Thrilled to be back as a guest on ETalk, this time discussing etiquette as part of their wedding week.
Thrilled to be back as a guest on ETalk, this time discussing etiquette as part of their wedding week.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
A great start to my morning as a guest on The Morning Show — thanks for having me, Global!
I had a blast shopping for Valentine’s Day gifts with Matte Babel. Here’s a video put together for Yahoo! screen.
By Monika Warzecha
Birthdays are bad and Christmas is a challenge. But there’s no other holiday that strikes more fear into the hearts of men than Valentine’s Day.
Matte Babel speaks to etiquette advisor Karen Cleveland about the most common mistakes men make on Valentine’s Day and what to do to avoid them. They wander through MoRoCo, a luxury chocolate shop in Toronto, as Cleveland dishes the goods.
Mistake #1: You don’t plan ahead
Retailers start hauling out the pink and red decoration and Valentine’s Day goodies in early January so there’s no excuse for letting the holiday creep up on you. Karen points out that waiting until the last-minute to put together romantic or unique plans for your lady never works. “All the good cards are gone, all the good tables at restaurants are booked,” she says. “You’re setting yourself up for failure.”
Mistake #2: You refuse to celebrate
Karen outlines a common holiday cop-out, “Men lament that it’s a commercial ploy and they want nothing to do with it.” But that’s no excuse because whatever your feelings about the holiday, your partner will still have expectations for February 14th. “Women don’t care…You still have to dazzle us.”
Mistake #3: You cheese outOn the other side of the spectrum, there are men who embrace Valentine’s Day in the worst way. Most holidays have potential for hokiness so stay away from clichéd gifts. Karen explains that over-sized stuffed animals or heart-shaped boxes of chocolates are too cheesy. “It feels a little contrived. There’s really nothing authentic about it.” Ideally, you should be looking for gifts that show your feelings for her and not the same old stand-bys.
What you should get her
So what makes for an acceptable token of affection? Karen says a great gift is “something deeply personal that shows how well you know her and how much you adore her.” That might mean getting her concert tickets to her favourite band, or a rare edition of her favourite book.
For adventure-loving ladies, Karen suggests surprising a long-term partner with plane tickets for a weekend away. If it’s still early days, loading her e-reader with travel guides might feel less premature. Or for women who love luxury, an appointment at a spa makes for a thoughtful, indulgent treat.
But for men still flummoxed on how to make the occasion special, Babel asks whether chocolates and flowers can still work as gifts.
Karen recommends stepping up beyond the standard set of drugstore chocolates by seeking out a specialty shop with lots of variety. Dark chocolate ganaches are perfect for traditional women while a bolder gal might prefer a black chai tea truffle.
And no one can go wrong with roses. They’re quite simply, a classic. The best bouquets have a clean style – chic and more minimalist than the plastic-sheathed, babies’ breath-laden clusters easily found in gas stations.
But since some of the best gifts show their specificity, this could mean treating her to nicely wrapped package of licorice if she prefers them to chocolate or showering her with tulips if she prefers them to roses.
It’s all about keeping things personal – to show that you really know her and care.
There is more to the holiday season than love, joy, peace and goodwill.
There is also chaos, the merry mayhem you can feel in your bones. And stress, the did-I-remember-to-do-x? anxiety you can feel in your soul. Let’s face it, for every jingling bell, there is a jangled nerve.
Around this time of year, there are also etiquette dilemmas.
What happens when family dinners cook up the opposite of joy and peace? Are the rules of engagement for a Secret Santa gift swap flexible? How do we teach our kids the true meaning of Christmas amid the raging consumerism?
To help you navigate the holidays — or, perhaps, survive them — we wrapped a few questions and sent them to Karen Cleveland, an etiquette expert:
Q: What happens when someone you never exchange gifts with suddenly gives you one? Are you obliged to start a new tradition?
A: The dreaded gift ambush! If caught without a gift, accept the present warmly and graciously. And if you’re so inclined, lie. Lie through your teeth. Explain that their gift is at your home and would they like to come over for a drink the night after next to get it?
