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Etiquette expert explains top three merry mistakes

Etiquette coach Margery Sinclair helps Sam Anderson (center) learn the proper way to hold and use place setting tableware at the Dec. 8 Holiday Dining Etiquette event for children , held at the North Star American Bistro in Shorewood.

Etiquette coach Margery Sinclair helps Sam Anderson (center) learn the proper way to hold and use place setting tableware at the Dec. 8 Holiday Dining Etiquette event for children , held at the North Star American Bistro in Shorewood. Photo By John O'Hara

Dec. 24, 2012

Shorewood - The drinks are on the house, your boss and co-workers have repeatedly assured you, and the wait staff is strangely efficient at topping off your wineglass.

Every time you look down it seems to have refilled itself, and every sip seems a vain attempt to empty it.

Before you know it there are two wineglasses dancing lazy circles around the table, and the realization dawns, strong as the wine.

You're drunk at the company Christmas party.

Too vigilant caterers, peer pressure, and the "bottomless wineglass" are some of pitfalls which, says Milwaukee-area etiquette expert and author of "A Year of Good Manners" Margery Sinclair, result in the number one holiday snafu: otherwise sensible people drinking too much at company and family gatherings before making fools of themselves.

There are ways to avoid the trap with tact, she says. Limit yourself to two drinks, focus on pacing yourself, or throw a soda into the mix. The ultimate sobriety saver? Discreetly tip your server at the beginning of the night and request your drinks be nonalcoholic. She says bartenders are usually happy to play along.

"They're saving expenses and making money," says Sinclair.

Don't stay too long

The second most common holiday snafu is arriving late, or worse, overstaying a host's welcome. Being as close as possible to on time is crucial, says Sinclair, and you should never strain your host's patience - or keep them up late into the night against their will. She says there is one universal indicator which means it's time to go.

"When you can smell the coffee," says Sinclair, "then you should already have left."

Third on the list of frequent etiquette slip-ups comes from receiving a surprise gift, and not having anything to give back in return. To avoid that awkward situation, Sinclair advises either following up with a gift of your own several days after the fact, or keeping an eye out throughout the year for little things to stock your "gift cupboard." She says a healthy gift cupboard should allow anyone to always have something on hand in the event of a surprise gift.

"You can go back and get it," says Sinclair, "and come back and hand them something."

Don't over correct kids

As a number of Shorewood children learned from Sinclair at the Shorewood Business Improvement District's "Stop, Shop & Restore" event Dec. 8, table manners are important. Yet, Sinclair says it's more important for adults not to go out of their way to correct children at the table.

"People don't learn well from embarrassment," she says, adding that, when in doubt, act natural.

"Etiquette is practical," says Sinclair. "Do the thing that makes the most sense."

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