Thursday, December 31, 2009


You often need perseverance and a clear voice to get guests in to dinner, especially if you have a crowd. The host should announce with authority that dinner is ready and then take a couple of guests by the arm and lead them into the dining room. Don’t worry about interrupting someone’s conversation. After all, it is a dinner party. After you start the procession, drop back to the rear and round up the stragglers. Leave drink glasses behind as you go into dinner. If the party is informal, though, and you are drinking wine, it is fine to carry your wine glass with you to the table, although you will probably find fresh glasses there.

Be a Mix Master

Arrange your furniture so small groups will gather to chat instead of forming one large ring around the center of the room. Never have all the appetizers and hors d’oeuvres on one table or tray in the center. This arrangement discourages conversation. Lighting should be fairly bright at the beginning of the party. It looks festive, and guests like to see what’s going on. Dim the lights as the evening progresses. The host should be most visible and available at the start of a party when the guests are arriving. Put your guests at ease by taking their coats and offering them each a drink. Even if you have hired help, you should greet all your guests personally unless the party is so huge that doing so is physically impossible. Take each guest around the room and introduce him or her to everyone. Don’t ever leave a guest unless he or she is well into a conversation. Shoving a drink into a guest’s hand does not assure that he or she will immediately begin to have a good time. Guests need attention.


If you’re invited to dinner, arrive within five minutes of the time on the invitation, no later.
The cocktail hour should be just that—one hour—preferably less, just long enough for the guests to arrive, have a drink, and become accustomed to the group. Letting the alcohol flow on endlessly is rude, unsafe, and unhealthy, and too much to drink ruins your taste for the meal.
If you’re serving hard liquor, keep the choices simple. All you need are gin, vodka, bourbon, scotch, club soda or mineral water, soft drinks, fruit juice, and tonic. You can go the extra mile and provide garnishes, such as fruit, green olives, and pearl onions, but they are not necessary.
It’s fine to set up a self-service bar. Remember that people are consuming less alcohol and caffeine these days, so stock some nonalcoholic drinks and caffeine-free colas.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Simple Menu in Dinner

People are so busy and so health- and weight-conscious these days that most of your guests will be perfectly pleased if you count the hors d’oeuvres as the first course. You can serve hors d’oeuvres, attractively arranged on platters placed around the room for people to sample, during the cocktail hour. This setting lends itself to the great variety of prepared foods available today. Avoid user-unfriendly foods that are perilous to furniture and clothing. Everything should be simple enough to be picked up with fingers, speared with a toothpick, or spread with a knife.
Your main course can be as simple as a casserole with a salad or baked ham. It is a good idea to avoid roasts, which depend on a precise serving time and taste like shoe leather if left uneaten for too long.
Don’t think that you must purchase expensive food for your party. I once attended a dinner for out-of-towners given by a famous Philadelphia hostess. She served scrapple—a traditional Philadelphia cornmeal dish—lentils, scrambled eggs, hashbrown potatoes, and chocolate ice cream with raspberry sherbet. She told her guests that she was treating them to “a flavor of Philadelphia.” The guests loved it. And, of course, the story of Eleanor Roosevelt serving hot dogs to the Queen of England is legendary.
You can also take advantage of the gourmet take-out shops, which will have your food ready for pickup or delivery just when you want it. If you’re trying a shop for the first time, talk to the owner and taste the food in advance. These shops can be a godsend for “everybody works” households.
Balance is important. If your main course is light, a heavier dessert works well, and vice versa. In any case, dessert is important. I have noticed that otherwise dietconscious people quickly develop calorie amnesia when dessert arrives at someone else’s table. However, when a guest doesn’t eat what you are serving, don’t think you have to whip up something special just for him or her. If you like exotic foods and plan to serve them, ask your guests when you invite them if they like, say, moussaka. A guest who is too polite to refuse something he or she doesn’t like after you cook it often will not hesitate to tell you candidly about his or her dislikes beforehand.
As a guest, you should let your host know if you have special dietary needs. If you are a vegetarian, have serious food allergies, are kosher, or avoid certain foods for health reasons, make it known when you are invited. The host then can create a menu that will please everyone and still take your needs into consideration. Or the host may prepare an additional side dish for you, augment the side dishes, or just advise you to bring your own food. Carol Channing is famous for bringing her own food to parties.

Buying and Serving Wine Etiquette

If you’re not a wine connoisseur, get advice on buying wine from either a knowledgeable liquor-store owner or a friendly restaurateur. Describe the menu and ask for moderately priced selections. One of my friends simply went to a liquor store and purchased a case of its most costly red Burgundy. The proprietor was thrilled, of course, but the value of the wine was lost on most guests. You don’t need to be extravagant to be elegant. What you need is to be generous and make sure there is enough to go around.
Many parties these days do not have “hard bars,” meaning they do not serve hard liquor. If you are serving only wine, plan on a bottle per person. If you are serving wine only during the meal, plan on half a bottle per person.
Serve red wine at room temperature. To allow the wine to breathe, open the bottle about 30 minutes before you serve it. Opening the wine permits the air to develop the bouquet and improve the taste of the wine.
Chill white wines about two hours before serving them. If you must chill the wine more quickly, the best method is to immerse the bottles in a tub of water and ice cubes up to the neck. It doesn’t help to put the wine in a freezer.
When the meal begins, the host should stand and walk around the table to fill each wineglass. If it’s an informal party, the host can simply fill the glasses of the people closest to him and ask them to pass the other glasses down. The host’s job is to make sure the glasses are replenished. Guests should not help themselves to wine or ask for more. It is fine for a host to offer the wine bottle to a guest with an empty glass and say, “Please help yourself.”
Fill wine glasses about halfway so that the imbiber can appreciate the bouquet of the wine. Don’t wrap your wine bottles in napkins when you serve. Inviting people into your home involves careful planning and considerable effort, but entertaining at home repays many times over. Having guests under your roof provides a special pleasure. And you flatter people by inviting them because you are bestowing a gift that only you have the power to give—the hospitality of your home.

