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How-to: Etiquette for the holidays

With the holiday season coming up with all of its parties, family gatherings and social situations, it's a good time to brush up on your manners.

It's often the little things - sending thank you notes, firmly shaking hands or knowing your table manners - that leave lasting impressions, etiquette experts advise.

"All of these things are so very basic, but they speak to who we are," said Joy Weaver, who specializes in corporate and social etiquette training.

While mastering the social graces might make you feel more confident, much of the advice comes down to showing kindness and consideration. "It's just about taking the time to think about others," said Lizzie Post, great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post.

ENTERTAINING

Being a good host starts with invitations, Post said. Whether it's an Evite or a mailed invitation, make sure you're providing all the pertinent information, including the who, what, when and where, along with RSVP information.

Post, a spokeswoman for The Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vt., said if a host hasn't received a reply a few days to a week before the event, it's OK to give the guests a call to ask if they're coming. Guests, of course, should have been courteous by quickly replying.

A host should not only plan well, providing ample room and provisions, but also take time to talk to each guest.

Remaining calm is also a must - even if the souffle collapses. "If everything goes wrong, order out for pizza and set out the picnic table outside. Run with it," Post said.

She said that "thank yous" aren't just for guests. Hosts should show their appreciation by thanking their guests for coming as they leave. And a host could even write thank you notes or call the next day, especially if a guest really enhanced the party.

She has a few tips for being a good guest, including showing up no more than 15 minutes late, offering to help and participating.

"If it's a small dinner party, really be a part of the conversation. If it's dancing, get on your dance shoes. No wallflowers and cool kids slouching in the corner," Post said.

Thank your host upon leaving and then by sending a note or making a call the next day.

DINING

From social to business situations, table manners are important, said Weaver, who's based in Dallas.

Don't announce you are going to the restroom; just get up and say "excuse me." Put your napkin on your chair to indicate you will return, place it on the table to the left of your plate to indicate you are leaving. And for goodness sake, don't apply makeup or brush your hair at the table, she said.

Rolls should be torn into pieces, buttering one piece at a time, although it's OK to butter a hot roll all at once, Weaver said.

If you're ordering off the menu, wait to eat until everyone has been served. Weaver's tip for remembering placement of your bread and water? BMW, bread to the left, meal in the center, water on the right.

As you're eating, keep elbows off the table. Your utensils should be placed in the "resting position" on your plate: the knife on the back of the plate, blade facing in, the fork resting on the plate with the tines pointed at 10 o'clock and the handle resting at 4 o'clock. When you finish, place the knife next to the fork, its blade facing the fork, she said.

As easy way to remember what utensil to use? Work from the outside in.

- Jamie Stengle, The Associated Press

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