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How to Handle 3 Holiday-Party Etiquette Challenges

Don't let hurt feelings spoil the fun.

A full house of family and friends can cause friction over the holidays. Whether you’re the host or a guest, here’s how to smooth over touchy situations.

Q: I enjoy serving nice wine at my holiday dinner. If a guest brings a cheap bottle of wine, am I obligated to serve it?

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A: If you asked your friend to bring a beverage, then you should serve it, whether it’s a fine vintage wine or Two-Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s. “You don’t want your guests to feel that something they brought to be consumed at the party has been stashed out of sight,” says Thomas P. Farley, of What Manners Most, an etiquette consultancy. (The same goes for salad, dessert or any other contribution you requested.) However, if your guest surprised you with the wine as a gift, you’re free to serve it, save it to drink later or relegate it to the pantry to use in your next stew.

Q: I cracked an expensive-looking dish at my friends’ holiday party. How do I make it up to them?

A: If the item can be repaired, offer to have it fixed on your dime, just as you would offer to foot the dry-cleaning bill if you had spilled gravy on someone’s suit. Or, if the dish can be replaced with an identical version at a reasonable cost, order a new piece for your hosts, says Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick, president of the Etiquette School of New York.

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The more likely scenario is that the item has long been out of stock or is impossible to find. Or it may be an irreplaceable family heirloom, or just way beyond your budget. No matter what the circumstance, it’s still important to ask how you can make amends. Proper etiquette dictates that a host refuse your offer, says Farley. But if you still feel compelled to make it up to your hosts, send an attractive platter or dish they can use instead, or a bouquet of flowers or a food basket if you’re not sure of their tastes.

Q: I host my family every year for Christmas, but my grandchildren are getting older, making it harder to buy gifts for them (as well as more expensive). How can I gracefully cut back?

A: The simplest approach is to decide on your budget ahead of time and write checks to each grandchild accordingly. It’s fine to designate different amounts based on age or phase of life; the college student putting herself through school may get more than the fifth-grader. In that case, ask each parent to hand out checks to their children privately so that there are no claims of favoritism. To make the party more festive, give token gifts or organize a Secret Santa exchange.

Or skip the checks and give a gift basket to each family with, say, games, fancy snacks and DVDs.

 

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