Happy Holidays!

This is my favorite Christmas book. It’s about two dolls who live in a fabulous dollhouse and get dressed up in fancy dresses to celebrate Christmas. You can see the appeal.

Have a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year, dear readers! We are taking a short break for the holidays but will be back with a brand new post on January 2!

In the meantime catch up on some relevant posts to guide you through all your holiday etiquette needs:

Is BYOB Tacky?

Seems like a fun party. [Via Wikimedia Commons]

Dear Uncommon Courtesy

A good friend and his live-in girlfriend occasionally throw cocktail parties at their apartment for the holidays, each other’s birthdays, etc. While he and his girlfriend are not hedge fund partners, they do reasonably well for themselves as independent, gainfully-employed 20-somethings. More often than not, their party invitations will specify that although they will be serving a punch or specific cocktail of some sort, they would like all guests to BYOB. 

My question is twofold: First, how do I handle the hostess gift situation here? Do I double up and bring them a bottle of wine in addition to whatever I would like to imbibe at this party? Do I specify which is which? Because that seems like it could get awkward. Second, am I wrong in thinking that this is incredibly tacky of them? 

Basically, how can I best be a polite guest in a situation where I think the hosts are being less than polite themselves? 


Flummoxed in NY 

Official Etiquette

Miss Manners sees BYOB as “a collegiate and internship form, suitable for people who have not yet mastered adult housekeeping and whose finances are so close to the edge that they cannot wait for the costs of socializing to be shared through eventual reciprocation.” She also suggests following along with what the rest of you social circles does and if no one brings their own beverage, then you know that it’s not the done thing and you aren’t going to have much luck trying to change it.

Our Take
Jaya: Uhh is BYOB tacky??
Victoria: LOL no. Or, maybe it sort of is? But it’s fine. And duh, you do not need to bring two things.
Jaya: Absolutely, BYOB negates a host gift. And I usually don’t bring a “host gift” for a run-of-the-mill party. Special occasions or being a house guest, sure, but I’ll usually bring a bottle of wine or text the host and ask if I can pick anything up. I have never considered BYOB tacky though, especially if you’re providing punch or some type of liquor, as these hosts seem to be doing.
Victoria: Thinking about it more, I think it depends. I can’t remember my parents ever throwing a BYOB party. I guess at a certain age and income level it just makes sense for the hosts to provide everything, though I do not know what those levels are.
Jaya: It also depends how the hosts phrase it. When hosting a party, I’ll often say “we’ll have snacks and some wine and liquor, but feel free to bring any food or booze you want.” But it’s not like I’d kick someone out for not bringing a six pack. I probably wouldn’t even notice.
Victoria: And if you’re in your 20s, maybe you throw parties because you’re the one with the biggest apartment, so it becomes a nice, central place to get everyone together. But yes, I always like to have enough for everyone, but if people bring things that’s fine too.
Jaya: Man, I just can’t bring myself to call this tacky though. BYOB, potlucks, these are all known quantities.
Victoria: Yeah, I wouldn’t call it tacky exactly.
Jaya: I’m a huge fan of BYOB actually. I just think it’s a great, efficient way to have a party. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hosted a party with a “full bar” and been stuck with a bunch of stuff no one wanted. Or, people can be really picky about what they drink, so I’d rather they just bring something they know they want.
Victoria: Yeah, I think it’s great for more of a house party situation. But it’s definitely better to phrase it as “we have this, if you want to bring anything else, feel free” instead of making it a hard requirement. You really should provide enough punch/cocktails/wine for 1-2 drinks per guest, just a base level.
Jaya: Absolutely. I can’t tell what the hosts’ tone is from this letter, but I guess if LW wanted to test it they could just “forget” to bring something to the next party. Good hosts/friends would be like “oh no worries, we got stuff” or just not even mention it.
Victoria: Exactly. Though, if you plan on drinking a whole case of beer yourself, you should maybe bring it.
Jaya: It’s all just heavily contingent on your friend group and the social norms of drinking/hosting that exist within it.
Victoria: You know what I have encountered, that I do think is kind of tacky? House parties where the hosts charge admission.
Victoria: YES it’s a THING.
Jaya: Okay I have heard of rent parties? And I guess it’s like, if you’re spending $10 on a six pack or $10 on “admission,” you’re spending that money either way?
Victoria: Presumably the charge is to cover the alcohol, but then you don’t know if it’s going to be a fun party or if they have what you want to drink, and you might as well just go to a bar. Or if you spend $10 on a six pack, you at least know it’s beer you like.
Jaya: Okay, I do think this question sort of touches on the awkwardness that happens when an implied rule becomes explicit. I would not show up at a party without either a bottle of wine (or equivalent), or without checking with the host about if there were something I could bring. And when I am the host, my friends often show up with drinks or food, or call me asking if I need anything. It’s this nice exchange that most people silently agree to, so I can see how specifically saying BYOB disrupts that. It’s almost insulting–as if you wouldn’t think of bringing beer on your own. Is that reading too much into it?
Victoria: No, I think that makes sense. It’s like when my mom tells me to write a thank you note to my grandmother. Like yes, I know, I ALWAYS write a thank you note, why are you reminding me?
Jaya: But if I saw BYOB on an invitation, I would not be like “Mercy, this person thinks I have no manners!”
Victoria: Hahahah yeah. And you can always turn it down if you don’t want to BYOB.
Jaya: I cannot imagine the kind of person who would be so offended by the premise of BYOB that they’d refuse to go to their friend’s party. I mean you just gotta consider your own priorities there.
Victoria: And if you’re a host and have a specific theme/feel in mind, you should just provide everything yourself. Like if you’re having a speakeasy party and tallboys of Budweiser would kill the aesthetic. Though people can surprise you! I hosted a Mad Men party and provided lots of stuff, but my friends still showed up with fancy mixers and such.
Jaya: On either side of the equation, remember that you’re dealing with people you like. If you’re a host, try to trust that your friends are nice, considerate people who would offer to bring something or to help out without your explicit instructions. And if you’re a guest, be that nice, considerate guest for your friend who is being nice and hosting a party. Be generous with friends, no matter which role you’re playing.