The Caterer

A caterer can be a godsend for a large party. Costs vary widely, depending on how elaborate your menu needs are, the kind of help you need, and the time of your party. Night hours are more expensive, as are prime-time occasions, such as New Year’s Eve.
Many caterers require a retainer of half the amount of the food costs. This payment is an assurance that you won’t back out at the last minute. Tip caterers’ employees unless a service charge is added to the bill. Otherwise, give the head waiter 20 percent of the total bill to divide among the workers. If you’re not familiar with the caterer’s work, make sure you see his or her equipment and taste the food before you sign a contract. And make sure the contract specifies that payment of the bill will depend upon fulfilling the contract. If possible, ask if you can peek in on a party the caterer is doing. Many catered parties are so big that a brief visit can pass unnoticed.
Keep in mind that communication is vital when it comes to making catering arrangements.
Whatever you leave unclear is bound to go wrong.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hired Hands in Party

Try to hire one person to help if you’re entertaining more than six people for dinner. Agencies can provide aspiring actors and students who are experienced at garnishing, serving, and cleanup. The help frees you to prepare the menu and be with your guests.
Above all, do not feel guilty or self-conscious about hiring help. Guests do not expect superhuman efforts on the part of their host. They expect their host to relax and enjoy the party along with them.
You may be able to hire a friend’s college-age children. Some amateur cooks love to work parties and are flattered to be asked. Best of all is hiring your own children, as long as you pay them fairly. They know where things belong, and the experience helps them to become at ease at parties.
If none of these less-expensive alternatives are available, you will have to go the agency route. These workers are bonded and insured, which means that—in the unlikely event that something is stolen or broken negligently and you can prove it—the insurance company will pay to replace it.
Agencies work in two ways: The host pays the agency, which pays the workers; or the host pays the workers, who give a commission to the agency. In either case it is not necessary to tip bonded household workers, because their cost is so high to begin with. You also do not tip independent workers who are their own bosses.

Hired Hands in Party

Try to hire one person to help if you’re entertaining more than six people for dinner. Agencies can provide aspiring actors and students who are experienced at garnishing, serving, and cleanup. The help frees you to prepare the menu and be with your guests.
Above all, do not feel guilty or self-conscious about hiring help. Guests do not expect superhuman efforts on the part of their host. They expect their host to relax and enjoy the party along with them.
You may be able to hire a friend’s college-age children. Some amateur cooks love to work parties and are flattered to be asked. Best of all is hiring your own children, as long as you pay them fairly. They know where things belong, and the experience helps them to become at ease at parties.
If none of these less-expensive alternatives are available, you will have to go the agency route. These workers are bonded and insured, which means that—in the unlikely event that something is stolen or broken negligently and you can prove it—the insurance company will pay to replace it.
Agencies work in two ways: The host pays the agency, which pays the workers; or the host pays the workers, who give a commission to the agency. In either case it is not necessary to tip bonded household workers, because their cost is so high to begin with. You also do not tip independent workers who are their own bosses.

Party Invitations

If you want an immediate response and your party is of a fairly manageable size, invite guests by telephone. It’s true that voice mail and answering machines may make the contact less direct than you would like, but people tend to respond more promptly to telephone messages than to written correspondence.
Remember to smile when you make that call. It is true that a smile can be heard over the telephone. (If you are wondering what your voice sounds like, record it and listen.)
Remember that invitations of any kind should be welcoming and inviting. You don’t necessarily have to use engraved stationery, but the invitation should convey a spirit of festivity. Even if you write a personal note, it should convey this spirit and make the person feel especially welcome.
Whether you are inviting people by telephone o by mail, be sure to communicate all of the vital elements of an invitation—who, what, when, where, why. Include a map or verbal directions to the location. It is also kind to clue people in about how to dress. If you are inviting someone you have just met or don’t know well, give that person some idea about who else will be present. Some singles feel awkward going solo, so decide well in advance whether to invite them to bring a friend. If not, make sure they know there will be others in the same boat at the party. You don’t have to be a matchmaker and shouldn’t be tempted into those murky waters. Just prevent people from feeling like fifth wheels. Here are some examples:
➤ “I am calling to invite you to dinner next Friday, the tenth, and if you’d like to bring a friend, by all means do, although we’d be delighted to have just you.”
➤ “We’d like to invite you and a friend for dinner on the tenth.”
➤ “We’d like to invite you to dinner on the tenth.”
As a guest, never assume an invitation means to bring a guest. Always respond to an invitation immediately. It’s fine to ask who else will be there, but not until after you’ve given your answer. Otherwise, your reply will seem conditional on the guest list.

Negative Additions

What do you do about the unexpected guest or the last-minute addition? If you can accommodate the extra person without undue disruption, do so gracefully and as cheerfully as possible.
However, there are situations in which you should refuse to accept the added guest. It may be that adding a seemingly discordant plate or flatware to your perfectly set table would just make you crazy. And you can’t just fabricate a seventh Cornish hen when you have planned a party for six.
The refusal should be accomplished with as much grace and good humor as possible to avoid bad feelings. One reputedly excellent hostess used to call on me regularly to attend her seated dinner parties. One day she called to invite me to dinner, and I told her that I had gotten married the month before. “That’s terrible,” she said. “What will I do? You can’t bring your husband. It will ruin my seating arrangement.” Happily, I never heard from her again.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Men and Women

Fortunately, we’re beyond the days when only an equal number of men and women were invited to parties. It’s too much trouble to try to strike an even balance, and you don’t want people to have the feeling that they are assigned to someone. Today’s career-oriented people are happier flying solo than they are being stuck with trying to amuse some unamusing fellow guest. Of course, you should always try to have a reasonable balance, but don’t try to match up people.
Unfortunately, many divorced women and widows are still omitted from guest lists, even in what we like to think of as our enlightened times. It is not only kind but also fair to make an effort to include them. After all, they are no less interesting now than when they were married.

