Interview on Newstalk1010

I had a blast as a guest on Newstalk1010 last night. Gail Vaz-Oxlade was the host, so kind of her to have me on her show.
We covered an awfol lot of ground — Twitter etiquette, adding your boss on Facebook and table mates more interested in their phone than dinner.

You can download the interview here.


How to share in a religious celebration – while avoiding awkward moments

by Wency Leung

You may not believe in God, but your Aunt Marge does. So when she invites you over for a holiday meal, should you participate in the family’s religious rituals and prayers, or risk offending your host?

Whether it’s Easter dinner, Passover, a wedding or bar mitzvah, certain gatherings can get awkward when guests and hosts don’t share the same faith. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

We asked authorities of good behaviour how both guests and hosts can happily celebrate without embarrassing themselves or infringing on each others’ beliefs. Here, they offer their advice:


Do your homework: If you don’t know what’s appropriate or what to expect, find out before you go. On certain occasions, for example, it may not be fitting to bring gifts. On others, it may be frowned upon to show up empty-handed.

“It’s like if you travel to another country,” says Suzanne Nourse, founder and director of The Protocol School of Ottawa. “You have a responsibility to do your homework, so you don’t go to the Middle East in short shorts and a tank top.”

Have an open mind: You may never become a convert, but be willing, at least, to explore what others’ rituals and beliefs entail, says Margaret Page, founder and director of Etiquette Page in Vancouver.

“Obviously, you have something in common because you’ve been invited,” she says.

Besides, Ms. Page adds, you never know. You may come away with a different perspective, or a better understanding of a particular belief system.

Keep your objections to yourself: “Silently respect the host’s observation,” says Toronto etiquette expert Karen Cleveland. “That’s a hard rule.”

Someone else’s event is not the forum to tout your religious differences, she says.

And don’t just keep your comments to yourself, Ms. Nourse adds. Eye-rolling and hostile body language are no-no’s as well.

“If you feel so strongly against something, then don’t go,” Ms. Nourse says. And if you do decide to go, consider it an honour.

Know the difference between active and passive participation: During prayers, go ahead and bow your head as a sign of respect, Ms. Cleveland says. But you needn’t go beyond that. “You’re not doing anything active. You’re not repeating words, you’re not saying a prayer, you’re not participating in any sort of religious activity.”

Should you fake it? “I think to each their own,” Ms. Cleveland says, noting that she has attended various weddings in the past, in which she’s been moved to repeat a prayer, just because it felt convivial. “I suppose it just depends on where your convictions lie.”


Make it easy for your guests: If you know your guests aren’t familiar with your customs, prepare them for what to expect, Ms. Nourse says. They’ll appreciate it if you give them a heads-up about any dress codes or taboos.

Don’t be pushy: “Where we see challenges is when people become forceful, when they want this other person to see things the way they see things,” says Ms. Page.

Let your guest determine how much they want to know about your beliefs. Give them the opportunity to ask questions, she says. Don’t bombard them with what you’d like them to know. “Otherwise, [you] scare them.”

Let guests choose how they want to participate: If a guest wants to be a silent observer, so be it, Ms. Cleveland says. “I think an excellent metaphor might be if you’re having vegetarian dinner guests, would you insist on having steak?”

At the same time, she says, carry on with your plans and with how you celebrate the occasion. There’s no need to go out of your way to accommodate. For instance, when drawing up the guest list, she says, “I wouldn’t worry about doing a mental tally of various sects to make sure [no one feels left out].”

If you’re having overnight guests, and you don’t know what to do with them when it’s time to go to church, synagogue or the mosque, let them know your plans. “Say, ‘Look, we’re headed to Mass at 10 a.m. if you’d like to join us. If not, we’re going to round up for brunch here at noon,’” Ms. Cleveland says. That way, you’ve put out the invitation and have still given them an opportunity to bow out.

(First published in The Globe and Mail, April 2012)

TIFF 2011: Your etiquette guide to getting past those velvet ropes

Just how far do immaculate manners go in lifting the velvet rope of the seemingly impermeable world that is the Toronto International Film Fest? You may be surprised. The best service-based spots in the city fill up fast, so you might find yourself jostling for a hair appointment alongside Keira Knightley or gunning to get into a bar in which Brad and Angelina are holding court.

