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Answers to Your Burning Dining-Etiquette Questions

At Norman Rockwell’s holiday table there was certainly a napkin on every lap, a “Please” and Thank you” for every dollop of mashed potato and a symphony of amiable conversations. However, This paradigm of dining etiquette does not always translate into the typical family holiday-dinner reality. Below are simple table manners that can help you navigate around common dilemmas and leave more room for levity at your table this holiday season:

When do I do when I sit down? Nothing. Wait for the host to make the first move. You do not want to be guzzling down your last drop of wine only to discover the host is about to offer a toast!

When do I place my napkin on my lap? Once the host places her napkin on her lap, do the same. Open the napkin under the table. If it is a dinner-size napkin, fold it so that the crease faces your lap. That way, when you lift the napkin it is less likely the napkin will open and release a cascade of crumbs!

Where do I place my napkin when I leave the table? If you are leaving the table mid-meal, place the napkin on your chair. This puts your soiled napkin out of the view of the other diners. When the host places her lightly crumpled napkin back on the table to the left of her plate, guests so the same. This signifies the end of the meal.

I’m going to be the toastmaster! Help! As long as everyone can see you, you may choose to stay seated when offering your toast;. Offer the toast, then raise your glass and sip. Guests murmur something such as “Here! Here!” and raise their glasses; everyone sips. One may toast with any beverage, including water.

Oops! I dropped my fork! At a restaurant, let it be and ask for another. As a guest at someone’s home, pick up the utensil and ask for another.

Uncle Ed asked for another roll. Can I grab one as they pass by? If everyone digs in, the basket may be empty by the time it reaches your dear uncle. And he’s the one who made the request! Pass basket around the table (always pass to the right);nonstop, to Uncle Ed. Then you are free to pass it around the table again, so others can help themselves.

But, I can’t stand sweet potatoes! There are those who suggest nonchalantly moving the potatoes around on your plate. I look at it this way: your host planned the menu, shopped, cooked, set the table, and served the meal. As a guest, we owe it to her to eat. But there is room for compromise: you can take a small amount, of the offending food,  take a few bites and leave a couple of bites.( After all, you are not required to clean your plate). That way your host feels appreciated, and your torment is minimal.

I am allergic to… if allergies, religious beliefs or vegetarian/other principles put certain foods on your “Do Not Eat” list, let your host know in advance. If you find yourself in a position where those foods are served, simply explain. No host wants her guests to flout their convictions nor does she want to be calling for an ambulance!

What’s this in my mouth? If you find yourself chewing on a bone or piece of gristle, remove it with your thumb and index finger; then place it on the side of your butter plate. (In the absence of a butter plate, use your dinner plate.)

I thought the olives had been pitted! If you discover the olive-pitter missed one, cup your hand, lean over and drop the pit into your (cupped) hand; then place it on the side of your plate. You do not want to attempt removing the pit with your thumb and index finger; olive pits (and cherry stones); are small and slick; one could easily slip out from between your fingers, and splash into Auntie Emma’s soup!

Brushing up on table manners can help you and your family create its own holiday-dinner masterpiece! No canvas needed! Happy Holidays!

Arguing with Artistry

With the heated controversy over the war, health-care reform, casinos in Massachusetts, etc. I decided to resurrect an article I wrote a while ago in relation to a confrontation between and professor and police officer. The article ran in the MetroWest Daily News. Below is an excerpt:

“The guidelines below, stemming from time-honored rules of courtesy, teach us how to show our hand with courtesy:

  1. Listen: do not prepare a response while trying to listen. Giving full attention allows us to offer a thoughtful response
  2. Avoid ‘you-logizin‘: most of us raise our emotional muskets when we hear, ‘you’.So, keep the focus on yourself.
  3. It takes two to tangle: if the other person’s temper rises, your does not have to spiral with it. Take a breath and observe his behavior; don’t become entangled in it. If I am the one spiraling, my spouse is apt to say, ‘Let;s start this conversation over again.’
  4. She’s not me! everyone is a product of her own unique life experience. Expect and respect a different frame of reference.

Our forefathers are still spot on! The Victorian Code of Etiquette decrees that successful conversation requires all parties to

  1. Listen
  2. Know what NOT to say
  3. Speak one’s opinion clearly and concisely

Etiquette of a Virtual Book Tour

Guest Blog
by Connie Dunn

Before understanding the etiquette of a Virtual Book Tour, you will need to understand what a Virtual Book Tour is. I have to say that while this is a relatively new marketing tool for me, it appears to be one of the most intriguing endeavors I’ve undertaken. It is a tour of different blogs all over the Internet for the purpose of promoting my new book, "Press Releases Made Easy."

Like all business relationships, there is a certain decorum expected. When business people appear in person, then there is an expectation that they look the part. There is also a certain air of intentionality set when one dresses the part they hope to be. While I am not appearing before you in person, there is some expectation that what I write here will be useful to you at some point.

Marketing has vastly changed over the years. An author used to travel the country appearing in bookstores to read an excerpt of their book and sign books. While that was a way to get in front of readers, now you can do that from the comforts of your living room. At the same time, etiquette has not really changed!

The way Virtual Book Tours work is that you get to write a blog that will appear on someone else's blog. This sort of relationship deserves the right kind treatment. While a lot of communications is done via e-mail, thank you notes should be done through snail mail with a hand-written envelope. There are two opportunities to send these out. Once your host accepts you as a guest blogger and once you've appeared on their blog. Each of these opportunities deserves your best relationship building by sending a "Thank You Card".

