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Modern Manners + Etiquette: Holiday Conflicts + More

Thursday, November 29, 2012


When sons bring home serious girlfriends for the holidays, who should decide where everyone sleeps? Didi has the answer.

Mixing cultures, blending families, and introducing possible spouses are all matters of holiday etiquette at Didi Lorillard's NewportManners. Do unmarried houseguests sleep in the same bed? Can a guest ask the host to lock up his dog because her child is allergic? What does the boss do when not everyone agrees with the office party menu? How do we host a holiday party on the cheap?

Dear Didi,

There are 8 employees in our division and one is kosher. For 8 years we have had our holiday lunch at a kosher restaurant to accommodate the one person with dietary restrictions. Most of the restaurants have closed and there is only one in our area. We went there last year and two people got sick. We asked the kosher employee if he would consider a nonkosher restaurant and we would have his kosher meal deivered to the restaurant (which other religious people in the firm have done in the past). He said he can't eat in a nonkosher restaurant but we should go without him since there are 7 other employees in our group. What are you thoughts?  V.K., Manhattan

Dear V.K.,

This is going to be an ongoing dilemma with your holiday party. Try googling 'best kosher restaurants' in your area. Or better yet, tell the employee to go online to find a new restaurant. If he doesn't want to or cannot find one that meets his approval, then make your own plans for the holiday party and compensate him with the cost of his lunch. That way he can decide if he wants to take a chance on a new restaurant or be given the dollar amount you would have spent on his lunch at the restaurant you went to last year. With all due respect, think of it this way. Treat this as you would if he was a vegetarian and only ate vegetarian. It shouldn't be about religion, because it's about choices.  ~Didi  

Dear Didi,

We're conservative. Our two adult sons, 35 and 39, are bringing their girl friends home for Christmas for two nights. We haven't met them, but we think our sons must be serious about these ladies or they wouldn't be bringing them home for Christmas. We have a rule, if they aren't married, they can't sleep with the girlfriend in our house. We had planned to put our two sons together in one room and the girls in another bedroom. Now my husband thinks I'm being an old fuddy-duddy. What do you think?  E.B., Charleston, SC

Dear E.B.,

In my opinion, it would behoove you to let your lads get on with their lives by accepting their choice of partners—whether they're married or not. Why not let your sons decide who sleeps where? Unless the women are underage or you don't have the space to separate them, let sleeping dogs lie where they may. Pretend it doesn't matter to you one way or the other. If you're worried about having to look at them disparagingly across the breakfast table, get over it. If they don't feel any regret, why should you? This could be your greatest Christmas present of all. You can't seriously think that they still believe in Santa and that this would be their first time. ~Didi

Dear Didi,

We want to have a Christmas party but when we priced invitations and came up with a budget, we realized we couldn't afford to invite everyone we wanted to invite. We're running short on time, so we have to make a decision fast. Like us, our friends have children ranging in age from 2 to 17, not all believe in Santa, some are allergic to peanuts, and others aren't allowed soda. What's an inexpensive way to host a family Christmas party?  N.S., Barrington

Dear N.S.

When you host a family holiday party with children, a lot is forgiven in terms of having to splurge on high-end alcohol and gourmet food. Start by going to paperless post.com and have fun designing and emailing your own invitation online. Make the starting time of the party five o'clock on a Saturday or Sunday and an ending time of seven or eight o'clock. 

Because you don't want people bringing gifts to one child and not another, gently suggest that guests bring their kid's favorite treat by adding under your RSVP: In lieu of a gift, please bring a festive treat to share. You'll be able to keep track of whose coming and how many in the family to expect. You'll also know what people are bringing when they reply through their paperlesspost.com RSVP with a note saying, for instance, that they're bringing two dozen pigs-in-the-blanket or three dozen homemade Christmas cookies. On the other hand, if you want to control the finger food, have each family bring a pair of new gloves or mittens for the homeless.

Online you can order cheeses and sausages in quantity, and/or a ham and mustard, and often there is a code allowing for free shipping or a discount. Remember everyone eats cheese and crackers. Use recycled paper plates, cups, napkins and tablecloths. Keep a large crockpot or soup pot of apple cider simmering with mulling spices and your house will be filled with the scents of Christmas. Have a few bottles of dark rum on hand for adults to add an extra kick to their cup of mulled cider. When you go to buy your tree, ask for greens that have been discarded to decorate your house. Play CDs your older children made ahead of time of Christmas songs on a loop. Keep it simple yet festive. Happy Holidays!  ~Didi

Dear Didi,

We had an awful Thanksgiving with my husband's father's other family. His parents are divorced and his father's partner of ten years and her five adult married children with their small children and dogs control our holidays with his father. I want to make my husband's partner my friend and I've tried. After traveling to the East Coast for the long Thanksgiving weekend, our son immediately developed hives. Because we don't have a dog, I assumed that might be the cause. I overheard my father-in-law's girlfriend's daughter complaining bitterly because I asked her to put their dog in the basement. We had come across the country to be with his extended family and I didn't feel that I was asking too much. Well, all hell broke loose. Next Thanksgiving, what can we do to avoid this unnecessary drama?  D.Q., Tahoe, CA

Dear D.Q.,

Well, of course, they're going to think you are neurotic, you're the outsider and they want their "normal" family all to themselves during the greatest family holiday of the year.  It's not just an East Coast-West Coast thing. Talk to your father-in-law's partner. Tell her that you were only acting in the best interest of your son—her partner's grandson. Leave it at that. Then if your child really is allergic to dogs, have your husband tell his father ahead of time to ask his partner's children to, please, not bring their dogs for Thanksgiving. Nobody wants to spend the holiday nursing a sick child when they could be bonding with their in-laws.  ~Didi

Didi Lorillard researches shifting etiquette at NewportManners.com by answering questions on relationship dilemmas, wedding etiquette, business etiquette, entertaining, dress codes and manners. Or find Didi on Facebook,TwitterLinkedIn, or Pinterest after reading her earlier GoLocal columns, some of which are listed below.


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