Chris Oaks spoke with international etiquette expert and author Sharon Schweitzer.
Q: This is supposed to be the season of peace and good will, but it can often instead be a time when people can be impolite or downright rude. Holiday travel is one area where this is especially true. How can we avoid being an inconsiderate traveler?
A: A pair of noise-canceling headphones is my must-have travel accessory. When the crowds start to get on my nerves, it’s the perfect way to escape into my own little world for a while. I don’t recommend traveling with both gifts and children, so ship the gifts ahead of time if you can.
A small and quiet toy or some new apps and games on a tablet or smartphone are great ways to keep the kids entertained. Just make sure it’s something new that can hold their attention for hours, as opposed to something they’ve played with before that can get boring more quickly.
Q: Speaking of smartphones, there’s a place for technology — but that shouldn’t be around the holiday dinner table or during family time. How can we get people to turn off their devices without being rude about it?
A: The answer is not to ban electronic devices completely. Instead, tell your guests when dinner will be in 45 minutes, to give them time to take their selfies, upload their photos and text friends. Then explain that you want to share time with them in person and relive the moment online, rather than the other way around.
Q: You use the same approach to determining topics of discussion that are off-limits?
A: Right. Let everyone know a half-hour or so in advance that if they want to talk politics (or any other topic you declare to be taboo), those conversations need to be wrapped up by dinner time or put on hold until afterward. It may seem demanding at first, but it’s actually much more polite than trying to cut someone off mid-argument when it’s time for the meal.
And if someone does bring up a subject they shouldn’t around the table, be ready to jump in — not to reprimand or scold that person, but rather to casually direct the conversation elsewhere.
The best way to do that is to ask a specific person about a specific subject. For example, “Aunt Mary, tell me about the vacation you took to Borneo this summer. That must have been amazing!”
Q: There are plenty of websites where people can find guides for appropriate gifting and tipping for teachers, mail carriers, servers and the like. But what if you can’t afford to tip, or you have someone who refuses to accept such a gesture?
A: Homemade cards, crafts or baked goods are all perfectly acceptable alternatives. Something you are particularly known for, or something that represents your family history or ethnic culture that you want to share will be well-received. Everyone will appreciate something you took the time to prepare or create, regardless of its monetary value.
Q: Above all else, how do we redeem ourselves if we have done something rude or inconsiderate?
A: Own up to it. Even though you can usually chalk up those lapses to the stress or chaos of the holidays, and it’s something we’ve all done at one time or another, don’t make any excuses. A heartfelt apology is in order, and you’ll note that there is a difference between an apology and simply saying “I’m sorry.” That’s what you say when you bump into someone at the mall. An apology is sincerely asking for forgiveness from someone, so don’t simply try to dismiss what you’ve done.
“Good Mornings!” with Chris Oaks airs from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. weekdays on WFIN, 1330 kHz. He can be reached by email at email@example.com, or at 419-422-4545.