COURTESY OF THE TORONTO STAR - After the year and a half that was, it’s understandable that you might be feeling a bit rusty when it comes to socializing in person.
As a refresher, there are some typical protocols to try to follow when you’ve been invited to a friend’s gathering or a family event: never show up empty-handed, arrive within 15 minutes of the invite time and don’t overstay your welcome.
The pandemic changed everything but, as lockdowns lift and invites flow, experts say we still have to be mindful guests.
“Now that we’re done wiping down groceries and other items, it’s OK to bring a hostess gift again,” says Toronto etiquette consultant Lisa Orr. She says if you ask your host if you can bring something and they say no, you should still bring a little something anyway.
“The host gift is a pre-emptive thank you in recognition of the effort it takes to have an event or get-together, and for being included,” Orr said. Your gift doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should be thoughtful. She suggests flowers, candles, chocolates, gourmet pantry items or wine, all of which are simple and pandemic-friendly.
If you’ve been invited somewhere last minute and you don’t have anything on hand, send a little something after the fact, and if you’re invited with a guest make sure you’re clear the gift is from both of you.
Natasha Koifman, president of NKPR, will host client events and brand launches in her own backyard this summer. She is also planning her annual Artists for Peace and Justice gala on Sept. 11, in the same location.
“You should never show up with a surprise guest unless your host knows about it, especially during a pandemic,” says Koifman. You may think it’s no big deal, especially if you know other guests are bringing plus ones, but it’s not your party and having another person attend may not be within your host’s or their guests’ comfort level.
Koifman says guests should be aware of the new rules of engagement. “Transparency is important here. There’s nothing wrong with asking someone or telling them that you’re double vaccinated. It creates a sense of confidence and changes the style of engagement between two people.”
If someone is double vaxxed versus not at all, the way to engage will vary. “Either way, you can show warmth and appreciation based on your tone versus the physical interaction.”
When it comes to physically greeting your host or other guests, Parambir Keila, an ER doctor at Quinte Health Care in Belleville, Ont., says to always ask for consent before physically engaging with others. “The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S.) believes it is safe for those who are double vaccinated to hug,” Keila said. “I haven’t seen any specific hugging guidelines from (Premier Doug) Ford, but I’d love to pick his brain on it.”
Keila’s hugging tip? “Direct your face away from the other person and a French-like double kiss is still a no no.”
If you need to go inside to use the washroom, consider masking up. “If you may encounter someone who is not part of your gathering, you must wear a mask,” Keila said. “If it’s the same small group indoors and out, going maskless to the bathroom should be safe.” He also suggests asking the host if they want you to mask inside if you’re helping them clean up.
Orr also warns guests to let their hosts play host and to not take over. For more than a year now, we’ve gotten used to running the show. We pick the food, the movie, the music during our leisure time but, as a guest, you’re expected to participate in a social gathering the way the host has envisioned without giving your two cents.
For example, if your host has set the mood with a playlist, do not ask to play your own music, ever. “I don’t care if you just wrote the most incredible song or if it’s your very favourite party tune, this is a no go,” Orr said.
It’s likely your host has selected songs the same way they selected the menu, the dress code and the decor. “Asking them to go a different way, as innocent as it may seem, is not polite or appropriate and, depending on how seriously your host takes their music, could be downright offensive,” Orr said.
Koifman says you should be present and socialize with others in attendance, even if you’re feeling a bit awkward since you haven’t been out in ages. “It’s important to interact with all guests (pending comfort levels and regulations), not just one or two,” she said.
But avoid talking about COVID the whole time as well as your experiences during it. “Suffice it to say that the world is in an intense time politically and socially right now, and people are on edge,” Orr said.
With that in mind, she suggests being thoughtful about selecting conversation topics. “It’s not to say that you should censor yourself, but for a fun, social gathering you should let your host set the tone, listen to find common ground if you don’t agree and, if you really don’t agree, finish your cocktail, say your thanks and skedaddle early, and maybe send regrets next time,” Orr said.
Both Koifman and Orr say the long-standing rule of not overstaying your welcome still stands, even though we’re all hungry for connection.
“If you want to get invited to another event or gathering, never overstay your welcome. You’ll always be remembered as that person. Keep your visits short and sweet,” Koifman said.
If the get-together doesn’t have a specific end time, stay for two to three hours. “If it’s past that time, use your discretion and read the room.” Koifman said.
The opposite is true too: don’t leave too early, eat and run, or order your Uber before saying proper goodbyes to the host(s) and fellow attendees. If you’re unsure if it’s too early to leave, Koifman once again suggests reading the situation. “As people are starting to leave, it’s probably time for you to leave as well.” Should the host want you to stay longer to have one-on-one time once other guests leave, leave them to invite you for an extended stay and never assume, Koifman added.
When leaving, thanking the host for having you and follow up via text or email after the gathering with a personalized note to let them know you appreciated being included. “I’ll always follow up within 24 hours of attending. In your note to the host, highlight something that you particularly enjoyed about the event and show your appreciation for being invited,” Koifman said.