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Etiquette Lesson: Tips for a stress-free holiday season

It's gift giving season!
It's gift giving season!
allerleirau/Flickr Creative Commons

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Thanksgiving and Hanukkah are things of the past, but the holiday season is still in full swing. We've got Christmas and the New Year to worry about!

RELATED: Holiday Survival Guide: How to deal with dreaded family members

Maybe you need some advice on gift giving at the office, or just some tips on general etiquette for the holidays — whether to send thank you cards, best practices for party going, etc. Here to help us make these remaining holidays as stress free as possible is Slate's Emily Yoffe, best known for her Dear Prudence advice column. 

RELATED: For next month's etiquette lesson: What's your biggest workplace pet peeve?

Interview Highlights

What is an appropriate gift for coworkers?
"This actually brings up the gift-at-the-office issue. I want to get on the table immediately because this time of year, I hear from a lot of people who are pressured to put money in a collection pot for gifts for the boss. People do not give gifts to the boss. And actually, the office is not a real gift-giving venue. I think these kind of things it's very lovely if you have gingerbread cookies or some kind of token thing. But you just don't want to get into giving elaborate gifts or a gift that I obviously spent a lot of time and money on, because then your colleagues feel obligated to reciprocate which they don't want to do, and it just starts this whole miserable process that people are dealing with their families and puts it in the office."

How can you avoid etiquette mistakes at holiday parties?
"I think the big thing to remember about office parties is that the operative word is "office," and you're not off. This is not the time to get drunk and tell people what you really feel and who you're attracted to. This is a work event. Now, it's lovely that you can socialize with your colleagues and, of course, a lot of people do. Outside of the holiday season, they'll have picnic, softball games, whatever. But you always have to keep in mind even when you're at a social/work event, work is the ruling principal. Especially at places where there's alcohol, you don't want to have to stumble in after the holidays and apologize to people."

For divorced families, how should you handle juggling multiple visits?
"Well, I get a lot of letters from people who are driven absolutely crazy saying, 'I got two hours here, then we all got to pile in the car and then we have to go there and these people aren't speaking to these people.' I think this really works well having a schedule. Alternating years, this group gets Thanksgiving, this group gets Christmas and also people get so hung up on the specific day.

"I understand there's ritual to the Thanksgiving meal, there's ritual to the opening presents, but sometimes you can come the day after Christmas and everyone is relaxed. You have leftovers and you have a lovely less stressful visit. I think the people who are filling torn apart by it have to set some ground rules for themselves and amazingly everyone else will accommodate to that."

Should you bring a food item to a holiday dinner party, even if you're not asked to?
"It's lovely to bing a hostess/host gift. Don't give them something they are going to have to serve. I don't want to serve your green bean casserole. I've invited you. I've made all the food so I don't want to serve your food. You can bring a food item, this is great time a year for food items, so bring that bottle of wine or bring something that clearly the host can enjoy later. But don't suddenly shove your chiffon cake when the host may have spent all day making their favorite fruit cake."

Are thank you notes a necessity during the holidays?
"It's not optional, it's not something you nag about. It's like brushing your teeth. You get a gift from someone, you write a thank you note. I understand this is to family and I already said 'Thank you.' Your daughter 18 or 20 years from now will so stand out from the crowd because she will be thanking the people who gave her internships or gave her advice for work or whatever. So when the rest of the room slugs, piss people off, your daughter will shine."