Are Dorm Room Registries a Thing? Interviewed by Maclean’s Magazine

Dorm room gift registries on the rise

Students are sick of hand-me-downs and are giving dorm gift registries the old college try

Rosemary Counter

Before 19-year-old Meaghan Vital moved away from home and into a dorm at St. Clair College in Windsor, Ont., she attended a baby shower for her cousin’s wife. As the soon-to-be-mom was opening blankets and onesies from her registry, she turned to Vital with a tip. “She told me there was one for dorms now, too,” says the hairstyling student. Vital headed immediately to TheBay.com and created her own.

Just a few years ago, Vital would likely have been scrounging through her parents’ kitchen for freebies. Now she can benefit from a gift bounty thanks to a plethora of registry options now on the market. The Bay’s include anniversaries and housewarmings, “wish lists” and “holiday lists,” as well as the event option, added quietly in 2012, which Vital was most excited about: “dorm life.”

And so Vital began her list of 20 must-haves: Basic kitchenware such as cooking utensils and measuring cups, a $160 oversized blender, $130 Tassimo single-serve coffee maker with matching $25 disc carousel, and a $90 portable chopping system. Longer shots, she’ll admit, included a pink cotton-candy maker and a stainless steel deep fryer. Bay gift cards, their amount unspecified and unlimited, were also appreciated.

Gift-giving etiquette and expectations are continually changing, but if anyone had a less-than-positive response to Vital’s list, they were too polite to say so. “I told my mom, and she told all my aunts and uncles and stuff,” she says. “So they could go here for my birthday and Christmas presents and get me exactly what I need.”

For stores, dorm registries are a winning model, a response, perhaps, to the popular phenomenon in the U.S. of “trunk parties,” gatherings held by families before their high school grads head off to college; guests bring gifts of kitchenware, linens and the like. Bed Bath & Beyond allows students and parents to create a registry in their local store and pick up at a location nearby the college (making moving day much easier). In June, Target rolled out its College Registry program in the U.S. Thousands of students have since enrolled, and plans to expand the program into Canada are in the works.

Already there is Wal-Mart’s recently launched a “school supplies list,” a collaborative wish list that both students and their parents can access and manage. “It’s very close to a registry, except that it goes far beyond move-in day and has no specific date or event that goes with it,” says Rick Neuman, director of site experience at Wal-Mart Canada. Thirteen thousand lists have been created at Wal-Mart in the past month, some with as many as 10 “collaborators.” Students here seem more practical in their choices; top products listed are Kraft peanut butter, chunk tuna, loose-leaf paper, pens and pencils and laptops, although Neuman has also seen a seven-speed electric bike, a Zoomer Zuppies Interactive Puppy and one 80-inch flat-screen TV. “Somebody is dreaming big,” he says.

But registry makers should proceed carefully when navigating between needs and wants, says Toronto gift etiquette expert Karen Cleveland. “A registry shows you unequivocally expect a gift, and that’s a gesture of entitlement. No one owes you a gift for taking a step toward adulthood.” But while it’s tempting to see the phenomenon as a cash grab of sorts by the Me Me Me generation, for Millennial and writer Heidi Oran, it’s not so simple. “All registries are created by companies for profit,” she says. “They reflect the commercialization of every event in our lives.”

For students who do register, the same rules apply as for bridal registries: “Have a balance of price points, and spread the word via word of mouth,” says Cleveland. “A mass email is in very bad form.” And don’t be upset with gift-givers who go rogue. In this case, they might know something that you don’t know. “I actually got a lot of things that weren’t on my list but were way more helpful,” says Vital. “I got an electrical frying pan instead of a deep fryer, a Crock-Pot instead of a blender, and a toaster.” She never got her cotton candy machine, but there’s hope. Vital’s left the registry open, just in case.

 

(Originally published in Maclean’s Magazine, August 2014)

Kids at weddings: Tips for ensuring your kid rocks (not wrecks) the wedding

kids-at-weddings

It was a wedding Deb Oliveira-Godinho will never forget—though not for sentimental reasons. While the grown-ups focused on the beautiful ceremony, Oliveira-Godinho’s then-five-year-old daughter, Isabella—the flower girl—decided to entertain herself by painting her nails with red polish, courtesy of her cousin. Her white silk dress was ruined and the bride furious. “It’s funny now, but that day I was fuming, too,” the mom from Port Colborne, Ont., says.

