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Social Protocols for Making a Great Impression

More than ever, we need these tips to avoid a social faux pas this holiday season.

Many of us look forward to the holidays so that we can get together with family and friends for some rest and relaxation. But at times, this period can turn out to be a nightmare as a result of other people’s inconsiderate and disrespectful behaviour.

In order to ensure that we don’t fall into that trap and fall into the unwanted guest list at next year’s lunches or dinners, we could follow some of the advice below to come out on top and make a great impression.

First impressions last
Impressions are created through our physical appearance, our behaviour and our way of communicating.  Studies show that within the first 30 seconds, a person makes an impression about us and it is initially based on our dress code and demeanour. So it is of the essence that you dress appropriately for the occasion.  The best option is to go for casual smart and choose colours that go with the holiday season. For example, wear something with a hint of gold or if you don’t have anything that’s specifically holiday related, then go for the classic little black dress.  As for men, a jacket and shirt with no tie or a shirt with tie but no jacket. Not forgetting that the more formal the event is, the more formal we need to dress.

Time is of the essence
A very important aspect of showing respect is to value other people’s time by always being punctual. When you are late, it is not only rude to the hosts but also to the other guests who will be waiting for you – always remember that time is precious as you can never get it back. Make sure that you are on time or even a few minutes earlier – if they say lunch at 1:30 then you can turn up at 1:00.

Don’t come empty handed

Always bring something symbolic with you, such as a plant, chocolates, Arabic sweets or even if you’re close ask the hostess if she needs anything – don’t bring food other than the holiday cakes – if there are any children in the house, always make sure you bring them something, as most holidays are very children and family oriented affairs.

Don’t bring someone who was not invited, first check with the hostess. And don’t leave your RSVP till the last minute; make sure you get back to the host with your response as soon as you can.

Table Manners
As the host, you should make sure there is plenty of food for everyone and ask your guests in advance if they suffer from an allergy, diabetes or are vegetarian so that you make them feel welcomed and considered.

As guests, we should always know how to behave around the table and use the golden rules of etiquette i.e. “please” and “thank you”. Remember not to sit on the dining table until the hostess invites you to, and in formal events you need to wait to be informed where to sit according to seating protocol.

Never start eating before the hostess announces it or when she starts herself.  Always stay positive and engage in sensitive conversation. This means not mentioning any of the taboo subjects such as politics, religion, rude jokes, personal or sensitive matters like salary, age, marital status …etc.

Converse on general issues such as art, the latest fashions, new food recipes or even planned holidays or places you have been to.

If there is a particular plate you really don’t like or eat don’t make a fuss just put it discreetly on one side of your plate, and if asked give a simple reason such as you are a vegetarian, have an allergy or diabetes.

Compliment the hostess and thank her for her efforts and choices during or at the end of the meal.

Tips on Dining Etiquette

  • Never nibble or eat from the table before everyone is seated.
  • Do not take something from the main plate and put it back.
  • Don’t eat or drink too much.
  • Don’t smoke on the dining table.
  • If the food is not nice, never say so.
  • Never talk about anyone in a bad way or gossip.
  • Always remember to put the napkin on your knees and it should stay there while you are at the table.
  • When leaving the table, place your napkin on the top of your chair.
  • Always say “please” when you ask for something and “thank you” when someone serves you or passes you a plate.
  • Never eat from the main plate directly, use a serving spoon to put into your plate, and eat from your own plate with your own cutlery.
  • ​Never play with your phone or text while in company.


House Rules

Here, we need to always remember that no matter how comfortable we feel, we always need to be aware that we are not at home. We don’t pull off our shoes and put our feet on the sofa, we do not lie down as if at home, sit with your legs together and always show control.

We do not smoke without first asking if it’s OK by the hosts. If they say no, we need to respect that and smoke outside or later when we leave.

Be careful with things they have around the house and make sure you don’t break them. If you drop anything such as food or drink on the floor, apologise and offer to help clean it up. What’s more, if you feel it needs dry cleaning insist on picking up the bill or actually taking it yourself on their behalf and returning it later.

Don’t stay too long, for example until the host starts to yawn! Rather leave at a reasonable time and don’t be the last to leave. Always offer to help with dishes and if the host says no don’t insist.

Sonya J. Sabbah is a Certified Executive Coach, Personal Brand & Image Consultant and Etiquette & Communication Trainer, as well as author of “Etiquette in the City: Beirut”.

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