Monday, October 26, 2009

Houseguest etiquette - Ten tips that will get you invited back

When I was ten, my family emigrated from Scotland to Canada. Both of my parents had large extended families and we were the only people any of them knew who lived in the "new world". For the first ten years of our time here, our summers were chock-a-block with family - close and distant - who thought it was just grand that they now had a free place to stay in Canada. The letters from relatives would start coming in the spring - one-page missives that started off asking after our wellbeing and would finish with a line or two about how they were planning a trip here in July and would it be okay if they visited us for a few days. Translation: they and their offspring intended to take over our home for three weeks, during which time, we would be obligated to ferry them to Niagara Falls, the CN Tower and other tourist traps. Some summers would see us hosting three different families.

My parents were too polite to refuse and while they enjoyed catching up with close family members, they both worked hard and it was hard for them to spend their entire hard-earned vacations waiting on others when all they wanted to do was relax. I made the decision then and there that I would never be taken advantage of by a houseguest and, either by circumstance or design, I have been successful. I am not averse to guests but it's possible I give off a vibe that suggests I prefer their visits to be brief.

If you would like to enjoy someone's hospitality, follow these tips for houseguest etiquette and you'll be guaranteed a second invite.

1. Ask, don't tell - Never take for granted that you are welcome in someone's home at the time of your choosing. If you're interested in staying with someone, or using their property, you need to request their permission. Your current relationship with the potential hosts will dictate the level of formality required for the request but you do need to ask if it's convenient. Announcing that you will be there next Friday to stay for the weekend is simply not appropriate.

2. Eliminate surprises - Under no circumstances should you show up unannounced! Your hosts might be delighted to see you but your presence in their home is still a disruption to their routine and they deserve the opportunity to plan for it ahead of time. Same goes for your entourage - whether it's your darling children, harmless pooch or sweet-as-pie girlfriend - don't bring another person unless you clear it with your hosts.

3. Share your itinerary - and stick to it. Don't force your hosts to go into a corner to whisper about when you're going to leave. Tell them. Let people know when you'll be arriving and when you plan to leave so they can reorganize their schedule. There's nothing worse than a houseguest who arrives with the words, "I'm not sure when we'll be going. Let's take it day-by-day and see how it goes..." Even if you will not be expecting them to entertain you, they want to know when their house will be their own again.

4. Get your hands dirty - This is not a hotel. You are staying with people who undoubtedly have busy lives and having you there should not add to their workload significantly. When you arrive, inquire about the routine for cleaning up, putting out the garbage, grocery shopping, etc. and offer to pitch in. Always offer to help with meal preparation and, if you have any culinary skills at all, make a few meals.

5. Contribute financially - This summer, we had guests who stayed for two nights. When they arrived, the first thing they did was unload a cooler from their trunk which contained a variety of snacks picked up on the way. Hallelujah! Nobody likes a mooch and if you stay in someone's home for more than two days and don't offer to help out with the expenses, that's what you are. You don't need to write a cheque for thousands of dollars but you need to be aware that an extra mouth to feed costs money. If possible, arrive with gifts of wine or food, offer to purchase groceries, take your hosts for dinner or simply give them some money to help pay for expenses while you're there.

6. Be invisible - When you depart, there should be no evidence of your stay, save perhaps from the pleasant scent of some flowers or a bottle of wine chilling in the fridge. Unpleasant reminders of your visit at any point in its duration - hairs in the sink, towels on the floor, dirty dishes, unmade beds, soiled laundry, items borrowed and not put back, long-distance charges - will put you on the DNI (do not invite) list for the future. Regardless of how you operate in your own home, when in someone else's you need to be pristine about your sleeping quarters and any other part of the home you use, especially the bathroom.

7. Cover up - You may love the feel of the crisp sheets on your naked body on a summer night but you'll have to suffer in pyjamas when you're a guest. Some people have a bit of an eww factor thinking of someone else's body parts on their clean sheets but, that aside, you need to be prepared for any eventuality - a 3 a.m. bathroom run, a fire alarm, whatever. Staying at someone's home requires you to dress appropriately at all times. They should not be treated to an early-morning vision of your bare behind as you rummage in the fridge for milk.

8. Respect the rules -Unless it's a college frat house (and even then), every home has rules. While they're not usually posted at the front door, they are there and some are more significant than others. Before you arrive, or shortly after, it's polite to ask if there are any rules of the home. These might include no smoking indoors, no television after 11 p.m., no overnight guests without permission, that certain rooms are off-limits. Whatever they are, respect them. If you don't like it, stay in a hotel.

