The Great Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays Debate

Happy Holidays is appropriately neutral, perfect for an elementary school sign. [ via Wikimedia Commons]

There is a great debate about whether it is rude to say Merry Christmas to everyone you meet in December because they might not celebrate Christmas, or it is rude to say Happy Holidays because it is too generic. So what is an uncommonly courteous person to do?

First off, quit lecturing people about your preferences! Laying into a poor cashier at Target for not using your preferred greeting (because they are psychic you know! And not at the beck and call of corporate regulations!) makes you a bad, rude person. Full stop.

Secondly, please expect that in fairly neutral environments like stores and businesses, people are going to go with the most neutral greeting possible. Also if you live in a fairly diverse city, you are probably want to stay on the neutral side with most people. 74% of Americans may be some variety of Christian (from heavily practicing to not-practicing-at-all), but that is not the case in places like New York City, so you are much more likely to run into people who don’t celebrate Christmas than in a small town where you know most of the people do. Even Miss Manners points out that Happy Holidays is perfectly reasonable given that almost everyone gets Christmas Day and New Years Day off from work, thus everyone should have happy holidays.

There is also no reason why you can’t keep your greeting neutral with strangers and deck the halls with all the Merry Christmases you want with people that you know celebrate. You don’t have to say the same thing all the time. It’s okay.

Also, I give people a break to say Merry Christmas on ACTUAL Christmas day. It’s one day and it’s a fact that it is indeed Christmas, just like someone saying Happy Solstice on the 21st or Happy Valentine’s Day on February 14, even if you don’t personally recognize those holidays. I think people are less bothered by it than if they have to hear Merry Christmas every day from Thanksgiving until December 25.


The Great Debate: Shoes Off or Shoes On?

Imagine these shoes tromping through your house. via Wikimedia Commons

There is a great debate in some circles about whether it is rude or not to ask your guests to take off their shoes when visiting your house. On the one side are people who are worried about germs and dirt on their floors and rugs. On the other are a) people who don’t like taking off their shoes and b) people who think it comes across as scolding your guests and insinuating that they are dirty and germy. And everyone remembers the Sex and the City episode where Carrie didn’t want to take off her expensive shoes at a party because they were part of her outfit and they ended up being stolen. Today we tackle this important topic.

Official Etiquette:

Miss Manners: Suggests volunteering to take your shoes off if they are wet and muddy. As a host, you should be so excited to see people that you don’t even notice what their feet are doing, however, it is certainly very polite to be concerned about their welfare and sitting around with wet shoes on.

Emily Post Institute: Says it is the host’s right to ask you to take your shoes off, but suggests letting people know in advance so they can bring slippers or socks or something. However, they make exceptions for people you don’t know well and big parties- let people keep their shoes on in those instances.

Our Take:

Jaya: I mean obviously if someone asks you to take off your shoes in their house, do it.

Victoria Yessssssss, but….I think there are some circumstances that can come into play.

Gross story time! I once had a plantar wart on my foot and I told my host I could not take off my shoes because it was gross and no one needed to see that. And some people have foot problems that require them to wear shoes.

Jaya:  Ahhh true. And gross! How should they handle that if they go into a house where they know they’re expected to remove their shoes? Wear socks?

Victoria: Well, in many cultures where the shoe removal thing is required, the host will often have little slippers for guests to use. And I have read that in places where shoe removal is a practicality because of mud and slush and stuff, people will bring clean shoes with them and change into them from their street shoes.

Oh and of course we can’t talk about this without discussing the Sex and the City episode where Carrie has to take off her shoes at a party and then they get STOLEN!

Jaya:  Yup! Stolen shoes is a big thing in India, I know, when you’re supposed to remove your shoes before going into temple.

Victoria: Oh yeah, don’t little kids hang out at the Taj Mahal and offer to guard your shoes for money?

Jaya:  Yup, which is why I wore flip flops and put them in my bag.

Victoria Smart!

Jaya:  I mean most temples people are a lot more respectful, but yeah, in the tourist traps that stuff happens.

Victoria I’m sure. You were telling me before about how you feel like guests are comfortable if they don’t take their shoes off at your house?

Jaya:  Yeah. I don’t require people to take off their shoes in my house, but I get uncomfortable more in a sense that I want them to be comfortable, and you always look like you’re ready to leave if you still have your sneakers on. Though it’s different for fancy parties if your shoes are a real part of your outfit. But I do cringe sometimes if I have a party and everyone is wearing heels because I feel bad for my downstairs neighbors.

Victoria:  Hahahah, too bad neighbors! Yeah, I agree about the comfort and the party shoes, I tend to feel the same way.

So I grew up in a part of California that had a really large Asian population and it was interesting to me how the cultural custom of taking off your shoes trickled down to everyone else.

Almost all of my friends would automatically take off their shoes as soon as they entered ANYONE’S house, which i haven’t really noticed anywhere else. At places I do take my shoes off, like your house, I usually walk in, and put my other stuff down first.

Jaya:  Oh yeah. My grandma is big on taking off your shoes, so I always do that first in her house. But with other people I generally put down my stuff first, not leave the shoes outside or anything.

