On Halloween, tell the kids: Rudeness can’t be disguised

By Michele M. Melendez, NEWHOUSE NEWS SERVICE – 10/21/2006 – 12:00am


Ghoul School… Sometimes the scariest Halloween display is rudeness.

But never fear: With a little care, the year’s creepiest holiday can be fun for everyone.

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“Certainly, kids should be saying, ‘Trick or treat,’ ‘Good evening,’ ‘Hi,’ ‘Hello,’ ” or some friendly greeting to the person who opens the door, says Cindy Post Senning, co-director of The Emily Post Institute, based in Burlington, Vt., and named for Senning’s late great-grandmother, the famous etiquette maven.

The silent demands baffle Shane Nelson, 39, of Ozark, Mo.: “They show up and they expect to get the candy. . . . A lot of them will hold their bag out,” saying nothing.

Not even “thank you.”

“Thank-yous are critical,” says Senning, co-author of “Emily’s Everyday Manners,” even if the goodies aren’t so great.

So, kids, if you get an apple or other nutritious snack, don’t proclaim, “Ew! Don’t you have candy?” Senning cautions. “You just thank them very much. You take that apple home with you.”

Katie Morris, 25, of Hanover Park, Ill., plans to punish Halloween ingrates this year with unpopular candy. “Cute, polite kids in costumes” will score the goodies, Morris says. “Anyone not wearing a costume, anyone excessively rude right from the start and mothers with babies under 6 months old and no other kids” will get the baddies.

Remember: manners and costume.

“As a kid, I used to agonize over what I would be for Halloween for weeks, if not months,” recalls Casey Miller, 26, of Glen Burnie, Md. “It frustrates me to see kids – typically pre-teens and teenagers – wearing nothing more than a mask, if any costume at all, and expecting to get something just for showing up.”

Not cool.

Opinions differ on how old is too old to trick-or-treat. Senning says the activity belongs to kids, primarily in kindergarten and elementary school. But Rebecca Black, a Davis-based etiquette consultant, says respectful older children and teens may participate.

“If you feel comfortable wearing a costume, then that’s fine,” Black says. “Just have fun, and enjoy it.”

If the tricksters have to behave, so do the treaters.

“Opening the door and surprising the kids with a scary mask or costume is not the best idea . . . unless you are sure who is at the door and their ages,” says Sue Fox, founder and president of Etiquette Survival LLC, a training firm in Los Gatos.

Several Halloweens ago, Debra Jackson’s son, Alex, almost 3 then and dressed as Winnie the Pooh, shrieked in tears when a man answered his door with a scary yell. Apparently, the man had been enduring pranks from older kids and wanted to retaliate. He picked the wrong child.

The neighbor “seemed very nice, actually, and was so embarrassed and upset that I wasn’t angry,” says Jackson, 37, of San Diego. “It was just very clearly a mistake.” To make amends, the man dumped a bowl of candy into Alex’s bag.

With parents concerned about safety, treat-givers should consider the goodies carefully.

“Of course, the treats should be sealed and wrapped completely,” advises Fox, author of “Etiquette for Dummies.” “Unfortunately, these days homemade cookies or other goodies are not appropriate, unless they are for friends and neighbors you know well.”

Sounds reasonable. Yet there are some who frighteningly breach that bit of Halloween etiquette.

Last year, Trish Lynne’s son and daughter, 14 and 12 at the time, found condoms and toothbrushes in their harvest.

“I think I laughed out loud in a sort of morbid disbelief,” recalls Lynne, of Minneapolis. “Elie, my son, still had his (condoms), and showed them to me. Ruth had been embarrassed and tossed the condoms, but kept the toothbrush. We talked a bit about how weird it was.”

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