Naughty vs. Nice: How to Make the Cut with 12 Easy Fixes

Life can be pretty black and white at times, at least according to Santa’s rule book. Forget to say “please,” “thank you” and be kind to your friends, family and strangers and you risk making the naughty list and not having your holiday wishes granted. 

We have discovered that in most cases it takes less thought and effort to do the right rather than wrong thing. Sometimes, we need someone else to show us how, the point of our list below, where we focus on etiquette for holiday gatherings, so key at this time of year. But as we know—and you probably do too--the real reward isn’t what material gifts you get on Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza or any holiday but the knowledge that you’re making life more pleasurable for yourself and those you interact with and care about.

Happy Holidays and good cheer! 

Naughty: The guest who is always late. Nice fix: Invite them for an earlier time. When their lateness starts causing real problems such as making you miss part of a movie or show or dinner, it’s time to be blunter, and share sweetly, “I am put out that you are always late. Could you please try next time to be on time?" It will be worse if you do it with business folks. If they persist in being late, delete them from the guest list. You have a perfect excuse to do so. 

Naughty: The guest who is always early. Nice fix: If they routinely show up when you’re still in the shower, getting dressed or vacuuming, know that if you’ve invited them, you need to be ready a bit earlier. If it becomes annoying, have a consequence. Put them to work to finish setting the table, stir the gravy, open a bottle of wine, maybe they brought, or finish dusting. Again, if it continues, gently explain, “I like to be punctual but can’t be as early as you are. Could you take a hike around the block?” 

Naughty: The guest who comes empty handed and doesn’t ask if they can bring something, anything. Nice fix: You invited them for their company, not a present, wine or a certain dish. Of course, it’s a bit tacky not to come with anything including something nicely wrapped, especially when entertaining is getting pricier. The truth of the matter is that you might want to lower your expectations. Remember, two wrongs don’t make a right, yet you can avoid bringing something to them the next time you’re invited to their home to feel a bit better. Is that naughty? If so, you can suggest, “Oh, we’d love to have some extra wine or an hors d’oeuvres, would you mind bringing something along?”

Naughty: The guest who asks who’s coming and if they can bring some friends who are visiting from out of town. Nice fix: Yes, it is gauche to ask about the guest list. You can be honest and explain that your mother taught you never to ask, or be more circumspect and say, “Why not let it be a surprise!” Regarding whether to include out of town friends, depends on your mood, the amount of food you have and space at the table. You might love having more and can add water to the soup to stretch it, or cut up the chicken more, or you can be truthful and say you’ve got a full house and would love to but can’t. Suggest a nice restaurant for the guests. 

Naughty: The guests who pick up every dish, piece of silver and flatware and glass to check the provenance and then ask what’s in every recipe as they remind you they are gluten-free, lactose-intolerant, vegans, allergic to nuts, soy or anything green and anti-anything not grown in a sustainable certified forest. Nice fix: There is little you can say to the person who checks out the china. Ignore it. However, for the recipe spy, take one of these three courses of action. Explain you always try to be prepared for all food challenges, will have some of this and that and everything will have ingredients typed out and labeled. Or suggest they eat before they come and sit stoically while others chomp down. Another option is to  suggest they bring a little bag of food in a recycled container since they’re anti plastic bags or anything that might harm the climate or ocean. Here snarkiness sometimes helps you feel superior; you awful naughty person. 

Naughty: The guest who doesn’t get up and help. Nice fix: You can be direct and when everyone else is hopping up and down, you can give them the evil eye. Or you can suggest sweetly, “Oh, Rita, the next course is on you; would you help bring it in?” If they get rattled by the responsibility, you can thank everyone else at the end of the meal but them, the incredible power of guilt. Usually however, such folks don’t get it. And here you win the reward for second most rotten awful person in the universe; first goes to the person above. 

Naughty: The gossipy guest who brings up touchy subjects—politics, religion, Covid-19 precautions, why so-and-so wasn’t invited and why so-and-so left their husband. Nice fix: This is an easy one. You simply end the conversation abruptly. You are doing something nice to save them from attack by the group. Jump in, interrupt and have a host of other topics ready. “Did you hear how Meghan is now calling members of Congress about paid parental leave?” That’s a noncontroversial subject. Or discuss a book or TV show, your newest online purchase, the weather or how you plan to buy goats by next summer which will “mow” your lawn. 

Naughty: The guest who asks to take home half of this, all of that and so on, and borrow containers and aluminum wrap as well. Nice fix: Let them, yes, it’s also tacky but do you really want to eat all those leftovers for the next week? They’re doing you a huge favor—you’re on a special diet-- and saving you work. And rarely does anything taste good on the second or third day except your grandmother’s brisket, and who serves brisket to company except at a Jewish holiday? Even throw in the applesauce and leftover potato pancakes to be extra nice. What a mensch you are! 

Naughty: The guest who asks how much everything costs and where you shop. Nice fix: Be honest. Who can remember these days as prices keep changing with inflation soaring. Simply say with a big smile on your face, “I have no idea, but I had to mortgage the house or rob a bank to pay for this evening.” They’ll get the drift. And regarding the stores where you shop? Tell them you go to so many and comparison shop, even online, and you have no idea. And be sure and ask them the same questions. Most likely, they’ve been dying to share the answers. 

Naughty: The guest who never invites you to their house or out after you’ve had them a zillion times. Well, that’s an exaggeration. It was probably once or twice. Nice fix: Again, lower your expectations. Some simply don’t know how to entertain, cook or are embarrassed by their place. You can say, “I’d love to come to your home some time to see the fruit label collection you talk about so often.” You can give them a subscription to a food magazine, hint, hint. And if they still don’t bite, you can say, “How about if we try a restaurant out since you never like to cook?” Don’t be surprised if they don’t offer to pay, but they might, especially if you say blithely, “Oh my goodness, I forgot my wallet.”    

Naughty: The guest who talks over or interrupts everyone with their fabulous stories. Nice fix: Sit this one out and let the group come up with a solution if it bothers everyone else. You don’t want to reprimand them in front of everyone or interrupt and try to keep changing the conversation. You might try once by asking someone else at the table, “Oh, Alfred, I heard you had a wonderful job promotion, or took a great trip. Would you share?” It might work, or not. And again, some people need to be in the spotlight and take charge. Relax and have another drink.  

Naughty: The guest who analyzes every single dish to the group and says they have made it better or liked such and so recipe better and so on. This is the person who leaves a terrible taste on the tongue. And then they brag about the stellar Yelp reviews they write with great descriptions down to the tiny parsley bits sprinkled on the miniscule baby lambchops and how they analyzed and figured out all the ingredients in a complicated sauce. But theirs was better, of course. Nice fix: Every gathering needs a know-it-all who does everything the best. Sit back, listen, let them rave and understand they need the accolades far more than you or anyone else does. At least that’s a good rationalization. See what a good person you are? However, remember that Santa never brags about his workload and the hours he keeps. He doesn’t complain either about every mediocre cookie he eats and all the milk he feels obligated to drink when he’s lactose intolerant. And he never bemoans having to leave Mrs. Claus at home all alone with nobody since he took the reindeer. There’s a point at which you might simply ask the braggadocio: “What have you done for the world and everyone lately?” They probably have a story to share, so sit back and listen and even enjoy a snooze. And to all a good night! 

Moral: Being nice is so much easier. 

1 comment

  • Phyllis Evan

    I enjoyed this. But I must admit I couldn’t always tell when you were being funny and when you were being serious. I expect both!. I know you’re a wonderful cook but I’d be scared to death to accept a dinner invitation after reading this.

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