Understanding Your Motive in Party

The host motivation for the party has a lot to do with the guest list. See if you can find a good motive for yourself:
  • To pay back for invitations you’ve accepted in the past
  • To reaffirm friendships
  • To show off a new home, painting, furniture, and so on
  • To honor someone
  • To say thank you to people who’ve helped you with a particular project or problem
  • To get to know new neighbors or colleagues
  • To generate future party invitations for yourself
I know a woman who travels widely and spends at least two weeks in each destination. She gives a cocktail party the first evening she arrives. The next day she waits for invitations that will keep her busy for the rest of her visit. Don’t be afraid to tell friends that you are giving a party that doesn’t include them. I was pleased to learn, for example, that I was not invited to a cocktail party given by a scientist friend for his colleagues. There would have been, necessarily, a lot of shop talk exclusive to the group and baffling to me. If shop talk is inevitable, the general rule is to invite only those who can participate and/or enjoy it.

Creating the Guest List

A party is only as good as its guests, so consider the chemistry of the group you’re putting together when you make out your guest list. This exercise is entirely subjective, and every host has a private formula. But here’s a list of do’s and don’ts to help you learn some general rules.
  • Think of the party as an opportunity to bring together people who don’t know each other but who will probably enjoy meeting one another.
  • Think of the party as an opportunity to bring together old friends who never seem to have enough time to visit with one another.
  • Invite people who will appreciate the invitation and will make an effort to contribute to the success of the party.
  • Invite just one type of person. A room full of lawyers or doctors is almost antithetical to the very idea of a party.
  • Throw in a person or a couple who don’t really fit the group just because you owe them a dinner.
  • Invite known adversaries on the theory that it will make the party livelier. It may make the party livelier than you had hoped.
Everybody has his or her own little tricks and preferences when it comes to making up a guest list.
My personal formula, for example, always includes
  • A banker, because bankers know a little about a lot of industries and can talk about what’s going on in the economy.
  • A journalist, because journalists ask great questions.
  • Somebody involved in politics, however tangentially.
  • A restaurateur, because the entire world is interested in dining out and in food.
  • Someone in marketing, because marketers usually have something interesting to say about trends and tastes and what people are buying.
The best guests are those who know how to sing for their supper. They know that guests as well as hosts have a responsibility to contribute to the party. They will encourage and add to conversation. They are positive and cheerful. You can depend on them. An interesting person who loves to talk—even if it’s about himself—will amuse a handful of people and get others talking as well.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Just Do It!

The best way to get over your worries about entertaining is to just go ahead and give a party. Think about starting small. Most people are so pleased to be invited to someone’s home that the magnitude of the party doesn’t matter. One of my most pleasant memories is of my neighbor’s annual holiday dessert gettogether. Several neighborhood couples gathered at her house for after-dinner desserts, all purchased from nearby pastry shops and served with so much warmth and grace that we all felt very special. The fire was roaring, the candles were lit, the coffee and cordials were warm. She was a working mother with more chores than time, but these small, uncomplicated gatherings were always successful.

Something Awful Will Happen!

Yes. Something is bound to go wrong. But guess what? Guests are forgiving. Glitches can actually enliven the party atmosphere, bring people together, and generate conversation. And apparent disasters morph into amusing anecdotes that become topics of conversations for future parties.
Nobody ever notices if the china doesn’t match. And if someone does, he or she won’t care. Furthermore, you should expect last-minute cancellations and additions, so if someone doesn’t make it, it’s no reflection on you. Remember that the only way such minor upsets can have a negative impact on your party is if you let your guests know that you are upset.

People Will Be Bored to Death!

You can also rid yourself of the dread that your party will resemble a low-rent funeral by being prepared. Make a list of topics to bring up if the conversation falls into a black hole. You probably won’t ever face this situation, but you will feel better knowing that you are prepared. Another tip is to practice your introductions and the tidbits of information you will supply about each person when you introduce them, for example:
  • “Jill is a writer, so you may end up in her next book if you’re not careful.”
  • “Tom is a detective, and he has some wonderful stupid-crook stories.”

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I Can’t Handle a Party Alone!

Throwing a great party by yourself is hard but not impossible. But you can always ask for help. Team up with a friend or two and jointly host the party. Or get one person to serve officially as your cohost. You can divide the labor—one of you watching the back of the house, to make sure food and drinks flow generously, and the other watching the front, to keep the conversation flowing and to get the guests interested in one another.
And when assigning party duties, remember that men no longer can get away with the outdated notion that entertaining is for women only.

I Can’t Cook!

Just because you’re not an ace in the kitchen is no excuse for not giving a party. Catering firms and even neighborhood restaurants will supply complete meals already cooked. Or you can have friends bring food. As long as the food is fresh and flavorful and has some eye appeal, who actually cooked it doesn’t matter. Some of my friends routinely rely on the gourmet takeout in their neighborhoods. These businesses can supply a full meal, piping hot or easily heated, to be delivered at a specified time. Some people prepare the entree and rely on the gourmet shop for side dishes.
Or you might discover that preparing food is not as tough as you thought. You might just find the experience very satisfying and a boost to your self-esteem. And you don’t need an extensive repertoire to have some style. One of my friends knows how to make just two entrees. She calls them Fish Forman, after herself, and Chicken Mary Monica, after me. These form the centerpiece of her parties, and she fills in the table with prepared side dishes and desserts to create different moods and menus.

