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How to be a perfect guest—and host: Holiday etiquette 101

Author: Elle Canada

Life and Love

How to be a perfect guest—and host: Holiday etiquette 101

The holidays are the busiest, most exciting time of the year—but they can also be the most stressful. As party invites pile up, questions arise about what to wear, what to bring, what to buy and more. We asked Canadian etiquette coach Louise Fox to share her expert holiday tips on how to navigate the season in style.

1. How to ace your office holiday party

A festive office get-together is not the place to make a rookie move. The refined, respectful and cordial behaviour you exhibit behind the desk should continue to the dance floor. (Remember—your boss will know if you’ve been naughty or nice.)

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The no-brainer: “Control alcohol consumption and always have food when you are drinking or that first cocktail will go right to your head,” says Fox.

The major do: Dress appropriately for the occasion and the culture of your office,” says Fox. “The only breasts that should be seen are the chicken breasts on the dinner plate so err on the side of conservative dress.”

The major don’t:
“Avoid slow dances with anyone other than your spouse or partner.  Women may ask male co-workers or bosses to dance if others are dancing, but shouldn't dance exclusively or too long with one person unless it is their spouse,” adds Fox.

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2. How to be the perfect party hostess
You don’t have to be Martha Stewart to host a successful holiday soiree, but having guests arrive to a Miley Cyrus style welcome is a serious faux pas. Strike a balance between over zealous hostess and laidback entertainer by paying attention to your guests’ individual needs.

The no-brainer: Make sure you have enough food and beverages to serve all of your visitors. There’s nothing more irritating to attendees (or embarrassing to you) than when the host runs out of mini vegetable quiche or candy cane martinis. Make a record of all RSVPs (and check it twice) prior to writing your grocery list.

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The major do:
“Make as many introductions among guests as you can and have a start and end time on your invitations,” coaches Fox. Mix and mingle throughout the party but always have an eye on the hors d'oeuvres and suitable seating arrangements (enough for everyone to sit comfortably) to maintain the collective holiday spirit.

The major don’t:
“Don't over serve if alcohol is present and always have a soft alternative,” Fox says. It’s taboo to exclude the non-drinkers on your manifest so add a few “mock-tail” options to the menu.

You don't want to miss the top dos and don'ts for being the perfect holiday party guest and date on the next page... party-etiquette-guide-0002.jpg3. How to be the ideal holiday party guest
Kate Middleton is the model citizen of party guest etiquette—proper, polite and poised at any event she attends. Take your cues from the Duchess of Cambridge and arrive within 15 minutes of the start time. (P.S—be sure to send a thank-you note to your hostess post-party—it’s what Kate would do.)

The no-brainer:
Bring your host a token of appreciation. “Take a hostess gift which could be a nice bottle of wine, a flower arrangement or other small seasonal gift,” Fox says. Fox also recommends food trays and wine—just don’t expect your offering to be served at the party because your host will have planned her meal in advance. 

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The major do:
“Be prepared to answer the question ‘what’s new?’ with something other than ‘not much,’” says Fox. “Don’t share negative information. Be interesting and charming when answering questions about yourself, your life and your interests.” Smile, shake hands and make lots of eye contact—just like a job interview.

The major don’t:
“Ask if you can be of any assistance, but if the hostess says no, don’t insist and do your job by being a pleasant guest,” says Fox. Chances are your hostess won’t want someone else rummaging through her apartment, so stick to keeping her company occupied.

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4. How to rock a holiday date night

Whether you’ve been dating for two months or two years, a festive date night holds a special place in anyone’s heart. Go on the holiday date of your dreams by keeping these simple rules in mind.

The no-brainer:
“Put some effort into your appearance,” says Fox. When in doubt, try a metallic eye shadow or go for Kate Middleton’s flawless beauty regime to impress your partner.

The major do:
“Always have cash or a credit card with you, even if you don’t expect to pay. Say please, thank you and you’re welcome and go out of your way to put your date at ease,” says Fox. The golden rule comes into play this time of year—treat others the way you’d like to be treated.

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The major don’t: “Don't go overboard! If you’re exchanging a gift it should reflect the level of intimacy in your relationship,” says Fox. In other words, speak to your date about an approximate budget beforehand and always remember quality over quantity.

Read more:
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How to be a perfect guest—and host: Holiday etiquette 101