When you mix young kids and weddings, there’s always the risk that calamity will mingle with the cute. So if your little one’s in a wedding party, here’s how to set the stage for success.

Know your child: Not every kid is comfortable in front of an audience, and while many couples love the charm of having children in their wedding, you know best. “If your kid isn’t meant for the job, it’s OK to decline,” says Karen Cleveland, a Toronto etiquette consultant. “You’re probably doing the couple a favour.” But if your child loves the spotlight and is excited to participate, go for it, but consider skipping some of the formalities, like the fancy updo—she’ll be better behaved if she can burn off some energy pre-ceremony instead of sitting in a stylist’s chair. And keep a watchful eye throughout the day, even if you know what kinds of things she’s prone to do (and not do). Kids can be unpredictable, especially when they’re bored.

Prep for success: Preschoolers’ attention spans are notoriously short. “It depends on the child, but many will change activities every five to 15 minutes,” explains Andrea Nair, a London, Ont., psychotherapist and parent educator. “During the ceremony, give him a job to do, like asking him to be the ‘tissue keeper’ for emotional moments, or taking photos with a little camera,” she suggests. Letting kids know what’s expected of them in advance can also curb issues on the big day: Watch wedding videos, do dry runs and practise picture-perfect smiles. If a babysitter isn’t an option for the reception, Nair recommends setting up some toys in an out-of-the-way corner to keep kids entertained.

But she doesn’t think bribery’s the way to go—no matter how tempting it may be. Instead, keep the mood light and fun to avoid creating power struggles. If your child sees you stressed out or frustrated, it will impact his mood and willingness to co-operate. Try using phrasing that gives him a little control in the situation. For example: “It’s time to take pictures. Would you be able to stand here, or here?” Adding some humour is bound to help, too: “What do you need to find your smiling face? Some tickles?”

Put parenting first: Be prepared to mix parenting with partying. Some restlessness during the ceremony is no big deal, Cleveland says, but if your child’s behaviour disrupts others, take him out of the venue. You can help prevent meltdowns by making sure your little flower girl or ring bearer is well rested, has a full tummy and has already visited the washroom, but Cleveland also suggests lightening up. “Parents often worry more than the couple does.”

When Annemarie Tempelman-Kluit’s sister asked her daughters—then ages four and six—to be flower girls in her out-of-town wedding, the Vancouver mom was nervous. It was a long flight, the wedding site wasn’t kid-friendly and no rehearsal was planned. “I felt the anxiety of not wanting my kids to ruin my sister’s wedding,” she says. Tempelman-Kluit talked through the importance of the day with her daughters and conducted her own mini-rehearsal at the venue. Everything went smoothly—which she attributes in part to the girls sharing the role. “They gave each other confidence,” she says.

Have a plan B: In case things get hairy at go-time, discuss alternative strategies with the bride and groom. Is it cool if you have to opt-out at the last minute, or are they OK with you walking down the aisle with your child?

Cleveland says it’s important to remember that weddings are fun celebrations, not flawless events. “Little quirks that come with having kids in a wedding are what makes it feel authentic and creates wonderful stories.”

 

(First appeared in the July issue of Today’s Parent, and online here)

Quoted in Fast Company (#pinchme)

I was really, really chuffed when @ambermac asked if I could answer some questions for Fast Company.

MEETING ETIQUETTE 101: FIST BUMPS, GOING TOPLESS, AND PICKING UP TABS

DON’T FORGET THESE RULES OF THUMB ON HOW BEST TO BEHAVE WHEN FACED WITH STICKY BUSINESS SITUATIONS.
BY 

With networking technology like LinkedIn’s “Who’s Viewed Your Profile” feature at our fingertips, we sometimes forget the importance of face-to-face interactions. We stumble when it comes to business meetings, tweeting from under a cafe table or fist bumping when a handshake would do just fine–making little mistakes that could cost us big business.