How To Throw A Good Party

The older I get, the more I’m surprised at the number of people who have made it to adulthood without knowing how to throw a half-decent party. Because yes, you can send the invitations and buy the beer, but that doesn’t mean people will end up enjoying themselves. It’s almost Christmas, so you may be in the midst of setting up your very own party right now! Here are some of our tips on how to throw one that people will be excited to attend.

1. BE CHILL: In our post on how to be a good host, we mention the importance of being gracious. You never want to make your guests feel like their presence is a burden for you (especially if you’re the one who invited them!). The way you execute this will be different depending on the type of party you’re hosting. If you’re hosting a dinner party, find dishes you can make ahead or order out one or two things so you’re not spending all your time stressed in the kitchen. If it’s a potluck, make sure you’re not getting 12 potato dishes, but let your friends make what they want to make. Most people have a better time if it’s a little more free-flowing.

2. Music: Have you ever been to a fun party where there is no music playing? If you have, please comment and tell us how this was accomplished, because in my opinion nothing kills a party faster than when there’s a lull in the conversation and you’re left with absolute silence. If you’re having a party where people are dancing obviously music is important, but don’t discount it as filler noise when people are just getting into conversations. And unless you trust all the guests’ music tastes, make sure there’s one person in charge. Otherwise that one person whose idea of a good time is Papa Roach B-sides WILL be taking over your iPod.

3. Activities: If you want to have specific activities like watching a movie or playing board games, definitely include that in the invitation. Springing things like that on a group is definitely a “know your audience” thing. Some people will be totally down for an impromptu game of charades, others will just see it as forced fun, and an interruption to the perfectly fine time they were having before.

4. Food and Drink: Again, the availability here will depend on what kind of party you’re having, but plan on having at least something for everyone, whether it’s a cheese plate and some wine or a keg and order-out pizza. Unfortunately, this is where I see most hosts stressing themselves out, either trying to provide every single option or haranguing their guests to show up with something. Remember, most guests will show up with something without you reminding them! I can’t remember the last time I hosted a party where most of my guests didn’t offer to bring food, alcohol or something else before I even got the chance to ask for it.

How to Have a Holly Jolly Holiday Season

If all else fails, watch Santa Claus Conquers the Martians because it is on Netflix and it is amazing.

The holiday season can be fraught with etiquette perils. You mostly already know how to deal with your family and all the assorted drama. But how do you handle a whole month of holiday parties with their own different rules?

