Steven Petrow is the author of Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners and The New Gay Wedding and writes on this website every month as Hilton’s Modern Manners expert.

For a manners experts like me, the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s are definitely “high season.” I probably get more questions from confused folks in these weeks than any other time of the year (except possibly in the months before a couple’s wedding). How will you navigate the holiday manners maze? Before you wrap a gift or reply to an invitation, take my 2016 quiz. Answers are below and will help you keep your days merry and bright.

Q1: Is it ever acceptable to “re-gift?”

A. Never — there be danger that way!

B. Sometimes — but only if you follow the rules.

C. Of course — it’s an efficient form of recycling, so pass it on!

Answer: B. Giving someone a gift that you’ve received from another is perfectly all right, but you must do it discreetly and not on autopilot. Before re-gifting you must check the item, the box, and all packaging to make sure there’s not a card, gift tag, or inscription within. (There’s no more embarrassing way to get busted.) Double-check that you’re not about to give it to the same person who gave it to you. (I actually have a re-gifting shelf in a closet; I put a Post-it with the gift-giver’s name on it so I don’t make this mistake.) Finally, don’t put it in a box or bag from a store (especially an expensive one), since the recipient may try to return it. That’s the second most embarrassing way to get busted.

Q2: What’s the best response when you don’t like a gift?

A. Absolute authenticity: Make a face, show disappointment, or recoil in horror.

B. The white lie: Smile and express appreciation even if you hate it.

C. Utter pragmatism: Ask for the gift receipt.

Answer: B. As much as I believe in authenticity, receiving a gift is not the time to practice it. No matter what you think, when you’re in the moment you should thank the giver and say you like the gift. This is especially true if you’re opening gifts in front of others. If you think it could be exchanged or returned, you can tell the giver (later, privately and politely) something like: “Oh, it doesn’t fit.” “It’s not actually my style.” “It’s not really my color.” “I actually have one of those already.” Don’t forget to say thank you, regardless. It really is the thought that counts, even if the gift is truly hideous.

Q3: When you get an electronic invitation you should:

A. RSVP right away, and not wait to see if you get a better invitation for the same day.

B. Ignore it. These e-vites go out to thousands and nobody expects a reply. The host won’t even notice.

C. Reply “maybe” so you can decide at the last minute.

Answer: A. Why does the RSVP problem remain so vexing for so many? Weren’t electronic invitations supposed to solve this problem? A click or a quick email is all that’s required, but alas, we still seem to be almost universally averse to committing to anything, even a party. Some of us just hate to say no; others are hoping that a better invitation will come along. But this is a nightmare for hosts trying to plan an event (food and drink for 6? or 36?). So please RSVP promptly, regardless of whether the invitation is printed or digital. And remember that “yes” means “yes” (not “maybe,” as many seem to think). A “no” is better than no response at all. For those of you who are hosts, I always suggest you guess-timate that two-thirds of your list will attend, regardless of whether they reply.

Q4: Who gets a holiday tip (and how much)?

True or false:

1. It’s a federal offense to give your mail carrier a tip.

2. When giving someone a tip, you must always include a note.

3. There is no need to tip someone who has done a poor job this year.


1. False. You may tip your carrier, but no more than $20 in cash. A gift card in any amount is okay.

2. True. Both the thought and the dollars matter, so don’t put cash alone in an envelope or (worse!) just hand over the naked bucks. When someone has provided you with a valuable service, take a few minutes to explain in writing why you’re thanking them with a tip. Believe me, they will appreciate it.

3. False. Give a smaller than usual tip, yes, but stiffing someone who expects a gift invites even worse service, or even retribution. You don’t want that.

Q5: If political debate gets out of hand at your holiday table, you should:

A. Wish silently that you had made a rule beforehand: “No political talk this year at my house.”

B. Tap the “offender” on the shoulder and ask them to help you in the kitchen. Out of sight, explain why they may be hurting others’ feelings and ask them to tone it down. (No, this is not an affront to free speech; it’s a way to host a happy event.)

C. Cut down on the amount of wine and other spirits you’re serving, or cut off the loudmouths entirely.

D. Come up with a “safe question” to change the topic. Ask about the Cubs and Indians, future vacation plans, new job promotions, best movies of the year. Have your safe topics prepared ahead of time, so you are ready to launch them when needed.

Answer: All of the above. A spirited discussion may be helpful for all, especially this year, but hostility is never fun, and you don’t want a combative guest to take over your holiday get-together. Do whatever it takes to keep the peace. And with that, a happy and mannerly holiday season to one and all.

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