an elevator.


(First published in Canadian Business, October 2013)

The Opinion – Travel Etiquette

the opinion : travel etiquette

presse agent Karen Cleveland

travel is what you make of it. there’s a lovely old adage that if life is a book, not venturing abroad is akin to not turning to the next page.  and while i’m a firm proponent that jumping on a last-minute flight going  anywhere is always a great idea, spending some time gussying up on your destination’s customs can make the difference between being a tourist and really traveling.

travel etiquette basics

1. make friends with Google Translate

  • a humble attempt at a few sentences, regardless of how mispronounced they might be, will earn far more points than slowly repeating yourself with expansive gestures in English. try. just try. practice saying the basics like “hello”, “good bye”, “please”, “thank you” and, “can you help me”. it is also helpful to be able to ask whether someone speaks English in the language that you’re addressing them in.

2. friendly, but not sloppy

  • some languages have formal and informal variants (like “tú” and “usted” in Spanish) so take care not to be too casual. likewise, “ciao” is often reserved for close relations. erring on the side of grammatical formality shows a respect for the language and place you’re visiting, and that you’ve brushed up a bit – both ingratiating qualities.

3. nuances and customs

  • maps and fanny packs aren’t the only things that scream “tourist”. abide by local conventions, whether it is keeping arms and legs covered in sacred places, or respecting requests not to take photos. eating and drinking like a local will also help you settle into an authentic experience, so take your cues from where and how they dine.

4. be curious

  • fortune favours the bold, so when traveling, balance your sense of respect with a voracious curiosity. most locals love to answer questions about their homeland, particularly when they are thoughtful, sincere and asked by someone genuinely interested in understanding their culture. you’ll gain insights and make memories from chatting up a local that you would never glean by reading a travel guide.

based in Toronto, Karen Cleveland tackles all things etiquette, from the traditional to the taboo. follow her on Twitter @SchoolFinishing & visit mannersaresexy.com

(First appeared in The Travel Presse, May 2012)

Holiday etiquette: wardrobe malfunction and conversation advice

With so many things on the go during the holidays, it can be easy to stumble into a seasonal snafu.

Never fear: we have answers to your “How do I handle this?!” holiday questions (Tweet us or add a comment below) thanks to Karen Cleveland of the Finishing School — a national column devoted to etiquette, manners and civility.

This week, Cleveland tackles wardrobe malfunctions and how to remember names.

Sexy, festive clothing is popular this time of year, but can also present an element of risk. What do you do if you have a wardrobe malfunction?

“Even in our wretched winter weather, we still turn it out at the holidays, don’t we? ‘Festive’ attire is subjective, so dress for the occasion: an office holiday party is still a professional occasion,” says Cleveland. “Still, even the greatest dress or pair of heels in the store won’t flatter the wearer if they don’t feel comfortable in it.”

She adds: “You’re far more likely to have a wardrobe slip-up if your dress is too tight or short or you can’t walk properly in your shoes. There is nothing less attractive than seeing someone tugging at the bust line of their ill-fitting dress all night.”

And if your clothing betrays you and you end up showing off more skin than you intended, deal with it as gracefully and swiftly as possible. “If it’s an issue that needs serious tending to (a split seam, popped button, etc.) make those adjustments in private. And if anyone notices the mishap, address it quietly with a coy “phew, that was close” whisper — and maybe a playful wink if you’re not shy about who saw too much of your skin.”

You’re terrible with names, but know you’ll be meeting a tonne of people over the holidays. How can you go about remembering who people are? And, if you slip up a name, how can you admit you don’t “know” who they are?

“Full disclosure: I’m terrible with names so I don’t get as fussed when I meet people and they don’t remember mine. Introductions can be so fast and fleeting, particularly at a time of year when our calendars are at their busiest. It can be impossibly hard to catch who-is-who or the proper pronunciation of someone’s name. I find that repeating someone’s name when you’re introduced to them can help with recall,” says Cleveland.