Here are four rules of thumb when it comes to proper face-to-face business etiquette.

1. SHAKE, HUG, OR FIST BUMP?

While it may seem inappropriate to hug a business colleague, it happens all the time. I’ll be the first to admit I’m a repeat offender, often bypassing an outstretched hand for a big embrace. Sure, it can be considered a warm gesture, but it can also overstep a line for some.

If you’re wondering how to start a meeting with a potential client or colleague, “a firm handshake, eye contact, and a soft smile while introducing yourself will do,” says etiquette adviser Karen Cleveland from mannersaresexy.com. Using the person’s name when meeting can also help you better remember it, she suggests.

If you’re a germaphobe or feeling under the weather, just be upfront and say you’re sick. Don’t go in for a fist bump instead. “Unless the person you’re meeting comes in for a fist bump, leave the college affectations for the kids,” says Cleveland.

2. REACHING FOR YOUR PHONE DURING A MEETING

When your meeting is underway, it’s important to stay on track. Too often we find ourselves reaching for our phones, interrupting the flow of conversation, without even noticing what we’re doing.

Cleveland recommends what she calls “topless meetings.” She isn’t talking about taking your shirt off, to be sure, but rather keeping all devices off the table to avoid distraction. “It … does wonders for removing the temptation to squeeze in a text or email when our attention should be on the meeting,” she says. “It’s similar to grade school: If you don’t want to share what you’re doing with the rest of the class, then don’t bring it.”

If you are bringing a device to a meeting, an iPad always seems less intrusive than plopping a laptop up on a table. What’s more, your tablet could be a great tool to illustrate something quickly.

3. PICKING UP THE TAB

When it’s time to pick up the tab, do you insist on paying or graciously accept a free lunch or coffee? Dorenda McNeil, a business etiquette trainer and principal at Counsel Public Relations, offers the following tips to help navigate that awkward moment when the bill arrives:

  • DINNER WITH A CLIENT OR CUSTOMER

    Unless your guest is from a company that has a strict policy limiting acceptance of gifts or perks, always pay for dinner or lunch–especially if you invited them.

  • LUNCH WITH YOUR COLLEAGUES

    If you’re having a lunch with three other co-workers, add the tip (20%) and split the bill four ways. It doesn’t matter if you only had a salad.

  • COFFEE WITH A MENTOR

    Have you asked someone for an informational interview or are you requesting a reference? The person who stands to gain the most out of the meeting should automatically offer to pay.

  • A BITE WITH THE BOSS

    If your supervisor or boss invites you to lunch, it’s probably safe to assume they’re treating. However, it’s still polite to offer to split the bill and follow-up with gratitude (and don’t order the most expensive item on the menu).

4. CANCELING A MEETING

If you’re breathing, you’re busy. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but the truth is we’re all juggling a million things and sometimes meetings have to be canceled. “Give your colleagues the same attention and respect you would want,” says Cleveland. “Don’t use busyness as a crutch for bad manners.” If you do have to cancel a meeting, give the person you’re meeting with as much notice as possible. What’s more, if your day is simply too packed to meet in person, consider video chatting on Skype or Google+ Hangouts.

It’s easy to let manners slip, especially when we’re constantly bombarded with information. Don’t forget to put your best foot forward when you’re taking the time to meet a person face-to-face. It will pay off in the end.

[Image: Flickr user cogdogblog]

Valentine’s etiquette on CTV

It was great to be back at CTV. This time, we discussed “Dating in the Digital Age”. Clip below, or here.

CTV

Have Canadian Manners Gone to Hell?

Have Canadian manners gone to hell?

The nation’s polite reputation in jeopardy, say experts

At The Petite Syrah café in Nice, posted prices for coffee vary based on a patron’s manners.
At The Petite Syrah café in Nice, posted prices for coffee vary based on a patron’s manners. PHOTO: FABRICE PEPINO

If the reputational cost of bad manners isn’t enough to encourage decorum, how about having to pay an extra $8  for a coffee?

A café in France recently made headlines for issuing a price scale based on patron etiquette: “Hello, one coffee, please” was listed at the usual price, while the more blunt “One coffee” was advertised at a premium. Though the sign was designed to make a point, people’s enthusiastic reaction to it is sparking renewed debate about the decline of civility.