Q: Speaking of Christmas cheer, if your extended family now includes a vegan, someone with a severe dairy allergy and a recovering alcoholic, how do you plan a family dinner that makes everyone happy and nobody sick?
A: Perhaps that Christmas cheer is an afternoon tea, complete with lactose-free milk, Stevia, vegan muffins and sugar-free preserves? To use your word, you, well, plan. Rather than try to function as a short-order cook and create one dish for every person’s unique need, get creative and find something that ideally everyone can enjoy. You might have to spend some considerable time creating a menu that works, but at the risk of sounding sickeningly festive, don’t feel beleaguered by that planning. Relish the fact that you have an extended family. You could be celebrating it alone.
Q: What’s the best way to divide holiday time when you have to visit multiple family homes?
A: Very, very carefully. Modern families are complicated units, particularly when step-relatives, in-laws and physical distances are factored in. It is hard to please everyone. In fact, you probably won’t, so all you can do is your best to divide your time equally, without making yourself crazy in the process. Setting expectations in advance might help quell ruffled feathers when you have to leave mom’s Christmas Eve tea early to make it to dad’s in time for a round of eggnog.
Q: How do you deal with a single relative who always gets drunk and then begins saying wildly inappropriate things?
A: Every guest deserves your best hosting prowess — even if it means gritting your teeth through their indiscretions. There is a lovely old adage that the true test of good manners is pleasantly dealing with bad ones. A host isn’t responsible for their guests’ behaviour.
Q: Speaking of indiscretions, here’s a random workplace query: What is the best response if your married boss is openly hitting on underlings at the office Christmas party? What’s the best way to intervene without jeopardizing your own career?
A: Unless you’ve been invited to join them in their rendezvous — or are the spouse of said married boss — what makes you think this is of your concern? It’s not. The situation calls for neither an intervention nor catty gossip the following day.
Q: Okay, still in the office. You’re participating in a Secret Santa. You’ve picked a name and have a perfect gift in mind for this colleague, who is also a friend. But the gift is way more than the mandated price limit. Is it okay to break the rules?
A: Price parameters are put in place for good reason. If you blow the Secret Santa budget cap, the gift recipient will likely be chuffed by your generosity, but the rest of the group might think you’re showboating. If the gift is truly perfect, and you have a close enough relationship with the colleague, give it to them for their birthday.
Q: Is a “Merry Christmas” email ever an acceptable substitute for an actual paper card that’s sent in the mail?
A: You can eat Christmas dinner off of paper plates, if you really want to. No one is going to stop you from sending your holidays tidings in an email rather than a card. It’s better than nothing, isn’t it? Though I’d rather get a thoughtful, beautifully handwritten card in the mail on Dec. 26 than a generic email late afternoon on Dec. 24.
Q: Does the season of generosity have a potential downside? Children today already seem to have so much stuff. Then during the holidays, they’re lavished with more. What’s the best way to instill a sense of value and gratitude? How do we help our kids appreciate what they get when they already have so much?
A: How can generosity, if meant in its true sense, have a downside? Getting caught up in the consumerism of the holidays might blur the lines between generosity and “oh, good grief, as if they need another toy,” sure. But the spirit and intention in which a gift is given sets the tone. If gratitude begets gratitude, perhaps being thankful that you have so many loved ones to buy for is a good place to begin?
Karen Cleveland is a hosting expert who has collaborated with Jackson-Triggs this holiday season to create the ultimate guide to hosting. For more tips, follow Karen on Twitter at @schoolfinishing.
(First published in the Toronto Star, December 2012)
Thanks again to Christine Cardoso for having me back her on her show.
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. (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.”
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.”
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.”
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.’”
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.”