9. Expect nothing - If, during the course of your vist, your host offers to take you to a local attraction, show or party, you are very fortunate and should thank them accordingly. Other than that, please don't expect them to drive you around town or accompany you to your list of must-see tourist traps. Chances are, they've seen them all before and would rather not spend their day off there. Do your homework ahead of time, collect information, research subway routes and be prepared to travel solo. Let them know what your plans are and invite them to come along. If they decline, don't push it.

10. Take a taxi - Remember that your hosts are under no obligation to pick you up from and drop you off at the airport. A trip to the airport involves a commitment of time, energy and exorbitant parking. If they offer to do this, thank your lucky stars (and them) but by no means, should you expect it. They're already opening their home to you.

BONUS tip - Always, always, always, send a thank-you card within one week of your stay. This is one of those situations in life when thank-you cards are non-negotiable...and I'm not talking about the e-mail kind.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How Not to Offend in 140 Characters or Less

It's about time I did a blog post on Twitter etiquette. Notice how I didn't say "twetiquette" or "twittetiquette"? I know it's not really an etiquette faux pas but as an aside, I do get annoyed by the insipid trend of just adding a 'tw' to the front of every word when it pertains to Twitter.

But back to Twitter etiquette. As an old-fashioned gal, I am sometimes prone to lamenting that social media is the stage on which whatever remains of our society's civility will go to the gallows. But then I type "Twitter etiquette" into Google and I am pleasantly surprised by the amount of entries that pop up. Obviously, many people care about this issue. So with that, I give you my top ten tips for not being a huge ingrate on Twitter. Feel free to share your own personal faux pas and pet peeves in the comments.

1. Reveal yourself - Make it easy for other tweeters to know who you are, what you look like and where you stand. Take the time to prepare a proper bio including relevant details like where you're from, what you do, your interests and, if you have a particular axe to grind, then be up front about it. I personally think it's better to include a photo of yourself and not your cat, a cartoon character or that Twitter bird thingie. As with all things social media, transparency is key.

2. Use the DM properly - The DM (direct message) function is like a Web-based version of the text message and should be reserved for one-on-one coversations, making plans with another person, in-jokes, etc. Please don't use it to create work for people (e.g. Louise, visit my website and do my quiz) and refrain from those automatic DMs that get fired off to people's e-mail inboxes after they choose to follow you. I've never come across anyone who likes those but many people continue to use them.

3. Use the RT properly - From an etiquette point of view, one of the greatest features of the Twittersphere is the desire to give credit where credit is due, hence the RT fuction. Retweeting gives you the opportunity to share something of interest that another person has tweeted. Not only does this make you look smart and connected, it exposes the other tweeter's message to a wider audience and many people assert that retweeting is what keeps Twitter going. When retweeting, use RT@personsname before repeating their message. Try not to edit or rephrase their words. If you are retweeting something that someone else has already retweeted and need to cut characters, retain the original poster.

4. Don't abandon good grammar - You are not a 13-year-old texting her best friend about Friday night, are you? Take the time to spell properly, check your grammar, doublecheck your links and avoid childish abbreviations if possible. So while it's okay to use numerals instead of spelling out numbers and the '& sign' instead of 'and', don't use text abbreviations like c u l8er!

5. Don't be lazy - If you can't say it in 140 characters, use another platform for your ramblings. I sometimes have to rework my daily etiquette tip several times to make it fit and it's good writing practice. Please don't use multiple tweets to get out one sentence, leaving us hanging in between when you run out of characters.

6. Be fair- 140 characters leaves no room for context or nuance. Online or offline, it's unfair to trash a person, place or thing without providing any kind of background or back-up. If you're referencing a blog post or news story, provide the link and encourage people to make up their own minds. Resist the urge to use Twitter as your own personal soapbox. Disclosure: I've been guilty of this at times. It's that darn instant gratification thing!

7. Remember it's public - One of the downfalls of technology and social media is that it seduces us into believing we're in our own world when in fact, we're sharing it with 6 billion others. To use an old-school metaphor, don't tweet anything you would not want to see on the front page of the daily newspaper. This is doubly important if you're tweeting on behalf of an organization or workplace, or even if you just include your workplace in your bio. Think before you tweet.

8. Spread the love - Remember how unsure you were when you first joined Twitter? There are thousands of poeple like you every day. If you see someone inadvertently commiting a Twitter etiquette faux pas, help them out. Tweet a generic message about how to RT or properly give credit. Don't mock newbies, bring them along. And if someone says they don't see the value of Twitter or of social media in general, you don't need to immediately post a "they just don't get it" rant. Let them come on board in their own time, or not.

9. Avoid profanity - Remember that rule about counting to ten before you send a nasty e-mail? Well, it's the same with Twitter. If you're emotional, walk away from the computer. Don't embarrass yourself and others with foul language and mean-spirited words. You're more creative than that right?