If you’re in that moment when the face looks familiar, but the name just won’t come: “You cannot go wrong with simply re-introducing yourself. It instantly puts everyone at ease. If you like, you can further soften the situation by making a quick self-effacing joke, like “Ever since I turned 30, I’ve been plagued by short-term memory loss. I’m so sorry, can I reintroduce myself?”

“Even if you’re quite sure you remember someone’s name, but there’s enough doubt to stall you, avoid the guessing game that can endlessly gone on and on. Refrain from taking stabs in the dark of “I think we met X or at that X or did you work at X? Wait, was it the X?” By the time that goes on for 10 minutes (and you’re repeatedly dead wrong), the person may not want to meet you after all.”

(Published on The Huffington Post Canada, December 2011)

You say goodbye, I say…

How do you sign off on your emails? For friends and relationships that extend outside of the office, the ubiquitous xo or xx seem to trump. How do you bid adieu to those that you’d favour a handshake over a hug?

As there are so many appropriate options, I undertook a national survey* to quantify the most favoured email sign-offs (*denotes asking several friends their opinions, typically over wine and/or pints and throwing out the query out on Twitter).

Here is a summary of said national survey*:

· Cheers – can sound a bit pretentious, unless you’re English. Is “cheers” a part of your daily dialect? If so, it likely belongs in your email vernacular, too.
· Ciao – can sound a bit try-hard unless it is really part of your vocabulary.
· Regards – can feel a bit cold but all things formal can, can’t they?
· Warm[est] regards – Warms the straight-up latter, but is still quite formal (though not necessarily a bad thing).
· Sincerely – Feedback ranged on the use of this, but I’m a fan of its refinement.
· Best – The tone of “best” switches depending on the punctuation that follows it. Watch this. Best, Karen (looks nice, right?). Best. KC (looks downright acerbic).
· Bye for now/have a good day/speak soon – these all fall under the camp of cheerful pleasantries, which I’m fond of.

The acknowledgment should fit the message and the recipient. If you’ve exchanged nine emails with someone in the course of an hour, it is not uncommon for the sign-off to become more casual, even down to your initials. Likewise, a more formal email warrants a more formal sign-off. If I received a serious email that ended with “Ciao xoxo”, I’d question its merit.

What you said on Twitter

· Best or best Regards if emailing for first time. Or nothing at all
· I go with ‘cheers’ or ‘I greatly apologize for all of the cursing littered above’. Or ‘I Love You’ if I’m feelin creepy…
· At work it’s usually “best” at first and then “cheers” once I’ve gotten to know them better. “Regards” if I’m angry.
· Never best, regards or sincerely – too snooty. I use cheers, thanks, let me know etc depending on context/relationship
· All the best,” “Best regards” or “Thanks/Thank you” depending on the email and who it is addressed to.

(First published on She Does the City, May 2011)

The worst kind of snub: the public snub

If social interaction is a continuum, on one end there are people who are painfully fake, too slick, easy to spot in a crowd, just look for them looking over the shoulder of the person they’re speaking to. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are, plug your ears, bitches – icicles that can’t be bothered to make nice with anyone. Somewhere in the middle, thank God, are genuine, friendly people.

Aspartame-y people (sweet, but fake – see what I did there?) are one thing to deal with, but innocuous. People that publically snub others are another challenge all together, because they make it awkward for everyone around. I’m horrible at remembering names (a flaw that I’ve lamented about) but I try not to let that shortcoming make those around me feel uncomfortable or awkward. We’ve all felt left out in a converstation at one time or another – so we can all related to have that feels.

There’s an art to making nice and giving good small talk. It makes others feel more comfortable and makes you look more graceful. Be warm. Be kind. Be curious. Be conversational. Be inclusive. Be humble, even if that means reintroducing yourself to the same person three times. Try a little. Being bitchy isn’t very becoming.

(First published on She Does the City, March 2011)