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Naughty or Nice? Fixes for 5 common holiday etiquette goofs

By Cynthia Dermody, Reader’s Digest – 12/10/2005 – 12:00am

You know it’s bad manners to get plastered at the office party. But it’s not so easy to figure out what the Etiquette Police will say about other situations. In the spirit of giving, we assembled this guide to help you offend as few people as possible:

* Should you get your boss a gift?
No, says Letitia Baldrige, author of New Manners for New Times. You don’t want to come across as an “apple polisher.” A card saying how great it’s been to work for her is enough. If she gives you a gift? “It doesn’t mean you have to reciprocate,” says Sue Fox, author of Etiquette for Dummies.

* A friend gives you a gift; you didn’t get her one.
Resist the urge to buy her something. “Just write the most beautiful thank-you note,” Baldrige says. “Otherwise it means you’re giving her a gift because you feel guilty.” Next time you see her, just don’t forget a plate of homemade brownies.

* Dealing with ungrateful children.
Kids want fun stuff that makes lots of noise. And when they don’t get it, outbursts like “Clothes aren’t a present!” and “I don’t like this!” can be embarrassing. “Humor is a great tool,” says humor consultant Malcolm Kushner. “It reduces tension.” If you’re the gift giver, say, “I hated it too. That’s why I’m giving it away.” If you’re the parent, try, “That’s just his way of saying thank you.” Later, talk to your child about gratitude.

* Saying Merry Christmas to strangers.
It’s fine to say to the post-office clerk without interrogating him about his religion. Anyone who responds with a Scrooge-like remark is the unmannerly one, not you, says Baldrige. “If they rebuff you, just forget about it and walk away.”

* Sending an e-vite For a casual party, e-mail is fine.
But an e-mail to a formal soirée is akin to wearing jeans to a wedding, says Fox. When in doubt, send it by mail.

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