Thanksgiving dinner generic

Attending holiday gatherings this year with family and friends may indeed be one for the books.

Books on etiquette, that is.

Our etiquette expert, Jodi R.R. Smith - with more than two dozen years consulting in social crises - said in her book, all the questions have one answer: be polite.

"We know that the best things we can do are to wear a mask, social distance, and wash our hands, so yes it is polite. It is the most polite thing we can do during a pandemic is to make sure to wear our mask when we're out and about," Smith said.

Smith said pandemic mask-wearing is a politeness priority, especially at small primarily indoor family gatherings. But you're not the mask police.

So Smith said proudly wear your mask to weddings, dinners, and holiday season gatherings. But, police only yourself.

"What we know from the medical experts is that the longer the exposure, the greater the risk," Smith said. "So if they're not complying, I can make sure that I'm complying. I'm wearing my mask and I'm limiting my exposure to them."

As the invited guest to holiday gatherings, it's a good time for a standard practice Smith calls "Preemptive Etiquette." Ask all your detailed questions in advance. Then decide if you can abide by the answers. As a guest, you don't get to change the rules or exert control over others' behavior.

She suggests you try this: "Please help me understand what you're planning. How many people are going to be there? Are we going to be outside or are we going to be inside? Are we sitting down or are we gonna be further away from each other? Are you going to have people wearing masks?"

If the answers don't make accepting comfortable, Smith advises a dignified declination will do.

"I would've loved to come. I so enjoy being at your house. We're gonna have to take a pass for this year, but we hope to be able to see you next year for this event," Smith said.

Smith said any gathering can include uncomfortable coronavirus conversations, conspiracy theories or controversial comments about mask wearing.

Our etiquette expert said reject the invitation to argue. She advises you change the subject using a pleasant question or anecdote. Or, just let it go.

If you're hosting, draw social distancing boundaries from the start and stick to them. Remember, people are accustomed to only 18-inches social separation, not the six-feet distance from public health guidelines. It's proper to politely ask for space in public.

If suddenly finding yourself staring down the barrel of an unwanted greeting - someone coming in hot for a handshake or hug - use your words and body language as protective shields. Communicate your intent to avoid contact, conveying warmth with words instead of physically.

Other mask politeness points include ensuring good communication by making better, warmer eye contact, and pay careful attention to your tone of voice.

As host, Smith proposes it's polite with masks, to require and provide them. Your house, your rules, but gently set expectations in advance by spelling out the reasons. If you get a hard time from a guest, explain in more detail, making it about your needs, not their behavior.

"Just wanted to let you know, everybody's wearing their mask when they arrive. We are gonna have a couple drinks, so when you drink obviously you're gonna have to pull down your mask, but when you're just talking we ask everybody to put their mask back up," Smith said.

Also, consider changing family traditions this year - maybe a moveable feast with soup on someone's deck, turkey with only 10 people at another home, then dessert at someone else’s. Even consider a zoom gathering instead of being in the same room.

The traditional holiday cookie swap may include commercially baked, and indoor plans may become outdoor arrangements.

Remember the golden rules and magic words. If you treat those around you with compassion and respect, and mind your please and thank yous, we’ll all be a little less stressed.

Here's the bottom line: It's never been more clear why it's so important to show you care about others. Etiquette, believe it or not, exists for the same purpose.

Copyright 2020 WNEM (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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