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)

Christmas Etiquette on Global News Vancouver

Last Minute-ish ideas for Valentines Day

If you haven’t been hit over the head with onslaught of bad chocolate and tacky lingerie, count yourself lucky. Then come out from under the rock you’ve been living under, and concede that Valentine’s Day is here.

And if you hate on it, you can rest assured that you’re in good company, lots of people think Valentine’s Day is overblown and lame. But your honey might not give a hoot about how commercial or stupid you think February 14 is — they might still be hoping you do something, anything, to mark the occasion. You need not feel like a sell-out or go broke in the process.

Best bets for late (ish) Valentine’s Day gifts

Really, really good quality chocolate

  • Pro tip: if you can buy it alongside dish detergent and cat litter, you’re not buying good enough chocolate.

Something fun to do together

  • How do you want to spend an evening together? Getting rubbed down for a couples’ massage? Seeing a great band or comedian together? Taking a wine tasting class? No need to take one for the team, find something that you’re into, too.

A gift that gives all year long

  • Get pregnant! Kidding. Magazine subscriptions or loading up your lover’s e-reader with really great content will have them swooning all year long.

Get outta here

  • Go out of town and make out in a new, undiscovered territory. You need not go far to feel miles and miles away.




Regifting and New Year’s Eve tips on Canada AM


This gallery contains 1 photo.

Thanks for having me as a guest, Canada AM! Click the image below or here for the segment!

The well-mannered year ahead: Kick off 2013 with some very polite resolutions

Karen Cleveland, Special to National Post


You don’t have to use a quill and inkwell, but handwritten thank-you notes will make all the difference in 2013.

Diets, schmiets. Such pedestrian resolutions are usually gone by spring, anyway. Reign in the unrealistic ambition and instead, consider your crisp new calendar the perfect opportunity to really commit to a better year. Karen Cleveland shares her tips on how to make 2013 your most polished, charmed, best year yet, one month at a time.

January: Give the consummate toast
The most memorable toasts are concise, eloquent and convey just the right amount of emotion. Start by surveying the scene. Everyone have a drink? Stand and clear your throat, or move to a more visible area to get their attention. Make your intentions known in a clear, confidence voice (fake one, if you lack one). “Thank you for coming, I’d like to raise a glass to [insert subject or occasion of your toast here].” Say a few kind words about your subject, then raise your glass higher and repeat the toastee’s name. People will drink on your cue. Purists don’t clink, they merely raise glasses. Larger audiences logistically prohibit a clink and eye contact with every single guest, so just do your best. If you are the subject being toasted, lucky you! Do not drink to yourself — simply sit back and revel in the moment.

February: Upgrade from emails to handwritten notes
I know, email is so much more convenient than sitting down to write notes by hand, but the same could be said of paper plates over dishes. Paper and handwriting is just, well, nicer. Stockpile some great stationary that you are actually excited to use and a surplus of stamps. Grab some scrap paper to scribble what you want to write and test out your pen. A good note should address the recipient (Dear friend), touch on the occasion (“Thank you for hosting an excellent dinner”) and any specifics (“Sorry again about that red wine incident, it’s a late Christmas miracle that it came out of the carpet”) and close with a fitting sign off (“Looking forward to returning your hospitality, Sincerely, you’). Sure, you could put this in an email, but doesn’t  the medium elevate the message?

March: Make your bed every morning, all month

Making your bed is a metaphor. It sends a signal to the universe, and to yourself, that you set aside few moments of each day to add some order to your life. No matter how hellish your day was, you can take solace in knowing there is a tiny little sliver of civility waiting for you, in the form of a crisply made bed. Do it for a month and see how you feel. Such small daily rituals can set the tone for other things in life. Whether that tiny ritual is making your bed, in the morning, not going to sleep with a sink full of dirty dishes, or not using your front entrance way as a dumping ground, relish in some little practices that honour your nest.

April: Spring clean your online persona
If someone were to Google you right now, or creep your Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn profile, what would they find? Years ago, before the marvels of social media, we lived private lives and actively chose what parts of ourselves we wanted to make public. Today that model is totally inverted. Take care of your online reputation in the same delicate way that you would your offline persona. Do some digging and relentlessly edit, untag and delete until you are happy with your online image.

