OH BE­HAVE!

Reader's Digest International - - Contents - BY LENORE SKENAZY

The classi­est ways to split a bill, send your sym­pa­thies, say no, and more.

The classi­est ways to split a bill, send your sym­pa­thies,

say no, and more

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME you sent a thank-you note to a friend af­ter be­ing in­vited over for din­ner? For­get? You know why? Be­cause you prob­a­bly never did. No one does that any­more. Some­where be­tween un­friend­ing and In­sta­gram­ming ev­ery as­pect of our lives, the rules of deco­rum that we’d all lived by changed. Well, we’re go­ing to cor­rect that. We polled our friends for the eti­quette co­nun­drums that vex them most. Then we asked ex­perts to as­sess the cor­rect way to pro­ceed. Oh, and if you like what you read, feel free to send a thank-you note. That would be nice.

Send­ing Con­do­lences

Your friend’s hus­band dies. You didn’t know him that well. But still. The thing is, we all know the right thing to do when we hear of a friend’s or rel­a­tive’s loss: Write that sym­pa­thy card and mail it al­ready!

But what if you don’t have a sym­pa­thy card around? Or you do, but the cor­ner’s kind of bent? Or what if you don’t know your friend’s snail mail ad­dress off­hand and keep for­get­ting to look it up un­til it’s 11:30 at night and you’re drift­ing gen­tly off to sleep when sud­denly you re­mem­ber, I STILL HAVEN’T MAILED THAT CARD!!!? And now your heart is pound­ing, and you are elec­tri­fied with self-loathing ... but still too toasty un­der the cov­ers to ac­tu­ally get out of bed and do any­thing? If you’re tempted to text a sad-faced emoji just to get some­thing out, don’t. That’s right up there with “lik­ing” the

news on Face­book. But here’s the good news, slug­gards! When it comes to ex­press­ing sym­pa­thy, “there’s no time limit,” says Anne Klaey­sen of the New York So­ci­ety of Eth­i­cal Cul­ture. In fact, some­times it’s even nicer for a mourner to get a note a lit­tle af­ter the ini­tial flurry of at­ten­tion, when life for ev­ery­one else has re­turned to “nor­mal.”

That’s when drop­ping your friend a note—yes, even by e-mail—will be re­ally ap­pre­ci­ated. And the best kind of note, adds Klaey­sen, in­cludes a lit­tle story about the de­ceased. (So long as it doesn’t end, “And he still hasn’t paid me back.”)

For Whom the Bill Tolls

You’re out to din­ner with friends and or­der a measly hot dog—“hold the bun.” Ev­ery­one else or­ders foie gras, lob­sters, and Ke­tel One mar­ti­nis. The check ar­rives. Now what? Oh, to live in Ger­many, at least when it’s time to pay the tab. There, says Siob­han Cal­la­han, an Amer­i­can who teaches English in the town of Bre­men, “the as­sump­tion is that ev­ery­one will pay separately.”

In fact, Cal­la­han says, gen­er­ally the wait­ress comes to the table at the end of the meal and an­nounces to each per­son, “‘Let’s see; a cof­fee is 1.50, and a burger is 15—you owe

me 16.50.’ She does it all in her head.”

This would re­lieve a party plat­ter of anx­i­ety on the part of peo­ple like … me. Those of us who have to steel our­selves be­fore go­ing out to din­ner, know­ing that the check will prob­a­bly be split equally, even though we will have eaten waaaaaay less ex­pen­sively (for all sorts of psy­cho/so­cial/cheapo rea­sons) than ev­ery­one else. I try to think of it as an en­ter­tain­ment tax, the price paid for so­cial­iz­ing. I try and try and try. Min­neapo­lis doc­tor and busi­ness­woman Archelle Ge­or­giou has come up with the classi­est way to avoid this tur­moil, short of or­der­ing three lob­sters for your­self. If her friends are booz­ers, she says, “I’ll tell the wait­ress at the be­gin­ning, ‘We’ll have sep­a­rate checks for this bill.’ It’s be­tween me and the wait­ress, but they all hear it, and that’s worked out quite well.”