Understanding Party Phobias

You can’t possibly give a party until you have added a wing, knocked out a wall, repainted everything, and landscaped the yard.
Come on. You know the truth. You are your own best witness. The truth is that when you leave a really good party, you leave with the overall impression of having been warmly welcomed by gracious people and of having had a fine, comfortable time. You do not leave a really good party thinking about cracking paint or whether the china matched. The truth is that everything must be neat and clean. All else can be forgiven. Now let’s break down some of the more enduring myths about the perils of Can life as we know it continue without a silver chafing dish? Sure. Friends and relatives can supply some of the necessities, and you can improvise in ways that will actually make the party more fun. Did you ever hear the one about the hostess who filled her bathtub with ice and kept wine and beer chilled there? Her inventiveness is now part of entertaining tradition. The possibilities are endless. And isn’t it sort of insulting to believe that your friends will think less of you because your spoons are not monogrammed or your furniture is not brand new or tastefully antique?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Big Question

The questions about dating, parties, and meeting people may eventually give way to the more serious questions: Is this the real thing? Am I in love? Of course, you can’t give this question a yes or no answer. What you can do when this question arises is talk about the elements that make relationships between people of any age work.
  • Honesty. Can you be truthful with this person? Can you be yourself? Do you really like heavy-metal music, or are you just listening to it because your partner does? Are you going places and doing things and saying things just to please the other person, or because you want to?
  • Support. Do you support and praise each other? Offering your support, though, doesn’t mean you have to agree all the time. Players on the same sports team don’t always agree on the next move, but after the decision is made, they honor and back it 100 percent.
  • Friendship. Are you the other person’s best friend? Do you show that you are listening and trying to understand his or her feelings? Never dismiss the feelings of a friend as silly or unimportant.
  • Faithfulness. Do you stick by each other when disappointments arise? Do you try to see disappointments through the other person’s eyes?
  • Respect for others. Do both of you respect important people in each other’s life? Maybe you would rather be bitten by a snake than visit your friend’s parents, but you go anyway, you are polite, and you don’t complain about the visit later, no matter how awful it was.
  • Fun. Do you have fun together? Laugh a lot? Shared laughter is a sign of an easy relationship.
  • Giving space. Can you accept the fact that the other person has his or her own life? Everybody needs time alone.
Possessiveness is unnecessary in a healthy relationship. It’s tough enough, what with all the changes going on in their bodies and their heads, with new situations, new people, complex problems, and murky waters. Why make it tougher by telling young people that there are no rules or that rules are meant to be broken? It is a comfort and a steadying beacon for young people to know the rules and guidelines for interpersonal behavior—even if they are ignored.

The Truth About Substance Abuse

You should be talking to your children about drugs long before you have a heart-t oheart discussion of sex. It’s never too early to say drugs are bad, that drugs hurt your body, and that we should feel sorry for people who use drugs. Young people can easily get the idea that drugs, tobacco, and alcohol are part of a dark and dangerous, fascinating and adult world. The truth of the matter—and the truth it’s up to you to bring home—is that the drug scene is shabby and sordid and apt to be infested with twisted, dangerous people.
Your children should know that, sooner or later, someone will approach them with illegal drugs, maybe even offering to let them puff on a marijuana joint. He or she will tell your children that “it’s no big deal” and “mild.” It’s up to you to let them know that no drug is mild. All drugs will alter the people who take them and diminish those people in some way. Tell your children that people who offer them drugs are merchants of death.
Throughout childhood, from kindergarten on, you can do a lot by warning children of the dangers that lie ahead. It’s like the wicked witch and the poisoned apple. These warnings, however, should be accompanied by the reassurance that people can always just say no and walk away.
Teenagers are most vulnerable to drugs. Their peers who do drugs often appear to be the cool ones, the brave, rebellious ones. You should always know what your teenagers are doing in their spare time. Keep them from visiting homes where you know there is drinking or drug use.
When you warn youngsters about alcohol abuse, hit them with the hard truths. People who abuse alcohol suffer brain, liver, and heart damage. They become bloated, red-faced, nutritionally starved. They end up weak, stupid, and sick. When it comes to social drinking, warn them that even a small amount of alcohol has its effects. If your youngsters find themselves in a situation where they feel strong social pressure to drink, as at a college party, they can sip slowly, eat plenty, and drink water to minimize the effect of the alcohol.
Perhaps the strongest argument you can make about drugs, alcohol, and tobacco is the one you make by staying away from all three yourself.

Etiquette, Sex and Drugs

Even before young people begin talking about dating or who is “seeing” whom, it’s time to bring up the subject of sex. Don’t wait for an opening or the right time. Just do it. The way you address the topic with boys and with girls will differ, but the basic message is the same. Sex is a very serious matter and can have profound, life-altering consequences. And, in the case of disease, those consequences can even be deadly. Boys and girls should know that many thoughtful and sophisticated people believe in sexual abstinence prior to marriage. They can present some powerful moral and religious and practical arguments in favor the idea. The same arguments hold water in the case of avoiding casual sex and waiting until a serious, committed relationship exists before having sex.
Girls need to be armed with reasons for saying no and a way to say it without using crushing, sarcastic, or insulting language. Men who have been turned down in a nice way sometimes become great friends or even husbands later on. Girls can say, “I’m not ready for that kind of relationship. I’d like to continue seeing you, but I’m not ready to have sex with you.” If the other person persists, a girl can simply say that she has made up her mind to wait until marriage.
Your daughter should know that, no matter what they say, young men respect a woman with moral conviction, self-discipline, self-respect, and virtue. If the man is attracted to the woman and respects her, he will not be driven away by a polite or even flattering rejection.
Tell her that her youth is essentially over and her life is changed forever when a girl gets pregnant.
Tell your son about what AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases do to the body. Tell him that condoms are not a magical solution. Mistakes happen and have profound consequences.
Tell him that a “man who’s a man,” has self-control and moral integrity, that he respects women and treats them as equal human beings and as emotional and intellectual partners.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dating Etiquette