Connie Dunn is taking a Virtual Book Tour promoting "Press Releases Made Easy" Visit her Blog at http://  or Events Page at Follow Connie on her tour from July 1-21. On the 21st, a trivia question survey will be posted. Prizes awarded to the first six people answering all 20 trivia questions correctly. The first person will get their choice of a signed and personalized book from and a pre-publication copy of "The Aliens Among Us," with the understanding that a promotional testimonial will be submitted, which will be published on the back cover. The next five people will receive signed and personalized copies of "Press Releases Made Easy."

Interview Etiquette: To Drink or Not to Drink

I figured the cup of coffee would be safe at my feet, but the laws of physics proved me wrong. In the middle of the networking meeting my left foot sideswiped the paper cup. It toppled over, forming a brown puddle on the carpet. The carpet magically absorbed the mess, absolving me of lasting embarrassment. The experience, however, spawned a few thoughts about securing a safe spot for your cup of coffee during an interview. As I see it, these are your placement options:

1. On the floor where the cup is out of sight, and you can easily kick, jostle, or sideswipe it. You may have forgotten the cup is there, but neither you nor the interviewer will forget the interruption.

2. On the interviewer’s desk so you can reach for it as the she says, “Now that we’ve talked about your strengths let’s move on to your most bothersome weakness”. You misfire, and the cup falls sideways, turning her crisply written To Do List into a puddle of brown pulp.

3. On your lap; you shift positions: “Oops”! Everybody’s off topic!

Even if you succeed in keeping the cup upright, a sudden twitch as you sip and all eyes are on the brown streamlets running down your suit.

In short, if you want a clean, focused interview the cup of coffee may not be your “cup of tea”.

Tuscan Hospitality

It’s easy to mind your manners when you are a guest of Central Tuscany. Townspeople welcome you; they do not elbow you, stare you down, and cut you off in line -when there is a line. And, when you inadvertently lock the laundry-room key in the laundry room, your villa-mates laugh sympathetically and launder, discretely, by hand until the housekeeper arrives the next morning.

The landscape spawns gentility. Acres of olive groves and vineyards, and woods with miles of pathways for meandering surrounded our old stone farmhouse. My office seemed to be, not just in another country, but in another dimension of time and space.

Without any effort, I learned some lessons in Tuscany:

1. Olive trees are small with dainty white flowers.

2. In some churches etiquette dictates that women only (apparently) cover their shoulders and knees.

3. Vineyard rows look like tight green braids running up/down the distant hills.

4. A Tuscan stone farmhouse can be reminiscent of the Ponderosa (for Bonanza fans):
rustically elegant, ultimately comfortable.

5. A major bank’s ATM card that brings euros in Germany can refuse to cooperate in Italy.

6. Six can play Bananagrams for hours, after pork and pasta, without getting bored.

7. Investing in a gelato shop appears to produce a better ROI than the US stock market.

8. The secret to enchantment lies in the scent of honeysuckle.

Taking a Stand for Respect

My observations of the local Memorial Day Parade were printed in the MetroWest Daily News, Sunday, June 6

The Memorial Day Parade in my town was not flashy; the crowd was not crushing; and the speeches not self-aggrandizing. The parade was like a pot of mixed-berry jam: Civil War soldiers in blue; women in hooped skirts; an American-Legion float skirted in red, white, and blue; Scout troops marching in loose formation, police marching in perfect formation; a WW II tank rumbling; flutists playing; and babies gurgling. The day’s events reeked of small-town charm and offered myriad opportunities for adults to model respect.

The parade made strategic stops to allow for prayers and brief speeches honoring past and current veterans. A WW II fighter pilot addressed the crowd, honoring a fallen comrade. After he spoke, this eighty-something stood, leaning lightly on the back of an empty folding chair, as the names of the veterans we lost over the past year were read and the National Anthem sounded.

Through the National Anthem people saluted, others held a hand over their heart, and some simply stood straight. The Boy Scouts, hats removed, stood; one distracted Scout twirled his hat; a troop leader gently pushed the boys arm down; a silent lesson in respect. A group of elementary-age girls sitting on a blanket chatted; they didn’t understand the significance of the moment, and the adults with them lost a valuable teaching opportunity. Along with some children, a few adults sat on the curb, setting a fine example of obliviousness or, perhaps, ignorance.

Memorial Day is an annual opportunity for the town to honor those who protect us and the families who take on the attendant sacrifices and losses. Opinions on the wars, health-care reform, or the choice of state flower don’t matter; this day is about displaying respect and self-respect and, in the process, utilizing important teachable moments.

Flight lost, friendship found

The following article, printed in suburban Boston’s MetroWest Daily News, shows how a friend of mine and her family turned their airline disaster into a stranger’s bounty. It is a story I have told countless times:

Ubiquitous clips of stranded airline passengers remind me of Lisa, a stranger’s flight emergency, and a friendship forged. Lisa, her husband, and their two elementary-school age children were on a flight destined for Mexico and stuck on the tarmac…

Recognizing Yes

Recently I learned a three-letter lesson in effective communication from a 15-year old. (This is noteworthy because I have been speaking decades longer than she.) I asked Michelle if she would be playing soccer in the spring and, to my astonishment, she replied, “Yes.” I had to take a minute. It wasn’t the fact that she would be playing soccer that stopped me; it was the “Yes”. I’m used to hearing yea, yup, ok, uh-uh or, my favorite, nyea (a cryptic yes/no combo). “Yes” sounded definitive and decisive; I wasn’t left wondering if her decision would take root and I didn’t have to ask her again later; I could move on!

That encounter elevated yes to a new height. From now on, when responding in the affirmative, my answer to a yes-or-no question will be “Yes”! Likewise, when people ask, “What is it that makes you such as clear communicator?” I will respond, “Yes!”