Un­til Amer­ica goes Ger­man, this could be your best bet. Es­pe­cially for those of us who or­der just the soup and fill up on the crack­ers.

Car-Wreck Cousin

Your cousin—a no­to­ri­ously lousy driver—asks to bor­row your car for a few hours.

This is not a ques­tion of gen­eros­ity; it’s a ques­tion of what kind of dam­age your cousin and/or car can sus­tain. So don’t feel com­pelled to fork over the keys. If you have the time or in­cli­na­tion, of­fer to chauf­feur him around. If you have the money, of­fer Uber fare. And if you’ve got none of the above, fib. “Say, ‘Thurs­day af­ter­noon? Oh, I’m busy!’” sug­gests Jodi R. R. Smith, pres­i­dent of Man­ner­smith Eti­quette Con­sult­ing. What­ever you do, “don’t feel ob­li­gated to lend some­body some­thing that is in­cred­i­bly valu­able and im­por­tant to you.” Feel­ing ob­li­gated to do some­thing you’re op­posed to is not the def­i­ni­tion of kind. It’s the def­i­ni­tion of door­mat.

“Say, ‘I’m sorry; it’s just not pos­si­ble,’ with no fur­ther ex­pla­na­tion,” says psy­chother­a­pist Tina Tessina.

But if you feel the cry­ing need to ut­ter some plau­si­ble ex­cuse, re­frain from shout­ing the painful truth: “There’s not enough in­surance in

the world!” In­stead, let him down easy, some­thing kind but firm, like “I don’t have the in­surance to cover you,” says Mag­gie Old­ham, who blogs about mod­ern eti­quette is­sues at mag­gieold­ham.com.

Miss­ing In­vite

You didn’t re­ceive an in­vi­ta­tion to an event to which you ex­pected to be in­vited. It can feel like a kick in the kid­neys when you hear about an event that ev­ery­one else seems to be go­ing to—a wed­ding, a baby shower, even a group photo—and no one in­vited you. What’s up with that?

If the host is not some­one you know very well, don’t take it per­son­ally, says Dr. Howard For­man of Mon­te­fiore Med­i­cal Cen­ter in New York City. There could be space lim­i­ta­tions, a strained bud­get, what­ever. Let it slide.

But if your niece is get­ting mar­ried and the rest of the fam­ily is al­ready buy­ing rice? Take it per­son­ally, then call your brother.

As calmly as you can, ask if there’s some rea­son you weren’t in­vited. Maybe the in­vite went to an old ad­dress and no one both­ered to for­ward it. Imag­ine how re­lieved your brother will be to know your si­lence—to him, rude­ness—was sim­ply the re­sult of an en­ve­lope er­ror and not a freeze-out!

On the other hand, if there’s a real rea­son he didn’t in­vite you, your re­la­tion­ship is frayed enough that you may want to try to fix it. Ex­plain the con­cept of re­gret in­surance: If some­day the two of you do rec­on­cile, you’ll both re­gret the fact you missed this life event. Then prom­ise good be­hav­ior. Prom­ise a nice gift. Prom­ise you won’t make a toast—or you will— or what­ever your brother wants. This could be the be­gin­ning of a beau­ti­ful, mended re­la­tion­ship.

Per­plex­ing Play­date

Your close friend’s ten-year-old kid is a mon­ster. Ev­ery time you get to­gether, your own ten-year-old is stuck with her. You don’t want her around this kid any­more.

You can try telling your friend that

your kid can’t see the mis­cre­ant be­cause she’s busy wash­ing her hair from to­day till the day she goes off to col­lege, but there’s a good chance the friend won’t buy that.

“When I was a kid, there was a child of my par­ents’ friends who used to break my toys all the time,” re­calls psy­chother­a­pist Tessina, au­thor of It Ends with You: Grow Up and Out of Dys­func­tion. “And what my mom helped me do was hide my good toys be­fore that per­son came over.”