White Elephant Exchange:

I think White Elephant exchanges are the most fun type of Christmas present giving exercise, followed closely by it’s cousin, the White Elephant where you bring nice stuff (is there are a real term for this?).  The premise is that you find something in your home that is pretty new, maybe it’s something someone else bought you as a gift that you do not want, and you bring it (wrapped) to the party. Then all the gifts go in the middle and the guests take turns selecting a gift and opening it. The fun part is that instead of opening a new gift, a guest can “steal” one of the already opened gifts. Some people put a limit on how many times a gift can be stolen before it is “dead” and must be kept by the last person to steal it. If one person’s gift is stolen, they can choose to open one of the wrapped gifts or steal someone else’s gift.

This type of party is best for groups that don’t know each other well.

Etiquette Pitfalls:

  • Decide on the rules ahead of time as everyone plays slightly differently.
  • Be sure whether the party will be a true White Elephant with silly, useless types of gifts or the “nice” kind where people bring real gifts.
  • If it is a “nice” White Elephant party, be sure to set a price limit so the gifts are roughly the same.
  • If it is a true White Elephant, make an effort to bring something fun, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” types of things rather than true junk. [Ed note: Unless it’s a “Spite Elephant” party, in which case bring the most ridiculously awful thing you can find]
  • Try to avoid getting too competitive about stealing gifts, this is supposed to be fun.

Secret Santa:

The Secret Santa is a more refined gift exchange, in which you are assigned a person to get a gift for ahead of time. This is a nice way of doing gifts because everyone gets something personalized that they will probably like, but you only have to buy a gift for one person.

Etiquette Pitfalls:

  • If you sign up to do a Secret Santa make sure you follow through! If you are exchanging gifts in a group and you don’t show up, it will muck the whole thing up. Even if it isn’t a group exchange, if you don’t buy a gift that means that your person doesn’t get one and that is terrible. Don’t be a Secret Santa flake.
  • If you are the host, again, make sure to set a price limit, so everyone knows they are spending about the same amount.
  • Part of the beauty of doing a Secret Santa is getting a personalized gift, so put some effort into it and don’t wimp out with a gift card (unless they are really into that!)

Cookie Exchange:

A cookie exchange is a party in which everyone brings one type of cookie and brings enough that they can give, say, a dozen of those cookies to each party guest. That way, each person brings, say, 6 dozen of one type of cookie but brings home 6 dozen of six different types of cookies. This way, you can have a wide variety of cookies to eat during the holiday season but only have to bake once. A big time saver if you are really into cookies.

  • I wouldn’t say it’s RUDE to participate if you are bad at baking, but you might want to seriously evaluate your skills and perhaps bring very nice store bought cookies rather than burnt ones.
  • Don’t be stingy with your recipes, the holidays are all about sharing!
  • Make sure you follow the rules about how many cookies to bring so there are enough to go around.
  • If you are the host, be sure to inquire about any allergies and pass the information around.
  • If you are gluten-free, perhaps a cookie exchange is not the party for you (but maybe it is and your friends don’t mind gluten free cookies, we don’t judge!)
  • Try to make something a little out of the ordinary so the party doesn’t end up with all chocolate chip cookies (if you are the host, you should do your best to communicate with your guests about what they want to bring to facilitate variety- or ask everyone to send a recipe ahead of time).
  • Bring something to carry all your cookies home in!

Office Party:

Jaya just wrote a killer piece in The Guardian about office holiday parties, so you should go read that first. I’ll wait.

Etiquette Pitfalls:

  • Everyone says it, but getting drunk (unless your work culture is all about getting drunk- life’s a rich tapestry, etc etc) is a pretty big no-no most places.
  • Not going- sure office parties are, (usually) technically, optional but unless you have a REALLY good reason, you should suck it up and go because as much as we don’t like it, these types of things are noticed and contribute to the perception of your team spirit which can come into play when it comes time for promotions, etc.
  • If you are in charge of organizing the party, really think about what the people you work with are the most likely to enjoy. Some offices are big party goers, others will appreciate a dinner at a fancy restaurant more.

Gifts for Everyone:

Presumably you know what to do when it comes to getting gifts for close friends and family. But what do you do when you have to get gifts for other people?