Even here in Canada, where politeness is a flywheel of national identity, surveys consistently suggest we’re becoming less courteous, more self-involved, and increasingly prone to boorish behaviour – whether in the workplace, in public spaces or on social media. The question is, can anything be done about it?

“The reality is that things have to escalate to a point of pretty significant severity before a court is going to address it,” said Garry J. Wise, a Toronto-based lawyer. “It’s very, very difficult to enforce (civility) in the absence of an ongoing pattern.”

Internationally, however, that’s not the case.

Prone to road rage? Best not drive in Germany, where disrespect is punishable by law.

Germany’s so-called “insult law” not only criminalizes hate speech but also broad conduct showing disrespect for another person – including flipping someone off in traffic. In France, the state-owned railway tasked a team of “polite police” with cracking down on rude passengers after noting a 25 per cent increase in traveller complaints. And inSingapore, a person can be fined for everything from spitting on the sidewalk to not flushing a public toilet.

The lines are greyer in Canada, said Wise, with the onus largely falling on individuals and organizations to impose decorum.

“The willingness of an employer to jump in will vary from workplace to workplace,” said Wise, pointing to issues of harassment, sexism and racial slurs. “Sometimes, they’ll do what the law requires, but not necessarily for the purpose of solving the problem; it’s for the purpose of papering their file.”

Karen Cleveland, a Canadian manners maven, said the Canuck approach tends to be one of passive aggression as opposed to legal intervention. Take, for example, the time she forgot to silence her cellphone at the symphony and was met by “well-deserved glaring looks from other patrons.”

“We shame each other in a very Canadian, quiet, judgy way,” said Cleveland, who contends that etiquette in this country is headed down a scary path.

“Internationally, we enjoy a reputation as being a very mild-mannered people. Some days, that feels like nothing further from the truth – especially if you’ve had the pleasure of cramming yourself into a Toronto Transit Commission subway during rush hour.”

A 2011 poll of more than 5,000 drivers for the Canadian Automobile Association found 73 per cent of people believed road users were exhibiting more rude habits than in the recent past. And in a 2013 survey by B.C.-based Insights West, the majority of respondents had, over the previous month, witnessed public swearing (87 per cent), a child misbehaving without parental intervention (76 per cent), public spitting (72 per cent), and the use of cellphones during a movie (53 per cent).

Poor parenting was cited as a culprit by 93 per cent of respondents, followed by the influence of technology, at 84 per cent. Among Canadians 18 to 34, 70 per cent said someone had written something rude on their Facebook page, directed a mean tweet at them, or been disrespectful to them elsewhere online.

In recent years, however, a proactive approach to manners has begun to emerge.

To combat seat-kicking, phone use and other undesirable movie going activity, Cineplex relies on a pre-show campaign reminding Canadians to – in the words of spokesperson Mike Langdon – exhibit “the behaviour that’s generally preferred in theatres.” Read: Don’t be a jerk.

Prior to the Vancouver Olympics, volunteers participated in a kind of civility bootcamp, aimed at fostering such skills as attentive listening and conflict management. And looking to the nation’s bleachers, more than 65,000 Canadians have participated in Respect in Sport’s parent program, a behavioural training initiative – made mandatory by many sport bodies – designed to prevent infightingamong overzealous moms and dads.

Still, direct punishments for poor manners remain a rarity. In fact, Christine Porath, who has studied incivility for more than a decade, said the greatest costs – at least in the workplace – are suffered by the targets of incivility.

For instance, Porath finds 80 per cent of victims lose productivity due to worrying; 66 per cent incur a decline in performance; 63 per cent lose work time to avoiding the offender; and 12 per cent seek new employment. And the frequency is only worsening: in 2011, fully half of surveyed workers reported experiencing rude treatment at least weekly, compared to just a quarter in 1998.

“We’re not used to penalizing it,” said Porath, co-author of The Cost of Bad Behavior and an associate professor at Georgetown University. “We’ve always been about granting people liberties to be themselves.”

 

(Originally published on Canada.com, Jan 2014)