The holiday season isn't the only time of the year when good manners and good will matter. Yet the winter holidays present a never ending series of office parties, family gatherings and social events that put our manners and civility to the test.
"It is never too early to start thinking whether our social skills are sharp and ready for the season," says P.M. Forni, co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project and the author of Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct, a St. Martin's Griffin paperback published in October 2003. "It will be largely up to our manners making our holidays more joyful than stressful for ourselves and others."
To help people get through the holidays with grace and good cheer, Forni presents the following list of gentle reminders for making the most out of seasonal socializing.
As an Invited Dinner Guest:
Always RSVP. And if you accept, show up.
Arrive on time. Call if you are late, but remember that calling does not make you punctual. You are still late and inconveniencing others.
Do not show up with a surprise guest.
Bring with you a giving attitude. Your good cheer will contribute to the festive occasion.
Make sure that your cellular telephone won't ring at the dinner table.
At an Office Party:
Drink in moderation
Gossip and holiday cheer don't mix.
A good conversationalist is a good listener. When you listen, you show poise and make friends.
As you speak with many colleagues, seek out those you seldom see and those who seem left at the margins of the fun.
Do not say or do anything that is going to be embarrassing in retrospect. You will have to face your colleagues every day back at work.
As a Houseguest:
Bring an appropriate gift, neither insignificant nor too valuable.
Offer to help with chores (doing the dishes, shopping for groceries).
Be as autonomous as possible. Your hosts are not your chauffeurs.
Keep your room and bathroom tidy.
Make sure that your children are not noisy and disruptive.
When you are the Host:
Plan wisely. Too many houseguests will increase your stress and fatigue, preventing you from offering them your best hospitality.
Ask in advance about your guests' dietary restrictions.
Do not overschedule your guests' days.
Do not be afraid to claim time for yourself and your commitments.
When it comes to holiday gifts for your guests, make sure that no one is forgotten — not even your friend's new boyfriend who was a late addition to your guest list.
At a Family Gathering:
Do not boast of your financial worth; do not bemoan your financial woes.
Do not extol endlessly your children's talents and accomplishments; do not carp on their shortcomings.
Do not shift the burden of your insecurity onto others in the form of hostility.
Do not badmouth family members who are not present.
Do not embarrass family members who are.
As you might expect, Forni, a professor of Italian literature at The Johns Hopkins University, is charming and wonderful to talk with, and he can address a broad range of issues connected to civility for any story on the subject. To speak with P.M. Forni or to receive a review copy of Choosing Civility, contact Amy Cowles at 410-516- 7160. Forni's Web site is www.jhu.edu/civility/ and his e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Video and audio recordings featuring Forni are available online at www.jhu.edu/news_info/news/audio-video/forni.html. Digital photos of Forni are available upon request.
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