May: Edit your closet
This is a considerable task to undertake but a gratifying and important one. Set aside a weekend day. Begin by taking everything out of your wardrobe and sorting it into three piles. Pile one is for things you regularly wear and that are in good repair. A second pile is for things that you want to wear, but need some love. The final pile is for items fit to donate or if they are beyond that, shred into rags. Remove this third pile from your home immediately, as you’ll be instantly more motivated with a good purge under your belt. Take things to be mended, pressed, polished or sewn as needed, then put everything back into your wardrobe in a state that it is ready to be worn. Rotate items so forgotten pieces get their due, and if space is an issue, store your fall and winter items separately (under the bed storage boxes to the rescue).You’ll likely realize that most of the items you pitched were things you never really needed to buy, or they were of such poor quality, they fell apart. Shop smart by sticking to well-made things that you’ll actually wear, and that are on point with your social and professional life.

June: Make memorable introductions
Your dazzling handshake should be accompanied by your first and last name when introducing yourself. If you struggle remembering names, try repeating the name of the person you just met (“nice to meet you, Robin”). You can try to draw some recall connections, like reminding yourself that Robin is wearing red. When introducing two people, introduce up. If you introducing your intern to you president, you would say, “President, may I introduce you to our newest intern, John”. A person of high rank, importance or seniority (I know, I cringe at that too) is named first and receives the introduction. If you are introducing two peers that haven’t met, providing some context can help the conversation along. For example, “I’ve been meaning to introduce you. John, meet Mike. You both spent time in Italy last year.”

July: Be the best damn cottage guest
Charm your hosts so much and you just might score invitations for every weekend until Labour Day. Confirm what time you should arrive so you don’t surprise your hosts and arrive with something awesome for them. Help with meal preparations and clean up and make your stay as least invasive as possible. That means not taking over the entire bathroom vanity, hijacking the iPod with your music or leaving your wet towel and stack of magazines on the dock. Thank your hosts for having you with a thoughtful handwritten note, which you mastered back in February, right?

August: Throw an “oh, it’s nothing” weeknight dinner party

Summer entertaining is inherently casual, so ever an intimidated host can pull together a Wednesday night dinner party with ease. Gorgeous fresh produce, BBQs and long, lazy nights beckon for unfussy dinners.  Invite your guests a week or so out, then use that week to set aside mini tasks. Shop for beer and wine one night, stock up on ice the next, buy flowers the night before, and before you know it, the night of your dinner will only need your actual meal preparation. Grill everything you possibly can: some bread to serve with a salad to start, fish, meat, veggies or pizza for a main, then some fruit (serve over ice cream) for dessert. A bucket of beer and wine on ice within arm’s reach, a plethora of white candles and a laid-back soundtrack for the night and you’re set. Best part of grilling your entire meal? Very few dishes to wash up.

September: Pour the perfect cocktail

Chalk it up to the revelry of TIFF or the siren call of comfort cocktails, but when temperatures dip, I’m ready for a proper drink. Master a classic cocktail that you like to drink, perhaps an Old Fashioned, Tom Collins, Manhattan or Negroni. Stock up on quality ingredients and barware then enlist a trusted group of tasters to sample your concoctions. Warning: your skills are bound to improve with every round you serve them: it’s just science. Feel free to tinker with a trusted recipe, but only after you’ve mastered the purist’s version.

October: Nail a power lunch (or breakfast, or dinner)
Breaking bread with a client can galvanize a relationship. Or ruin it. Pick a date and time first, then choose a venue that is reputable, conducive to talking business and conveniently located for your guest. Make a reservation. If you are going to try for a table at a hotspot that doesn’t take reservations, get there very, very early as not to keep your guest waiting twenty minutes for a table. Give them the better seat at the table and keep your phone off of the table. Instagramming your meal is verboten. Settle into some small talk (read the headlines that day) before delving into shop talk. When the bill comes, they who did the inviting typically grabs the cheque, but to hell with that custom if grabbing the bill saves you from an awkward moment. Follow up from your meal with whatever you promised you would and if it seems natural, touch on something non-business related, for example, “thanks for your time over lunch, Nicole. Attached is the concept we discussed. Have a great time at the Brickworks this weekend with your daughter.”

November: Call in sick like a grownup

Cold and flu season isn’t fun for anyone, so coming to work when you are knowingly contagious is a cardinal sin. Spare your colleagues from your gnarly germs by staying home. Call or email your boss explaining that you are staying home sick for the day (text message is likely too casual a medium to convey this). Touch on who-can-cover-off-what in your absence, and if you hazard a guess, say when you expect to be back in fine fighting form. No need to go into gory details, but a cursory descriptor of what ails you should suffice.

December: Indulge in a bit of the good life
In a month saturated with shopping and hosting others, what is the harm in picking up a little something for yourself?  Treat yourself to something that your heart desires. Surely those lovely sheets, fancy stemware or decadent bottle of scotch will benefit your guests just as much as you, right? ‘Tis the season!

(Published first in the National Post, December 2012)