Victoria Yeah, exactly. I think that basically, unless you have a good reason, if you see everyone else doing it, you should go with it. And if you are a host and you prefer that people take their shoes off, its fine to say so, but you shouldn’t push it with someone who doesn’t want to for whatever reason.

Jaya:  Did you ever see that Seinfeld episode where George’s dad had a girlfriend in Korea but couldn’t marry her because he wouldn’t take off his shoes?

Victoria: Nope!

Jaya:  There’s a running joke that he won’t take his shoes off in front of anyone and it ruined his relationship. So you know, keep that realistic account in mind.

Victoria:  Haha yeah, exactly, unless shoes off are on are a major relationship deal breaker for you.

Jaya:  What about…foot odor?

Victoria:  I don’t know! I guess that could be a good reason to not take your shoes off or make sure you wear or bring socks. And, hey, if someone is forcing you to take their shoes off, they have to deal with the consequences.

Jaya:  Hahaha gooood point.

Friday the Thirteenth and Superstition Etiquette

Sir Winston!

How could you ever think this adorable face could cause you bad luck? (Photo courtesy Ellen Pratt)

Today is Friday the 13th, so we thought it would be fun to discuss etiquette and superstitions.

The most important rule for dealing with superstitions and superstitious people is that though superstitions can seem irrational, they are a big deal to the people who believe in them. So, don’t make fun of someone for their superstitions (making fun of people is bad manners any time!).

If you, yourself, have some superstitions, don’t feel that you have to hide them. However, don’t get angry if someone inadvertently does something like throw a black cat across your path. They probably don’t realize it will bother you. Be more concerned with why this person is running around with a sack full of black cats and throwing them everywhere.

Some etiquette related superstitions:

  • Some people consider it bad luck to give knives as a gift. Giving something that cuts can “sever” the relationship between the giver and the giftee. To avoid this happening, the giftee should “buy” the knives from the giver for a token amount, such as a penny. Some people will even include a penny with the knives for the giftee to give back. It’s pretty common, so don’t be surprised to find a penny in a set of gifted knives.

  • If you spill salt at the table, throw a pinch over your left shoulder to scare the devil away.

  • Opening an umbrella inside the house brings bad luck (or pokes someone’s eye out! Safety is an important part of etiquette rules).

  • Apparently some people think it is bad luck to sing at the table. This makes sense for etiquette since singing also prevents others from talking and is possibly annoying.

  • Drop a fork, a woman will visit. Drop a knife, a man will visit. Drop a spoon, a child will visit. Better change the sheets on the guest bed and be a good host!

For Americans, superstitions are quaint customs and don’t really influence etiquette all that much. Interestingly, in my research, it appears that in other countries, superstitions are much more influential on everyday etiquette.

  • In many Asian cultures, as white is the color of death, it is very important to never give gifts wrapped in white paper and to avoid white flowers.

  • In Greek Orthodox wedding ceremonies it is considered good luck to spit (fake spit!) on the bride as she comes up the aisle.

  • In Italy, the evil eye is a major superstition, especially for babies. If you compliment a baby, it is best to say “without the evil eye” afterwards so the mother doesn’t think you are cursing the baby.

  • In India, cash gifts on any occasion always have an extra note (51 rupees, 101 rupees…) to bring good luck.

  • In Ireland it’s bad luck to stumble in a graveyard; if you stumble and touch the ground you will die by the end of the year. If a pregnant woman steps on a grave her child will be born with a club foot, unless she kneels and makes a cross across her foot three times.

What do you think would be the right word for having a phobia of etiquette? Etiquetteaphobia? Postphobia? Seems like it’s a pretty common phobia, with all the bad manners out there!


The Best Way To Miss a Thank You Note

Little Miss LateWe talk a lot about thank you notes here, because really, if you have to choose one thing in your life to do that’s polite, thanking people should be it. You can use a spoon for a fork and argue about politics and never offer to bring a bottle of wine to a party, but if you thank someone for the pleasure of their company, you’ll probably still be considered a nice person. Actually, who knows, the person I just described sounds like sort of a dick, but thanking people is still important!

One of the biggest thanking tasks adults face is thanking guests after a big event, and for most people this means a wedding. Currently, the median age at first marriage is around 29 for American men, 27 for American women, so plenty old enough to have mastered a thank you note and know that they should be sent timely. But guess what else happens around age 28? Graduating from grad school. Having enough money to buy a home. Pursuing an active career. Maybe a kid happened, or a parent died, or you moved across the country. Life doesn’t stop for weddings!

Which is why this belated thank you note package makes me so happy.

I recieved this from two friends who got married in March 2012 and had not yet sent out thank you notes. Honestly I didn’t notice, because we’d seen them many times since and always talked about what a good time we had together on that day. But the other day we received a rather thick envelope from them, which included a card that began “Thank you for your patience…” It reads:

To our wonderful family and friends,

Between New Year’s Day 2011 and now we have had: a grad school graduation, a wedding, a giant honeymoon to the other side of the world, several job changes, and more. Through all of that, we had all of these cards sitting at our house waiting…and waiting…and waiting…to be mailed, and it just didn’t happen, because well, we failed. We have owed these to you for quite some time and wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to correct our error. Hope you are doing well, and happy…Veteran’s Day?