That’s an un­flap­pable mom—and kid—who to­tally un­der­stood the score. (Maybe that’s why Tessina be­came a ther­a­pist.) But there are bad seeds who can bring out the worst in ev­ery­one. Faced with spend­ing time with them, don’t.

Plan events dur­ing which the kids can’t in­ter­act, like go­ing to the movies. Another tech­nique is to sit the tiny delin­quent down when she first gets to your home and have a very grown-up chat with her— in front of her par­ents. “I just want to make sure you know the house rules so no­body gets hurt” is how

Dr. Ge­or­giou be­gins. “We have a lot of glass here. If you ran into this table and the glass broke, you would have to go to the emer­gency room and have all th­ese ugly stitches!”

In other words, she out­lines the be­hav­ior that she wants, and by paint­ing a vivid pic­ture of the con­se­quences of dis­obey­ing, she makes the kid and par­ents want it too. (And for what it’s worth, now ev­ery­one is afraid of the table.)

Din­ner with a Di­eter

You’re din­ing out with some­one who’s try­ing to lose weight.

“The sec­ond day of a diet is al­ways eas­ier than the first. By the sec­ond day, you’re off it,” goes the old di­eter’s lament.

But the fact is, no one has ever failed a diet be­cause his or her friend or­dered a cheeses­teak with ex­tra grease when they got to­gether for din­ner, says psy­chi­a­trist For­man. Food is ev­ery­where, so whether you’re scarf­ing down that cheeses­teak in front of your friend or not, he or she could al­ways get one some­place else.

But there is one very kind thing you can do when din­ing with a di­et­ing friend, says Man­ner­smith’s Jodi R. R. Smith: Do not or­der dessert.

Dessert is the thing with two forks. No one ex­pects you to of­fer a bite of your cheeses­teak, but it is rare to or­der the molten cho­co­late cake with rasp­berry coulis with­out 1) re­mind­ing your­self to look up coulis some­time and 2) of­fer­ing a taste (how­ever grudg­ingly) to ev­ery­one at the table.

The other kind thing is to re­frain from of­fer­ing diet tips. Duct-tape your mouth be­fore say­ing, “‘Oh? You’re not go­ing to get the dress­ing on the side?’ Or, ‘Are you sure you want that?’” says Karen Yankosky,

a lawyer who hosts a pod­cast on dat­ing and re­la­tion­ships. “I don’t care if you’re on the cover of Mus­cle mag­a­zine; just shut up.”

En­ter­tain­ing Fido

Your friends from out of town are com­ing to visit. At the last minute, they call and ask if they can bring along their dog.

While you might be tempted to tell your friends, “Of course you can bring your dog to my house if I can bring my ele­phant to yours,” don’t.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that you never want to be on the side of some­one who’s against a dog,” says Dr. For­man. “If our friends de­cided to bring their dog, we’d be, ‘Where would you like the dog to sleep, and what can we get him to eat?’ Dogs are re­ally im­por­tant friends to peo­ple.” On the other hand, if you’re al­ler­gic or your home is filled with frag­ile an­tiques, Per­sian rugs, and cacti, you can po­litely men­tion this to your friends and hope they get the hint.

“You’re not run­ning a ken­nel,” says Crys­tal L. Bai­ley, di­rec­tor of the Eti­quette In­sti­tute of Washington, who is not—as you might guess—a dog per­son.

But per­haps the most ef­fec­tive tac­tic is to make it sound as if all you re­ally, truly care about is the dog’s com­fort.

When guests sud­denly asked

Dr. Ge­or­giou if they could bring along their three—yes, three—dogs, she told them, “Of course!” But she added that she wasn’t sure the dogs would have a great time, since she has her own tem­per­a­men­tal dog, so the guest dogs would have to stay in the laun­dry room. What’s more, they wouldn’t get out much: “Since we have so much planned for the week­end, it would be dif­fi­cult to ac­com­mo­date the dogs.”

In other words, the poor, put-upon pooches!

Dr. Ge­or­giou came off as a dog-dot­ing host­ess who tried but just couldn’t make the week­end work for the pre­cious pets. She got her way with­out hurt­ing any­one’s feel­ings.

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