Ah, family time. It's fertile ground for awkward moments (like when uncle Henry insists on unbuckling his pants after Christmas dinner to "make room for seconds"). But for the most part, we're used to it... until some new friend or family is thrown into the mix. Or, worse yet, until we end up being the guest at someone else's place.
On the bright side, you could say those inevitable awkward moments are what make the holidays memorable. But until embarrassment wanes and retrospect kicks in, we're here to help. We called on Brittany Deal, co-author of "Savvy Girl: A Guide to Etiquette" to walk us through some of the hairy scenarios you'll likely find yourself in this holiday season and beyond.1. No parking info on the invitation = You being unfashionably late.
- From The Host’s Perspective: Add parking information when applicable. In some cities where parking is limited or tricky, it can make it difficult for guests to know the best places to park. Make it easy on them!
- From The Guest’s Perspective: If the invitation didn’t specify parking, ask the host ahead of time so you are clear on the best places to park. Give yourself plenty of time to get there if you think parking could be tricky so you don’t arrive late or flustered.
Brittany's Story: "Recently I was invited to a party that didn’t specify where to park, therefore I assumed parking would be easy to find. Unfortunately, the parking was impossible and most guests had Ubered there. My husband and I were a half hour late due to our parking struggle—fashionably rude—as Bren Underwood, my co-author of 'Savvy Girl A Guide to Etiquette', says. So I called to let the host know we’d be late (following the “If you’re late, communicate” rule). I also apologized to the host and made sure we could still attend. Then when we arrived I let go of being late and frustrated with the parking situation and focused on being a delightful guest they would want to invite back."2. The Awkward Questions: “When are you two getting married?” or “When are you two having kids?”
- From Either Perspective: Whether you are the host or the guest the best way to handle an awkward question you don’t want to answer is to follow the 3 R’s Method: Remember, Reply and Redirect. Remember to keep it positive, reply with what you feel comfortable sharing (add a touch of humor if you can!), and then quickly redirect the conversation by asking that person a question.
Brittany's Story: "My husband and I dated for a long time before we were married. We got the 'when will you two get married?' question a lot! My husband would jump in (with positivity and a touch of humor) and say, 'not until she buys me a big ring!', which would make everyone laugh. Then I would re-direct the conversation with a question to them such as 'So tell me more about your recent honeymoon in Thailand?'”3. The toilet gets clogged.
- From The Guest’s Perspective: If you accidentally clog up a toilet or the toilet isn’t flushing make sure to discreetly notify the host that you’re having trouble. Don’t try to hide it!
- From The Host’s Perspective: Re-assure your guest that everything is OK. Be warm, helpful and kind. If you can resolve the issue try to, but if you’re unable to, put a sign on the door that directs your guests to an alternative bathroom.
Brittany's Story: "One time when I hosted a holiday party a guest clogged the powder bath. Because no one mentioned the clog, it kept getting worse. When I did discover it I knew it wouldn’t be a quick fix, so I taped a handwritten note on the door that directed my guests to the guest bath."
*We recommend doing yourself a favor and watching this video as well.*4. “Surprises” (Such as bringing an unexpected guest or showing up when you RSVP’d “no”.)
- From The Guest’s Perspective: A big rule is to never “surprise” the host with anything. Such as bringing a guest, pets, or kids if the invite didn’t specify to or if you haven’t cleared it by the host. Remember to never assume something is okay to do. Always run it by the host for confirmation.
- From The Host’s Perspective: If a guest does surprise you by bringing a friend, do your best to be prepared, gracious and relaxed. As Bren says, “the most important thing about good manners is to make those around you feel comfortable and welcome;" in other words warmly welcome your surprise guest. And to make things less stressful as the host, expect surprises and make sure to have ample food and beverages just in case.
Brittany's Story: "My family was hosting a holiday dinner party. One of our relatives brought a surprise date and notified us on the drive over. Thanks to Bren’s Must Bring Buns blog I knew that a hospitable host knows to always make guests feel warm and welcome and that sometimes you need to roll with the punches. So in this situation we quickly squeezed in another chair to the table and then warmly welcomed our surprise guest. She never knew that she was a last minute add on."5. “Lingering” guests who miss the signs of when it’s time to skedaddle.
- From The Guest’s Perspective: Although you may be having a great time at the party, know your departure time before you arrive. Signs from the host it’s time to go home: The host turns off the music, the host starts cleaning up, the hosts turns the lights on or blows out the candles, the guest of honor (if there is one) leaves.
- From The Host’s Perspective: You don’t want to flat out ask someone to leave, but there are many ways to give guests a hint of when the party is over. The first one is to put an end time on your invitation. The other ways include (as mentioned above) turning off the music, cleaning up, turn the lights on, etc.
Brittany's Story: "My husband and I had a couple of friends who were oblivious to our 'party is over' signals. So we used the line: 'Well, it has been so lovely seeing you both! We have an early morning tomorrow so we need to get to bed, but let’s get together again soon!' It was nicer that saying 'leave now' but clear enough to get the message across."6. A guest drinks too much and throws up in your house.
- From The Guest’s Perspective: Notify the host, profusely apologize, and try to clean up your mess the best you can. Offer to professionally clean or replace whatever you may have damaged. A follow up phone call, handwritten apology note and/or a bouquet of flowers to apologize is another great way to try to remedy the mishap.
- From The Host’s Perspective: As Bren says, “Be kinder than you need to be.” You don’t want to make your friend feel worse so take care of your friend, clean up the mess, and stay calm so you can handle the situation gracefully. Remember that stuff is always fixable or replaceable.
Brittany's Story: "I had an intimate holiday dinner party with my longest and closet friends last year. As we’ve gotten older and moved to new cities it’s such a treat to get everyone together during the holidays. And when close friends get together for a good time it’s easy too have too much fun. One of my friends had had too much to drink so she decided to stay the night. She later threw up on the guest bed duvet cover. The next morning when she told me about it, she had already cleaned up her mess and had the duvet cover ready to take with her to a dry cleaner. A few days later my duvet cover was returned with a nice little note and a bottle of wine. The gesture was so sweet and her effort post-mishap totally alleviated the situation."
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