Inside were personal thank you notes, photos, holiday cards, etc., all which had clearly been written at the time they should have been sent. Honestly, it was fantastic. You know how we questioned whether someone would feel loved and appreciated getting a thank you note a year later? Well, I did!

The key is, though, that they acknowledged their missteps. If they had just sent a card a year later it would be one thing, but clearly they felt a little bad and wanted to remind everyone they cared. That’s what this whole thing is about. So kudos to the couple, for knowing how to make someone feel thanked.

How Do I Send A Business Thank You Note?

Even this baby knows to email a thank you after an interview.  Via

Even this baby knows to email a thank you after an interview. Via

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

What is the best way to thank someone in a business setting? I’m used to writing thank you notes for gifts and things, but not for job interviews or references.


Professional Confusion

Official Etiquette:

The Emily Post Institute suggests thanking twice, once verbally when leaving and once in writing. Ask A Manager says they are always a good idea, in email form, and intending to build on the conversation in the interview.

Our Take:

Victoria: Basically, the idea is that you should absolutely be writing thank you notes after all job interviews

Jaya:  Does it have to be on paper?

Victoria:  Nope, paper is way too slow! I started at my current job 2 days after my interview- paper would have gotten there way too late.

Jaya:  Yeah, and you’re probably already emailing with them.

Victoria: Also, you should wait at least a few hours to email it so it looks like you have actually considered your words and thought about the interview.

Jaya: Haha I never write interview thank you notes and that is why I never get hired.

Victoria: Duuuude, you need to.

Jaya: Well in my line of work usually they tell me a specific way to follow up, just like “send us clips/pitch something/etc.”

Victoria: That’s different because you’re still talking. And I would think maybe you would say “it was great talking to you….here are my clips.”

Jaya: Yeah, that’s what I usually do.

Victoria: Then you are doing it!

Jaya: But I remember I got a handwritten thank you note from a girl I had a 15 minute conversation with about working in in my field,  and I was like ‘gahhhh what is this.”

Victoria: Was it just an informational interview?

Jaya: Basically? She was a friend of a family member, just graduated, wanting to know what working in my field was like. Can we make a point that I am the worst at etiquette because people do stuff and I’m like “ew what are you doing, everyone stop talking to each other.”

Victoria: You are not the worst! But for those I do send handwritten notes because the person took actual time to help me out. But that reminds me of another thing I was thinking of recently that’s kind of a side topic.

I went on an informational interview once and the person who was talking to me bought us coffee. And now thinking about it, I probably should have bought the coffee and should have made it clear in my original email to her, like, could I buy you a cup of coffee and ask you about how you got your job and how can I get a job like it.

Jaya:  Really? I mean, that doesn’t come off as a bribe?

Victoria: Nah. But yeah, it’s confusing! Because they are probably the more successful person and you are probably broke-ish.

Jaya:   I think it depends on who does the asking.

Victoria:  Hahaha, like a date.

Jaya: Hahahaha, and you have to leave your napkin on the left when the interview is over.

Jaya:  So what do you actually say in your thank you notes? My standard for interviews is something like “just wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I’m very excited about the position, and please let me know if you need anything else from me…”

Victoria:  I have actually started eliminating the thank you part- as these are supposed to be more of a follow up, and you are kind of equal partners in finding a good fit for you and for them. And it’s really more of a business meeting than someone really giving you their time. They want you to solve a problem for them!

Jaya:  Oh interesting! What do you write?

Victoria:  Here is a sample:

Dear Whoever,

It was such a pleasure to meet you today. I really enjoyed our conversation about your wonderful company and really appreciate your taking the time to meet with me.

The position sounds like it would be a great fit for my skills and career goals and I want to reiterate how excited I would be for this opportunity. I look forward to hearing from you soon.



So I guess I sort of thank them in saying I appreciate you taking the time to meet with me but I just don’t like saying thank you.

Jaya:  Ahh yeah. Damn yours is better, no wonder you get hired.

Victoria Hahaha, I mean, I’ve used the same format for all of my recent interviews and it was only successful 1 out of 10 times. I would also be a bit more specific in what skills I had discussed in the interview that I think would be a good fit. And maybe add in a bit about what I liked about the company. But anyway, working in HR a bit myself, it is noticed when people do or do not send SOMETHING. So it’s important.

Jaya:  That’s good to know that people actually notice it. I feel like a lot of people think “ehh who cares” but it makes a difference!

Victoria:  Another thing- you should send a note to everyone who interviews you- like if you sit in with a couple different people or whatever.

Jaya:  I try to do that but damn, it is so hard to get everyone’s names.

Victoria:  However, I did have one interview where all my contact was with HR, but I also spoke to a person who would be the supervisor for the role. She didn’t give me a business card or any contact info and told me to direct all questions to HR, so I didn’t send her a note, just sent to HR. Sometimes you can look them up on the company website or on LinkedIn, but just do your best and ask everyone for a card!