Whether the guy or girl is asking someone for a date, the basics are the same. The invitation should not be entirely unexpected. There should be some positive, friendly feelings for each other. Get to know the person on a casual level before proposing a date. If the person declines, listen for verbal clues that will tell you whether you should ask for another date at another time. If you are the one saying no and you really would go if you could, say you are sorry about the conflict and hope the person will ask you again.
If you have to decline because you’re not allowed to date, tell the truth and don’t be embarrassed. We all have to live by rules we don’t like at one time or another. Say “Thank you for asking, but my parents don’t allow me to date yet.” Don’t make a big deal out of it. Don’t act as if your parents are from the wax museum. You might even suggest other ways you can get together—school activities, sports, cultural events, and parties.
If you feel that you’d never want to date a person who asks you out, say something like “Thanks very much, I have other plans. It was really nice of you to think of me.” You don’t have to talk about these other plans. They could involve taking a nap or washing your hair.
When asking someone on a date, ask face-to-face or by telephone, not by e-mail or voice mail. Give plenty of advance notice, at least four days. If the invitation comes late, it could give the impression the person is being asked because somebody else couldn’t make it. Also make sure that you’re specific when posing the question to avoid any confusion or misinterpretation.
For example, “Would you like to go to the new Jackie Chan movie with me on Friday night?” is much clearer than “Wanna go to the movies sometime?” Make it plain that you’re asking for a date for a certain place, time, and event. But don’t buy the tickets in advance. That involves too much pressure. You might also clarify whether you would like to provide transportation or just meet the person there. “Would you like to go to the new Star Trek movie with me on Saturday afternoon? I can meet you outside the theater at 4 P.M.”
Decide what kind of date it will be. Remember that the idea is for both of you to have a good time. A staunch football fan might not enjoy an evening at the ballet. First dates should be easy and casual for both people.
Don’t make it into a big deal that causes nervousness.
Keep the cost down so that reciprocating won’t be difficult.
Remember that it’s up to you to take care of the details.
Get to the theater early and buy the tickets.
Usually the person who does the asking does the paying. Don’t expect your date to split expenses unless you have worked that out in advance. If you are going to share expenses, which is okay and often done, be clear about it: “I was hoping we could catch the discount early show and then go to the Pizza Kitchen. It shouldn’t cost more than $10 each.”
No matter what arrangements you make, never go on a date without money. It’s wise to make sure you have enough to get home on your own, at the very least.
Finally, if your date is going to pick you up at home, brief your parents in advance. Greet your date at the door. Lead him to your parents and say, “Mom, Dad, this is David Smith. We got to know each other because we’re in the same history class.” Allow a few minutes for conversation before you leave, which will put your parents at ease and make you look self-confident. These few minutes could pay off later. Your parents will feel better about the company you’re keeping and be more inclined to condone the relationship.
After the first date, the one who was invited should call or send a note saying that he or she had a good time. An e-mail is not good enough.

Behavior Between the Genders

Proper conduct between the sexes can be puzzling and troublesome even for those of us who have had years of practice. Imagine how difficult it must be for children and teenagers. No area of etiquette is changing faster. What was once considered polite might now be considered insulting. What was once common sense might now be irrelevant. The old rules of chivalry dictated how men and women treated each other for centuries. They called for deference by virtue of gender, age, and social caste. These rules have been supplanted to a great degree by what may be called “corporate etiquette.” In the past 30 or 40 years, women and minorities have exerted enormous influence on corporate culture, which is based on deference according to corporate rank, much like any military system.
As parents of both sexes and from all social groups entered the corporate culture, they absorbed this military-like system of etiquette. Naturally, their children learned far more of these corporate attitudes and manners than of those based on chivalry. Thus the rules of chivalry have faded, and corporate etiquette has emerged as the dominant force governing modern interpersonal relationships in most parts of America. The impact of all of this on relations between the sexes has been dramatic and confusing, particularly for young people. Remnants of the old rules of chivalry remain to haunt and sometimes confuse budding relationships. Young people often look to parents for some road maps through this unpredictable landscape. When young people ask about rules in the area of relations between the sexes, they are really asking for clues to an eternal mystery. It seems to them that two distinct species are inhabiting the earth. The opposite sex acts, speaks, and dresses differently, is interested in different things, and relates to his or her same-sex friends differently. However, some very clear rules can help young people deal with the usual and, for them, terribly, terribly important questions and situations that arise between the sexes.


Sometimes a youngster (or an adult for that matter) will be in a group that is discussing something he or she knows nothing about. Kids sometimes respond by sighing theatrically, rolling their eyes, or yawning. Let them know that this behavior is not only rude but also uncool. The thing to do is to be quiet and listen. See whether you can get a handle on what’s happening. Ask questions. People love to demonstrate superior knowledge and will be glad to answer. If somebody asks your opinion, just say you don’t know enough about the subject to have an opinion.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Understanding Children Fight

All children fight with their friends now and then. Let your children know that everyone, even you, gets into arguments, and that most people feel rotten about it afterwards. These fights are not the end of the world; they are not necessarily even the end of a friendship.
And part of feeling rotten after a fight is knowing that you said or did something during the fight that you regret. Let your young warrior know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying to the adversary: “Look, I’m sorry I called you a no-neck dweeb. I didn’t mean it.” Often this step results in a similar apology from the other person, and fences get mended. The point is that disagreements do not mean disrespect. But when making apologies, the combatants have to be careful not to rehash the fight as if it were a movie they saw together. That’s how fences get unmended very quickly.
Fights cause problems for noncombatants, as well. Suppose your youngster tells you that two “best friends” have had a fight, and each of them is telling your child about it.
Tell your child that the trick here is to listen without taking sides. The situation also presents an opportunity to act as peacemaker by telling each person separately that the other one is “really bummed out about the fight you two had.”