10. Don't fight - I wondered if it was necessary to include this and decided that it was, just in case Lindsay Lohan, Courtney Love, Kanye West or one of those other badly-behaved celebrity tweeters was reading. Your dirty laundry belongs in the hamper, not Twitter.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Making Scents of Perfume Etiquette

Today I'm going to share some tips on the etiquette of wearing perfume or cologne. The inappropriate use of scent on one's person is not just an office faux pas anymore. Some organizations have gone so far as to establish polices banning the use of endocrine disrupters and something called Fragrance Sensitivity is an issue addressed in the American Disability Act.

Before I get into the tips, I need to give you full disclosure. I love perfume and cologne, adore it, can't get enough of it. You will never, ever offend me by wearing too much of it. I love when someone walks past me on the sidewalk and leaves a little aromatic souvenir behind. I have a cupboard full of different scents and I actually spend time choosing them each morning, depending on my mood, outfit, plans, etc. Other women fetishize shoes or handbags but I'll walk right past those departments on my way to the fragrance counter. I love how particular scents can trigger memories. To this day, if I'm in close proximity of a particular French cologne, I'm transported to a six-month relationship I had almost a decade ago. And, if I get a whiff of the body lotion I was partial to while dealing with teenage tragedy, the pain of that time comes back to me. That's the power of scent.

But some people don't like scent, on themselves or on others, and there are some situations where one needs to exercise restraint in terms of the volume or type of scent chosen. Here are my tips for proper scent etiquette:

Don't overdo it - If more than one person tells you that you're wearing too much fragrance, you probably are and there are probably many more people who didn't have the courage to confront you. It's not your fault. Our ability to smell our own scents is diminished even while they might be screaming out to those around us. Start to use less and refrain from re-applying more than once a day.

Know when to wear it - Perfume should enhance, not detract from your image. Refrain from using strong scents or any perfume on days when you really need the focus to be on what you're saying (e.g. a job interview or a training session) and not on the musky odour emanating from your neck.

Don't trap people in a cloud of scent - Think twice about spritzing if you're going to be in close quarters with others (e.g. in an airplane or at the opera). Your aroma will envelope them in a smelly prison from which they can't escape.

Remember the two-foot rule - Like many of your unique attributes, your signature scent is supposed to be a special treat for those you allow to get close including your significant other, or others. Don't give it away for free to one and all. If someone says from across the room, "hey isn't that Escape?", chances are you've overdone it.

Apply in private - We are not chimpanzees. Like all aspects of human personal grooming, the application of perfume should take place in the privacy of your home or, if you must reapply, in the office washroom.

Consider the circumstances - Certain occasions in life call for discretion and modesty and should not be sullied by overbearing odours. These include funerals and hospitals.

Don't compete with other aromas - If you're attending an event where aroma is an important part of the experience (e.g. a wine tasting, or a gourmet meal), resist the urge to compete with the food. Believe me, you do not want to experience the wrath of a wine snob.

Cologne is not a deodorant - While it might have an immediate masking experience, wearing cologne or perfume in an attempt to cover up other, less desirable scents, such as body odour, cigarettes or alcohol can only result in disaster as all of the scents co-mingle to produce something mildly noxious.
Following these rules should put you in good stead with the general public or at least, ensure you won't be fired, dumped or avoided due to your smell. Unless, of course, you're hanging out with me. I love perfume!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Customer service so great it makes me want to sing

Earlier this week, I wrote about the terrible customer service I received while trying to purchase a pair of boots at Sears. Today, I'm going to share the story of the retailer who successfuly sold me a pair of boots and my, what a difference an attitude makes.

After my upsetting experience at Sears, I decided to try my luck elsewhere and ended up at the Skechers store. If you're familiar with the Toronto Eaton Centre, you'll know this is a very short walk. It was lunchtime and the store was busy but bright and airy plus there seemed to be enough salespeople for the amount of customers. The music was a little louder than I like it but then, I am over 40.

I had no sooner spotted a fabulous boot when a smiling young man materialized to ask if I'd like to try them on. I must add that, at the time, he was already balancing about four boxes of shoes but still managed to stop and help me.

I sat down on the very comfy chairs (leather I think) and before I could blink he was back (still smiling) with my boots - right colour, right size. He handed the box to me and said he would be right back, as he went off to help another customer. He was only gone a moment or two when he reappeared, apologized that I had to wait for him (I hadn't really) and asked how I liked the boots.

I liked the boots and I'm not one to dither so I told him that I'd buy them and he accompanied me to the cash register where he made friendly chitchat while completing the transaction, thanked me for coming in to Skechers, and then (I loved this), he walked out from behind the counter to hand me my bag in person. Plus, it was a large reusable bag!

The whole thing took less than 10 minutes and I walked out of there with a great pair of boots - good product, great price, fantastic service.

This is how you do it!