By: Karen Bowles

If each of us painted a picture of our perfect Christmas Eve, many of our paintings would look surprisingly similar. Our family and friends would have happy faces and healthy minds and bodies; the warmth of home and the love abiding there would be visible. Presents would be under the tree wrapped with festive paper, bows and tags fastened to each, as the clock on the wall tells the day is still young. Everything would be in its place – the house clean, the fire in the fireplace glowing, and the stockings “hung by the chimney with care.”

Ahhh….the feeling of being finished with the hustle and bustle of Christmas in time to enjoy the holiday’s true meaning. After attending Christmas Eve service at church, we would nestle “all snug in our beds,” the gifts all wrapped. The question: how do we get to this ideal? The answer, I’ve heard, is by starting early, by having our shopping completed weeks before Christmas arrives.

In order for our shopping time to be tolerable and perhaps even pleasant, there are some rules of thumb that may help us keep the joy and peace in this busy time of year. Here are a few of these holiday shopping guidelines:

Procrastinate no longer: If we leave shopping until the last days, it may seem as if we are in the middle of a football huddle as we reach for that fairy princess tea set for little Suzie or the glow in the dark robotic toy for Uncle Fred. It is not proper shopping etiquette to push and shove, so let us try to avoid that if at all possible.

Dress comfortably: Shoes are the most important part of your shopping attire! Make them your most comfortable. This is not a fashion show; no one will be looking at our feet. We get grouchy when our feet hurt are too cold or too hot, and when others see or sense our grouchiness, they are uncomfortable. Making others uncomfortable is not using nice manners. Bulky clothes or large handbags slow us down. Streamline them both; you won’t regret it. The people you walk past will appreciate your not hitting them with your cumbrous pocketbook and the store clerks will be relieved not to have to refold the stack of sweaters that landed accidently in a heap on the floor when the winter coat folded over your arm brushed the top of one sweater as you sidestepped by. Perhaps donning a vest would be a better choice than a coat on our shopping days. It is not considered good manners to bang into unsuspecting shoppers with our oversized handbags, nor is it polite to make more work for those people charged with picking up what we cause to be misplaced.

Leave small children at home, please: They will thank you, store clerks will thank you, the rest of the shoppers will thank you, and mostly, you will thank yourself for such a novel and brilliant idea that allowed you to have two hands instead of one, or none, as you shop. If we want to take our children and/or grandchildren to see Santa, let us do all we can to make Santa and the children the main event of the evening, sans shopping. Everyone will be much happier should we choose this approach. When hurried, stressed out parents with bored, overtired, and understandably cranky children cause a disruption in Sears, the parents in creating a lose, lose situation for all and are not displaying good manners.

Avoid parking lot rage: In the days leading up to Christmas there are officially more drivers than parking spots, so good parking manners are essential. If you see a spot about to open up, pull to the side of the aisle and turn on your indicator light. Try your best not to block the entire aisle. Don’t swoop in and steal spots from others who clearly are waiting for a spot. It’s bad manners and bad karma. And unless you want expletive-laden messages left on your vehicle, please don’t ever take up more than one parking spot.

Smile: Remember that the reason you are shopping is to buy gifts for people that you love, and to celebrate friends and family. Regardless of our opinion on the commercialization of the holidays, if we’ve chosen to participate, we must do so with a smile. Saying please and thank you will make shopping days better.

How closely will we match the Christmas Eve in our paintings to the Christmas Eves in our homes this year? If we plan ahead, and take a moment to remember our manners; to say please and thank you, to smile, and to treat others as we wish to be treated, perhaps we can come surprisingly close.

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We are so proud of our Graduate Karen Bowles! Karen will have a series of etiquette themed articles published for the Fluvanna Review in Virginia. This article has great advice and we wanted to pass it on to our readers. Hope you enjoy!

You’re in line at the grocery store and the person behind you, while placing their items on the conveyor belt, starts talking out loud. You turn, knowing they must be talking to you given the fact that no one else is around them only to see the Bluetooth device they are wearing on their ear. The first time I saw a man walking into a store with one of these devices I thought for sure he was a member of the Secret Service. We are, indeed, a society “plugged in” at all times.

In our plugged-in, fast-paced world this holiday season, let us not allow cell phones, laptop computers, iPods, iPads, electronic games or any other techno gadgets to get in the way of our being present to the people around us. While our myriad devices are designed to enhance our lives and allow better communication, it seems we sometimes ignore others by focusing on the tool rather than the person. Our use of technology could be part of what causes others to see us as less than polite and lacking in good manners. Technology is not the culprit; rather the problem is how we use our technology that can cause us to come across as rude, and void of important social skills.

Perhaps were we to make and follow some “technology rules,” we would find ourselves able to create the friendly feeling we desire during the holidays and beyond.

Here is a beginning list of rules of proper Tech-Etiquette:

  1. Don’t let your email or phone rule you. Try silencing your phone, or not looking down to scan your newly arrived email should it ring in the middle of a personal or business conversation. Note the look on your friend or client’s face. I bet they will reflect happiness with an element of surprise to have experienced being a top priority to you.
  2. When taking a call in public speak softly, please. When possible it is best to step far away from other people’s personal space and speak in a low voice when we answer calls. Also, keep in mind there are certain words we do not want our children and grandchildren to add to their lexicons. Let’s help each other shield them by avoiding vulgarity in earshot of others.
  3. Do not wear a Bluetooth earpiece outside of your car. Unless you ARE a member of the Secret Service, this is not appropriate. The nonverbal message you send everyone around you is, “You can talk to me, but at any moment someone more important than you may call me and I’ll need to answer it.” Removing this device will communicate to people around you that they are important enough to have your undivided attention.
  4. Do not email or text what should be spoken in person. If our message is that of a serious nature or tender and highly personal, let us reserve those words for a phone, or better yet, in-person conversation.
  5. NEVER TEXT WHILE DRIVING! Nothing is that important! Find a safe place to pull far off of the road if you must text immediately.

All manners, including Tech-etiquette, are ways of letting other people know that we think they’re important. We convey a warm feeling when we are able to focus on the people we are with, not their or our cell phones. We need only consider the effects of our own behavior on others around us, and we’ll get it right every time.

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