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Top 7 Ways to Not Offend at a Holiday Party

Like many people in this country, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. You get some time off of work (though that’s been under attack for the past couple of years), over-eating is encouraged, and you get the opportunity to reconnect with extended family and old friends. This writer’s experience over Thanksgiving 2013 was noteworthy, though, and it’s a great teachable moment for all of us when we think of our dress and mannerisms –image, basically- when in polite company.

Man In Gym Clothes One does not simply dress like this at a holiday party.

The scene is Boca Raton, Florida. I’m at my aunt and uncle’s condo with my parents, fiancée, cousins and their respective girlfriends, etc. My uncle, to his credit, still goes to the gym though he’s in his seventies. A fellow gym-goer who we’ll call Wes let my uncle know that he had nowhere to go for Thanksgiving, and being the nice guy that he is, my uncle invited him over for dinner.

After ten minutes, he made it clear why he hadn’t been invited anywhere else: his far-too-casual dress and boorish manner –interrupting conversations, telling crude jokes, not bothering to even feign interest in whoever he was talking to- made him completely insufferable. Consider the notes below a guide for how to carry oneself at an event such as a Thanksgiving dinner where you might not know anyone.

Holiday Party Decorum

  1. Dress appropriately. It doesn’t have to be (and often shouldn’t be) a suit and tie for Thanksgiving. Lots of folks were wearing jeans and button-downs and it was fine. Wes showed up in what my raised-in-Boston-and-retired-to-Boca Raton aunt sarcastically referred to as “Florida chic”: blue Hurley long sleeve shirt, black Adidas workout pants, and black athletic sneakers with no socks. When Wes first walked in, I thought that he was a friendly neighbor who just dropped in to wish everyone a happy holiday on his way to/from the gym. When he made himself at home, it hit me that he dressed like that specifically to attend a dinner to which he practically invited himself. It demonstrated a lack of respect for his hosts and fellow guests and was a huge turn-off. As a side note, this man was in good physical shape and wanted to show it off. This writer is told that there’s a certain demographic in South Florida in which showing off a toned body is desirable and appropriate. We at Henry A. Davidsen argue that one can show off a toned physique while still wearing appropriate clothing.
  2. Be polite. This is common sense for most of us, but it apparently not all of us. Doing so is quite easy and can be accomplished in these steps:
  3. When conversing with people you just met, ask them about themselves. They’ll be more inclined to talk to you and maybe even invite you to another event.
  4. Unless specifically asked, “How much money did you make in real estate?” don’t freely offer up that information.
  5. Jokes about sexual acts, ethnicity, and/or menstruation are not appropriate in polite company, especially people whom you’ve known for all of a half hour. Are these jokes funny? When delivered well in the appropriate context, certainly. Remember that there’s a time and a place for everything, and this was neither the time nor the place.
  6. Do not interrupt conversations unless you have something valuable to add to it, and even then, you should enter the conversation gracefully with a “pardon me for interrupting,” or “if I may…” When two people are having a conversation about what life is like in their respective hometowns, don’t butt in to tell one of the jokes from section three.
  7. The Lady Gaga/Elton John performance on TV is not more important than interacting with the other guests. Don’t sit and watch by yourself while everyone else is chatting (in the interest of full disclosure, Wes had tried to make conversation and alienated everyone he talked to, so this was likely his last resort before leaving. Had his social skills been better, he may not have felt compelled to do this).

As we always say, image is a powerful tool. Remember that it can hurt as much as it can help!</

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