Get creative. Be willing to shorten your requested service by settling for a blow-out rather than a full cut or taking a polish change over a manicure. With immaculate phone manners, politely ask to be added to a wait list, and check in regularly to see if anything has opened up. While no establishment would likely admit it, a lovely pleasant customer is more likely to find her name at the top of a waiting list than a gruff, demanding client.

Krista Foulis, spa director at Stillwater Spa at celebrity hotbed the Park Hyatt, agrees that patience and politeness go a long way. The spa gussies up their staff during TIFF and have even extended their hours occasionally, for, ahem, certain A-list clients. If the salon is fully booked, she reminds that in-room treatments might still be available. You could spring for a suite at the hotel and get gorgeous in your own room. Decadent–and worth every penny.

Late-night institution Goodnight is bound to be a TIFF destination, with a few A-list parties already slated for the spot. Owner Matt George prides himself on the neighbourhood vibe of the spot and loves it when customers treat the space like their own living room. But don’t dream of trying to grease a bouncer’s palm at Goodnight. Says George: “It’s all about building a relationship with the staff, so you can walk right in even if Brad Pitt is inside.” Get to it well become the film fest sweeps into town (as if you needed an excuse to drink another of their legendary Manhattans).

(First published in FASHION Magazine, September 2011)

A royal how-to: The top 5 tips on how to act (and what to wear!) when Kate and Will touch down in Canada

When Kate and Wills (ahem, the Duchess and Duke of Cambridge) begin their weeklong tour of Canada tomorrow, we can bet that you (or at least about a hundred people you know) will be jostling to rub elbows with them. And if there ever was a time to dream, this might just be your chance to get up-close and personal. If you’re indeed that lucky, you had better brush up on your regal conduct! We wouldn’t want to pull a Michelle Obama, would we?

For the most part, the conventions of royal encounters are just that: well-observed traditions, rather than draconian rules about how to conduct yourself. Want to charm the Duchess and Duke? Take note:

1. Observe and obey
Always wait for a dignitary to give you cues: they’ll speak to you first, extend their hand first, and begin their meal/tea first. Follow their lead, subject!

2. Mind your Ps and Qs
In addressing Will and Kate, you are to use “Your Royal Highness,” followed by “sir” or “ma’am.” For example: “Your Royal Highness, welcome to the Calgary Stampede. Your boots are lovely, ma’am.” And here’s one to save for a rainy day: if meeting the Queen, the same address applies—though “Your Royal Highness” should be upgraded to “Your Majesty.”

3. A soft touch
A gentle handshake (no boardroom power grip with a fierce pump here) accompanied by a curtsey bob is de rigueur for women. A head bow is customary for men. These softened conventions are modern takes on traditional greetings like court curtsies (a grand sweeping movement, right to the ground) and formal bows for gents.

4. Off with her head!
Note that even ever-graceful American First Lady Michelle Obama botched this traditional introduction when she met the Queen (moreover, she touched the Queen’s back and approached her from behind: all royal no-no’s). Despite the gaffes, she wasn’t escorted out or banished, so perhaps times are changing and traditions are softening. But, seriously, when does a woman get to curtsey? It’s the decorum equivalent of pulling out your best china and crystal. Go be fancy.

5. Dress the part
Channel your inner Kate and show off your signature colour in an elegant day dress. No costumes necessary—a simple and polished look does best.

(First published in FASHION Magazine, June 2011)

Give good text

I’ve had no less than four friends recently lament to me about the same complaint. One being She Does The City’s big boss lady herself, and the other lives all the way across the pond in Ireland, suggesting etiquette blunders span international borders. So here it goes (Karen Cleveland: breaking issues and breaking journalism. Right? No? Ok then. Shrug. Anyways.)

The issue at hand is poor cell phone use. If its ubiquity is any indication, it is the new gum chomping.

We’re all busy. In a culture where multitasking trumps and we’re always a text, tweet, bbm or email from others, it’s hard not to be connected all the time. In fact, there are great things about being connected. What’s damaging is that it sends a message to the people around you that whatever you’re attending to on the other end of your iPhone or Blackberry is more important than them – that you’re not fully present in their company. That you have better things to do.

Imagine if that side conversation was a real in-the-flesh one: would you brazenly turn your back on your company and start a separate conversation with someone else?

Texting or taking a call when your attention is otherwise commanded (in a meeting, over a drink or meal, a movie, etc.) is a big fuck you to the people you’re with. And really, if you succeed in ticking off all the people you hang out with, you might find yourself with no one texting you, at all.

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