  • A secret santa you don’t know too well- ask around and try to find something they will really enjoy.
  • Your brand new significant other- if you’ve been dating less than, say, three months, you should probably skip it or do something simple. At least talk about it! (You should also talk about it with longer term partners- you don’t want to be the one giving diamond earrings when they are getting you a new scarf. It’s uncomfortable for both parties [again unless that’s just how you guys roll!]).
  • Someone who gave you something out of the blue- you don’t necessarily have to reciprocate. Sometimes its nice to just give without expecting anything in return. But some very classy people have “backup” presents- a box of generic but nice gifts that can be given in just that kind of situation.
  • Your boss- you DON’T. Gift giving should always flow down power structures. Giving a gift to your boss can look like a bribe/sucking up. You can usually get away with little tokens, or especially home baked treats. Group gifts for bosses are usually against etiquette as well, but honestly, in some small offices, it can work because everyone truly wants to do something nice (and really only if that boss is also handing bonuses and/or gifts down.)

What Do I Do With The Handyman?

Fun fact: My super's name is Mario

Fun fact: My super’s name is Mario

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

Like a lot of New York apartments, mine sometimes falls apart and needs fixing. Of course, the repair guy isn’t someone I picked and hired, he’s the dude my landlord knows.

What exactly should I be doing when he’s working on my doorknobs or closets? I feel like a jerk who doesn’t trust him if I hover, but on the other hand I really don’t know this dude, so going into another room seems like a bad idea. He is clearly not interested in talking to me more than necessary, so friendly chatting is out.

Instead, I tend to stand kinda nearby and mess around on my phone (this is what I’m doing right now), which feels rather like the worst of both possibilities.

So what’s the least dickish, but also most sensible, thing to do?


Hovering Over Handyman

Official Etiquette

Amy Vanderbilt wrote of servants: “Try from the beginning of your relationship with a domestic to establish a dignified employer-employee relationship. Make your orders clear, and, whenever possible, put them in writing. From time to time review the work in a friendly manner, giving censure, encouragement, and praise, as needed.”

Our Take

Victoria: Repair guys! It is pretty awkward to figure out what to do. Personally, I pretty much like to leave them alone and not hover. But my apartment is small so I can hear what’s going on.

Jaya: I’ve found myself hovering recently, but that’s only because our Super our neighbor and really chatty. Or I’ll have questions about things.

Victoria: I also think it’s nice to offer some water, especially if it’s hot out.

Jaya: Yes! That’s been my standard: offer water, and then say I’ll be in the living room/bedroom/wherever if they need me. I also think that even if it isn’t someone you picked yourself, it’s not like you’re totally screwed if something happened. You can absolutely hold the landlord accountable if something is stolen or broken, or they do a bad job.

Victoria: Exactly. Or, you know, call the police.

Jaya: It just seems logical that if the landlord signs off on sending someone to your apartment, you can go to them if something goes wrong.

Victoria: Just don’t leave $100 bills on your counter or something like that.

Jaya: Such a problem for all of us. But yeah, I get it. It is a bit weird having someone doing stuff in your house. I feel like most of use aren’t used to having “house help” so we’re just awkward about it.

Victoria: When I was a kid my parents had a cleaning company come sometimes, and when they’d be there after school I’d sort of slink from room to room to avoid them. Interestingly, the “old way” with servants kind of worked–the servants would go up and straighten the bedrooms while everyone was awake and downstairs eating breakfast. And Emily Post admonishes people in the first edition of Etiquette for not giving their servants the time and space they needed to get into the rooms to clean.

Jaya: Psh, who has an “upstairs,” the Rockefellers? When I was a teenager my mom would have a cleaning person sometimes, and there was always a “cleaning for the cleaners” thing that would happen.

Victoria: We had that too, but it makes sense. A lot of companies won’t move stuff to clean under it. Also, if you’re paying for four hours, they won’t be able to get to the actual cleaning/sanitizing if they have to pick up a bunch of junk first.

Jaya: That’s very true. But yeah, I think servant etiquette just doesn’t translate for most people now. If your house is big enough for servant’s quarters then yes, you won’t notice them. But if there’s someone in my house, I know. I also think it has to do with the shame of hiring someone for that, or maybe it’s just me. I’m a capable woman, I should be able to reinstall windows or whatever.

Victoria: You rent though, so that’s part of the deal! It’s not like you’re investing in something you own.