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)
Of all of life’s enigmas, dress codes can be the most difficult to crack. And the festive season brings a deluge of societal invitations, many of them seemingly crafted by a U-boat’s encryption specialist. When a party planner specifies “holiday formal” or “smart casual,” she might as well be demanding “late-period Etruscan.” Fortunately, the vagueness of “cocktail attire” belies its rather straightforward meaning. For gentlemen, the standard uniform is a dark suit, crisp dress shirt of a solid colour or subtle pattern, a tie and dress shoes. For women, this is an occasion to wear what Mrs. McArdle describes as “a little black dress.” Remember that cocktail functions are a time for refinement, not excess. As etiquette expert Karen Cleveland wisely advised me: “You don’t want to be the flashiest person in the room, but you don’t want to be the most underdressed. You just want to look really well put together.” To “gussy” oneself up, Cleveland, proprietor of the excellent Finishing School blog, advises gents to consider a nice pocket square or a pair of great cufflinks, while ladies can take their pick of jewelry. But please, convey holiday cheer through actions, not fashion. “You don’t want to be pulling out the reindeer sweater your grandmother gave you,” says Cleveland. “Exercise good sartorial judgment.” Words that wise should be printed on a T-shirt.
Illustration by Peter Arkle
(First published in Canadian Business, November 2012)
I love Christmas! Do you realize it’s just over two months away? It’ll be here before we know it.
So, I did a little online Christmas shopping before heading to work this morning. And I’ve already extended invitations to family and friends for festive get-togethers, so they could mark them on their calendars before they get completely booked up.
‘Tis the season to entertain. I always appreciate tips that make hosting: holiday gatherings easy. So this media release from Jackson-Triggs piqued my interest. It shows us how to channel our inner host with expert advice from hosting guru Karen Cleveland.
Here’s the release:
The holiday season is upon us and we all know that means: holiday parties, and lots of them! While guests have it made, hosts have some work to do. Jackson-Triggs has collaborated with hosting expert Karen Cleveland to create the ultimate holiday hosting guide, sure to help any host – first-time or experienced – to create the ultimate holiday experience for their guests.
“I was inspired by the challenges I’ve faced as a host when entertaining over the holiday season,” says hosting expert Karen Cleveland, who works for St. Joseph Media by day. “We’ve created an easy to follow guide that can help even a novice host sparkle and deliver a holiday experience their guests won’t soon forget.”
A Selection of Tips from the Jackson-Triggs Guide to Hosting
• List everything you need to buy and set mini deadlines for getting it all. If any of the prep work can be done early, get it all out of the way.
• When stocking up, scope out the boxed wine selection too. They’re a cinch if you’re pre-pouring a few trays of wine to have ready as guests arrive.
• Don’t stress about decor – keep it basic. Try all white with tons of greenery like magnolia and boxwood. They last and look great without being overdone.
• Anticipate guests’ arrival by having music on, wine pre-poured, snacks ready – like cheese, and a place for coats, accessories, and boots.
• Don’t be a slave to the party. Freshen food and guests’ glass throughout the night, but remember to get out and enjoy your own party!
• Last but not least, plan your revelry! Take some unabashed relaxation time the next day to put your feet up and bask in your hosting success.
“Above all, my best piece of advice is to keep it simple,” says Karen Cleveland. “Hosting with ease is the name of the game. Boxed wine is a logical choice for entertaining over the holidays, whether you’re planning one big hurrah or a few smaller parties.”
Five great reasons to consider boxed wine over the holidays:
• Value. It holds more than 5 bottles and still costs less.
• Convenience. It is easy to open and fits nicely into the fridge or pantry.
• Less packaging. Only 1 bag vs. 5 bottles.
• Portability. It’s easy to carry, without glass or bulky bottles to worry about.
• Freshness. Boxed wine stays fresh for up to 6 weeks.
With Jackson-Triggs guide to hosting, guests will look back days after the party and remember one thing: the gracious host. What more could any one ask for?
For a full list of Karen Cleveland’s hosting tips, visit: http://pinterest.com/jacksontriggs/hosting-tips-a-toast-to-the-host
Follow Irene Seiberling on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ISeiberling
(First published in The Leader Post, October 2012)