Child Etiquette in Party

Do you remember when you were invited to your first party? If you do, you probably remember the turmoil that went with the invite: What should I wear? Suppose I don’t know anybody? What will I talk about?
In regard to attire, your child can call the host and ask what he or she will be wearing. Or your child can call the parents of the host and check it out. But the attire problem is not the entire problem.
Whether your youngster wants to admit it or not, this is all about our old friend—shyness. When you talk to your child about it, you might want to call it nervousness. In addressing this subject, I often give a little talk about the Olympics. It goes like this:
If you have ever watched the Olympics, you have seen athletes push themselves
beyond what they thought were their physical limits. If you ask the athletes
how they do so and how they overcome the nervousness they must feel before
the competition, they will say, “Preparation.” They get ready physically and
mentally. They go over what they must do again and again, anticipating difficult
patches and challenges, and deciding how they will deal with them. By the
time the event begins, they are ready, excited, and confident. Tell your child to deal with nervousness about the party in the same way. Also, ask
your child what he expects to happen. Will there be dancing? Games? How large a crowd will there be? Tell your child to write down the answers.
Now, tell her to make a second list, a private one, of all of her best qualities. Maybe she really likes her hair or eyes. Maybe she has a great sense of humor that nobody knows about. Maybe she knows a lot about soccer or a certain kind of music. Recognizing these qualities will help her feel more confident and self-assured.
Next, tell your youngster to make a list of things he can talk about at the party. Magazines, newspapers, the radio, or television are all good sources for ideas. Now tell your child to imagine himself at the party, laughing and talking with others.
Imagine walking over to somebody who looks nervous and shy and starting a conversation with that person. One thing your child might say is, “I noticed that you don’t seem to know a lot of people here either. My name is ….”

Child Relations with Teachers

If a teacher pronounces your child’s name wrong, tell the child not to make a face. A youngster should never correct the teacher in front of the class. She or he should ask to see the teacher before or after class and explain how “my family” pronounces the name.
If your child gets blamed for something unfairly, it doesn’t help to argue the issue in front of the class. It embarrasses everybody and only makes matters worse. Instead, discuss the situation with the teacher in private. Your intervention could and should result in a public apology in class.
A birthday, Christmas, or end-of-year gift to your child’s teacher must not be extravagant and should be something that everyone in the class can contribute to. No one in the class should be embarrassed about not being able to afford to contribute. Super gifts are plants or CDs or nice chocolates. An even better idea is for the class to make something for the teacher, perhaps a poster with a signed class picture. Wrap it—and don’t forget to get a card that everyone can sign.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Being a new student

If your child is about to enter a new school, you can be sure that she will experience a certain amount of anxiety about how to behave in the new surroundings. Here are some helpful tips you can pass along:
➤ Pay attention to your classmates instead of feeling uneasy because you don’t know them. This way, you will discover who shares your interests about school subjects, sports, and so on.
➤ Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation: “Hi. I’m Julie Thomas, and I just started at this school. I noticed that you really seem to like math class. So do I. What other things do you like to do?”
➤ Get involved. Extracurricular activities, like sports and clubs, are an excellent way to get involved with the new school. Don’t be afraid to volunteer. Many, many stars got to the top by starting as volunteers.

Cheating in school

Your child tells you that somebody in class is copying answers from his test papers, and he doesn’t like it. Should he tell the teacher?
The answer is, probably not.
Cheating is wrong, and he should not be a part of it. But shielding his paper should do the trick and may even send a message to the teacher without him saying a word. If that doesn’t work, he should get the miscreant alone and say something like “Look, quit trying to crib from my test papers. You know what you’re doing is wrong. Others have noticed it, too.”
In the unlikely event that these tactics fail, the teacher should be notified.

Dealing with Bullies

Bigger, meaner kids who pick on littler nicer kids are all too common today, as they have been in the past. Make it clear to your kids that they never have to put up with physical abuse. If they’re slapped, pinched, or pushed around in any way, they must tell either you or their teachers, and then it’s up to the adults to take care of the situation. (You might want to consider one of those martial-arts training programs that are so popular with children in first grade or older. The good ones emphasize selfdefense as opposed to aggressive behavior, and they tend to develop self-confidence.) Let your child know why bullies act the way they do. The main points you want to make are
  • Bullies use threats and force to try to control people by making them afraid. It is the only way they have of gaining acceptance or status.
  • Bullies have no real friends.
  • No matter what they say or do, their behavior is a reflection of their problems, not yours.
  • Don’t try to please or placate the bully or his clique. This is not the kind of group you want to be accepted by. Find others at school who feel the same way; they are the people you want for friends.
While we’re on the subject of bullies, also let your children know that they do not have to share their lunch if they don’t want to. Your child should simply say no, and if someone tries to get it from him or her by threats or force, the child should tell both you and his or her teacher.
Last, it is not abusive, but instead considered part of the school tradition, for older students to treat younger students as second-class citizens. For example, sixth and seventh graders may confine fifth graders to a certain part of the cafeteria or playground. Your child should accept this practice as cheerfully as possible and wait until she becomes a sixth grader. It’s not just older students entirely, but tradition.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The ABCs of School Etiquette

School comes along at the worst possible time. On top of experiencing the normal childhood fears, awkwardness, and other growing pains, children are for the first time meeting authority figures who are not their parents and peers who are not their siblings. It’s a time when a child should be armed with a code of behavior and a positive attitude about manners and respect for others. In brief, a child should know about etiquette.
Unfortunately, etiquette is not one of the subjects that administrators include in the curriculum of most schools.
Consider how life would improve for most students if elementary school provided that missing code of conduct in an orderly and systematic fashion, by an adult other than a parent and with the use of a textbook to give the code weight and authority. The truth is, we have to make up as best we can for this lack.

Child Etiquette in School

By all standards, children ask more questions about getting along with other children than about any other aspect of human interaction. No matter how straightforward or even trivial the questions may seem to you, remember that, to the youngster, these matters are worrisome, complicated, and urgently important. Children absolutely need to know certain things when dealing with their peers, and learning these things from adults is a lot less painful than learning through experience. They need to know about the rules—etiquette if you will—that will help them behave appropriately in difficult situations:
  • Parties: What do you wear? What do you say? What do you do?
  • Dates: Who asks? Who pays? What do you wear? What do you say? What do you do?
Youngsters also have to know that all friends have disagreements, even fights, and that doesn’t mean they have to stop being friends. They have to know how to respond to bullies and to kids who cheat in school.
It’s a complicated world. Children need all the information they can get. This chapter helps you give your child the answers they need.

Condolence Letters from Children

A parent of your child’s close friend has died. Even if your child has attended the funeral, sent flowers, visited, or telephoned, a condolence letter is a must. A commercial sympathy card will not do. Remember that condolence letters are comforting and diverting for those who have suffered a loss. Sometimes they become part of the family history to be passed down through the generations.
The letter should be written in ink with a fountain pen if possible. Try to use black ink. If the child’s handwriting is hard to read, it is all right to have the letter typed and signed in ink.
The condolence letter should not be a formal, formula letter; it should be written from the heart. Your child can begin by acknowledging the friend’s loss and saying that he or she feels sad about it. The condolence letter is the place to recall the special characteristics of the deceased, visits to your home, lessons learned from that person, good times shared. Such reminiscences celebrate the life of the deceased rather than being morbid and depressing about the loss.
Above all, don’t spend all your time saying how upset you are. The person who receives it might think you are the one who should be getting the condolence letter.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Apology Letters from Children

Let’s pretend that your child knocked a baseball through a neighbor’s window. Even if the child apologized on the scene, a note of apology is called for. It should
  • Be prompt.
  • Acknowledge fault and apologize.
  • Offer to make amends.
It should also be written in ink and signed Sincerely. The envelope should have the sender’s name and address in the upper left, and the addressee’s name should be preceded by an honorific such as Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Dr. (These, by the way, are the only honorifics that are abbreviated.) The letter will look something like this:

Dear Mr. Smith:
Please accept my apology for breaking your window the other day. It was careless of me, and I feel bad about it. I know all the trouble it has caused you. If you would like, I will repair the window myself. If you have made other arrangements, please send me the bill so that I can pay for the damage.
Tommy Jones

Children and Thank-You Letters

The thank-you letter is probably the first kind of correspondence your child will send. Make the experience as comfortable as possible. A thank-you note from a seven year old does not have to be spelled and punctuated perfectly. It is all right for a note from a child to look like a note from a child. Praise any effort a child makes to correspond. But the basic rules apply even to the very young. The note needs a salutation. Mention the specific gift or favor. Sign with Love or other appropriate sentiment. Later, thank-you notes can include an acknowledgment of the effort behind the gift: “You must have spent the whole day baking these cookies.” You can also let the giver know how the gift will be used: “These cookies will be a big hit at my sleep-over party tomorrow.” And yes, a child must send thank-you notes for Christmas gifts unless the giver is present—and is properly thanked—when the gift is opened. Don’t allow your children to use preprinted thank-you notes. They defeat the purpose of giving personal thanks for a personal gift.

Children and Correspondence

Children who write notes and letters give a great deal of pleasure and have a better chance of experiencing the pleasure of receiving correspondence in return. More important, they grow up imbued with the knowledge of the power and pleasures of personal correspondence.
It is never too early to begin giving your children a respect for the written word and the ceremonies surrounding it. Even before children are old enough to write, they will be aware that writing letters is an important activity: “I’m writing to Aunt Nora to thank her for ….”

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Television and the Internet for children

Parents have the right and the responsibility to exercise some control over how much television children watch and what programs they see. Parental control of television is particularly important when children are young but also applies to adolescents. Resist the temptation to use the television as a baby-sitter during the early years and prescreen as many programs as you can during the later years. We have to accept the fact that our youngsters will be drawn to the computer screen and will want to explore the wonders of e-mail and the Internet. However, they must know some of the hard facts about the very real dangers involved. Your children will be excited by the idea of unlimited freedom of expression and seemingly unlimited access to information. Therefore, make sure they know the following:
  • Good manners apply even in cyberspace.
  • E-mail can be retrieved and traced to the sender. Pressing the Delete key doesn’t make e-mail disappear forever, so be sure to review what you’ve written before you click the Send button.
  • You cannot be sure that no record remains of what you download just because you move it from the hard drive to a disk. People have gone to jail on the basis of what experts have been able to retrieve from hard drives their owners thought were clear of incriminating material.
  • Some dangerous creeps live out there in cyberland. A correspondent who claims to be a 15-year-old cheerleader may be a 50-year-old pervert. People must be very wary of agreeing to meet a computer acquaintance in person, and never, ever meet such a person in a private place, such as a home or a secluded park.
  • They will encounter some new and perhaps radical ideas on the Internet about things like drugs, sex, race, God, and Satan. Let them know that the best way to react to an idea they find intriguing or disturbing is to find out more about it and get different slants on it. Talking with parents, clergy, or someone they trust at school is always helpful.

Frequently Asked Questions on Children Table Manner

Whenever I talk with children about table manners, they are full of questions. Some are delightful, some are difficult, and all are unfailingly interesting. Here are some of the most common questions:
  • What do I say if I burp? Say “Excuse me” to no one in particular and go on eating. Don’t make a big deal out of it.
  • Why do I have to act differently when people come to dinner? From the beginning of time, guests in one’s home have been given a place of honor and other special treatment. We are on our best behavior so that guests feel comfortable, special, and welcome.
  • What do you do if somebody at the table is a sloppy eater? The real question your child is asking is when to tell somebody that he or she is being rude. You can tactfully tell a good friend, out of the earshot of others, especially if you make light of it, but you can never tell a stranger. If you happen to be seated next to a slob, chalk it up to experience and set a good example yourself.
  • Which place setting pieces are yours? Your bread plate is always on your left, and your drink is always on your right. A good way to remember this rule is to remember that the word drink starts with the letters DR for “drinks right.”
  • What about finger foods? When it comes to fingers, use your head. Certainly, you eat things like ribs and tacos and corn on the cob—no matter what company you are in—with your fingers. For most foods, you will use cutlery. Some situations are not so clear-cut. In the Middle East and parts of Africa, for example, people still eat properly with their hands. The food of those cultures is designed to be eaten that way. So the best rule is “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Adjust to the standards and customs of the culture you are in. It might even be acceptable to eat with your feet, but only if you are dining with a family of baboons.
  • Should I help to clean up? Offer. Whether you are at a dinner party or a picnic, the offer is the important thing. Sometimes the host will not want you to help. If so, don’t insist.
  • What if I don’t like what is being served? If eating at someone else’s house or with guests in your house, do not reject food outright. Eat some of everything that is served. If you don’t like a certain food, eat some and move the rest around on your plate as if you were eating it. This skill will serve you well through the years.
  • What if you can’t finish your food? In restaurants, where you can’t control the portions, there’s no problem. Either leave the food or ask for a doggie bag. At someone’s home, never take more than you know you can eat and always leave plenty for the others. If someone is serving you, you can always say, “Just a little, please.”
  • Should I bring a gift when I’m invited to dinner? Yes, but something simple and small. Plants are nice because they remind people of the giver as they grow. Lovely paper napkins, small books, candy, and fine nuts are also good ideas. If you bring brownies or cookies, give them in a sealed tin and say something like “I thought you might like these for the weekend.” Cut flowers are lovely, but they require the host to take time out to find a vase and arrange them. If a youngster is just “going over to Sally’s house” and will eat while there as usual, a gift is not necessary.

Table Manners Basics

When your child has that first job interview over lunch or has dinner for the first time with the parents of a romantic interest, both of you will be glad that good table manners were a matter of routine at your house.
But every meal doesn’t have to be a lesson and eating should not be a chore interrupted by frequent admonitions. Children learn best through immersion and osmosis. In other words, if you have good table manners, it goes a long way toward assuring that your children will also.
The good news is that we are not talking about astrophysics here. Good dining etiquette requires only a simple awareness of the basics. Here’s a list of the most common mistakes that your child should learn to avoid:
  • Cutlery. The worst mistake is not using the wrong implement, but using it incorrectly—holding the fork in your fist like a cello or holding the knife like a dagger. In addition, after you use a piece of cutlery, it never goes back on the table. It is placed fully on the plate and not tipped like the oars of a rowboat with the handles resting on the table and the tips on the rim of the plate. The knife blade faces in, touching the inside of the plate; only the handle touches the rim of the plate. Never wave cutlery around to make a point.
  • Napkins. Never tuck. Place the napkin on your lap. Don’t flap it to open it. If you leave the table, leave the napkin on your chair, making sure the soiled part doesn’t mar the upholstery, and push the chair under the table.
  • Posture. Food doesn’t go down as well and you don’t look attractive when you slump. Sit up straight. You will actually be more comfortable. Keep your elbows off the table. If you don’t know what to do with your hands, put them in your lap.
  • Chewing. Chew with your mouth closed and don’t talk with food in your mouth. Also, don’t eat too fast. It’s bad manners and bad for digestion. You should try to eat at the same pace as others at the table: Begin and finish about the same time as everyone else.
  • The table. Keep keys, purses, gloves, and hats off the table. Nothing goes on the table unless it is part of the meal. Think of the germs they might spread and how unattractive it looks to have these objects on the table.
  • Breaking bread. Do not butter the whole roll or the whole piece of bread and cut it with a knife. Break off one bite-sized piece of bread or a roll at a time, and butter each piece before eating it.

First Names and Introductions

Using first and last names properly is an area that most kids goof up. Tell young people that it is rude, even for adults, to call strangers by their first name. Upon meeting someone new, a youngster should call an adult Mr., Mrs., or Ms. until the adult asks to be called by his or her first name. Sometimes this happens right away, sometimes it takes a while, and sometimes it never happens.
When your child decides to introduce you to one of his friends or finally decides that it’s okay for you to meet her teacher, explain the cardinal rule about introducing people:
The star of the show gets top billing. In other words, mention the most important person first: “Mom, this is my friend, Marjorie Matthews.” Your child should learn to use honorifics when introducing adults to one another, including Dr., Captain, Mr., Mrs., and Ms. Here’s an example: “Doctor Cooper, I’d like to introduce you to my father, Mr. Carter.”
When introducing a teacher to a parent, the teacher’s name is used first: “Mrs.
Bornson, I’d like you to meet my mother, Mrs. Eastwood.” It helps to provide a little information about the people you’re introducing so that they will have something to talk about: “Mom, this is my friend Frank Hales. We’re in the glee club together.”
In introductions, dignitaries—congress people, clergy, elected or appointed officials, and so on— are mentioned first, to show respect for the offices these people hold. This practice does not mean that, as people, they are better or more important than anyone else.