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Didi’s Manners & Etiquette: Holiday Dilemmas

Thursday, December 24, 2015


Your holiday etiquette dilemmas with family and friends are more common than you think. What not to say, when not to give a gift, a same-sex couple's first Christmas, all questions to Didi Lorillard at NewportManners Christmas week.

What not to bring up at dinner with future in-laws

Q.  We're having Christmas with the future in-laws whom we really don't know for the first time. We couldn't be more different if we tried. What should my wife and I keep our mouths zipped about?  Anonymous, Exeter, RI

A. Politics, if you know they're a Donald Trump fan, and you aren't; the Red Socks, if they never miss a game and you could care less; weight loss, if they're ten pounds heavier than you; their frugality, if their present is a recycled cologne with the cellophane removed; your upcoming vacation in Cabo San Lucas or Antigua, if you know they've never been out of New England; any gender-related subject such as pointing out that you have more grandsons than they do; religion, if you know they're more religious than you are. Don't give unsolicited advice about how to prevent hair loss, staying fit, or loosing weight -- in other words, stay away from anything to do with body image. Including issues of fertility and asking whether a woman is pregnant. Or when she or he is "ever" getting married. And never give stock tips. Be mindful of the fact that the last thing you say to someone, may become a lasting impression. ~Didi

What not to say when you don't like a gift

Q.  What to say to your friend whose taste in music goes to pop and you can't stand the CD that he gave you and he's pushing to know what you think of it? Do I lie? Or do I say, "We're not into pop, so we're recycling it to someone who is?"  Connie, Providence

A.  Hold your tongue. No matter how much you want to tell someone that you don't have the same taste in music, remember that it's a gift. The problem with that is that you don't want to encourage future gifts of pop CDs so stay cool. Say, "Oh, yeah, thanks so much we haven't had a chance to appreciate it." By sounding slightly nonchalant, the gifter picks up the hidden nuisance of your non-enthusiasium. Then gift the CD to someone whom you know is into pop, if there is not a gift receipt.  ~Didi

What to say when you don't bring a present

Q.  At a pre-Christmas party a good friend gave me a nicely wrapped present to put under our tree. I was caught off guard and didn't have a gift for her, even though we had exchanged gifts in the past. What do I do now? I have sixteen grandkids and their parents to buy and wrap presents for (and in some cases mail in time for Christmas) and I can't keep up with exchanging gifts with coworkers or friends any longer. What do I say?  SE, Dover, MA

A.  There are three options here: Be honest and tell them the truth with no apology. Lie saying you ordered them a book through Amazon, which everyone knows can take weeks to arrive, and they'll have it as soon as it is delivered to you. Express your appreciation and go home and order online a small, sweet basket of cookies from dancingdeer.com; then during the course of the coming year drop the hint that you're no longer going to be exchanging Christmas presents outside the family.  ~Didi

When to send a thank-you note for a holiday party

Q.  We accepted an evite to a holiday party and attended. We did not bring a hostess gift. Can we send a thank-you card after the fact and that's enough? Or do we have to send our hosts a gift?  Anonymous, Newport, RI

A.  A guest is never required to bring a gift to a party or send one post-party. You were invited because your host enjoys your company. However, if you don't bring a thoughtful token hostess gift, you would reciprocate with an email thank-you note pointing out your view of the highlights of their party (a person you met, the beautifully decorated house, the food, eggnog, etc.). At the very least: An evite invitation is reciprocated with an email expressing gratitude; a paper invitation, is acknowledged with a handwritten note; a verbal invitation by phone or in person is reciprocated with a phone call thanking the person for having invited them.  ~Didi

What to give his boyfriend

Q.  Since our forty-something son is bringing his same-sex partner to our Christmas dinner (of eighteen total), we wouldn't be surprised if they announced that they're getting married. That's what his sister thinks. As we're retired, we give only a small gift to everyone attending, such as a pair of socks. We give one check to his sister and her husband, because we know full well the financial constraints of pleasing young children at Christmas. What should we do about a gift for this unexpected guest?  Anonymous, Worcester, MA

A.  Best to keep it sweet. Brownies nicely wrapped in a bright red bow, or a loaf of pumpkin, or orange-cranberry, bread would be fitting for the season. Even if your son's partner brings you and your husband his own gifts, you are not required to give him anything personal such as an article of clothing. But fresh baked goods are a gift the two men can share as a couple at home.  ~Didi

Didi Lorillard researches all matters of manners and etiquette at Didi's Manners. Ask her a question to be answered privately. The best questions of the week appear here and some are anonymous.


Related Slideshow: 50 Ways to Give in Portland This Holiday Season

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PlayWrite offers pair children and youth with one-on-one coaches during their creative writings workshops.

Join the "Producer's Circle" with a recurring monthly gift, or make a one-time contribution to this great cause.

Photo via PlayWrite's Facebook page.

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Oregon Food Bank

Donate food to needy families in your own area this holiday season via the Oregon Food Bank.

The Food Bank is most in need of the following items:

  • Shelf-stable milk

  • Foods high in protein such as canned meats (i.e., tuna, chicken, salmon) and canned or dried beans

  • Foods high in nutrients, such as canned fruits and vegetables (preferably with reduced sodium and reduced sugar)

Photo via the Oregon Food Bank's Facebook page.

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Child Centered Solutions

Child Centered Solutions protects the rights of children during high-conflict family disputes.

Donations can make a tangible impact in the lives of kids going through a divorce, who are vulnerable to feelings of loss and abandonment. 

Image via Child Centered Solutions' Twitter page.

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Medical Teams

Headquartered in Portland, Medical Teams International provides medical care and disaster recovery to those in need all over the world.

Through their Holiday Gift Catalogue you can pick out a specific purchase for your donation, such as emergency medical support, dental care or disaster relief.

Image via Medical Teams International's Facebook page.

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KairosPDX is a non-profit organization focused on delivering excellent, equitable education to underserved children, their families and their communities.

Donate your time as an ambassador to the program and help provide a better future for a local child.

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Cityteam Portland

Cityteam provides hot meals, safe shelter, showers, clean clothing, recovery programs and other essential care to this city's homeless population. A recovery program is also  in place for those men that are on a road of destruction from drugs and alcohol.

Donate today to help fund Cityteam serve more than 18,000 hot meals this holiday season.

Image via Cityteam's Facebook page.

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Oregon Humane Society

The Oregon Human Society rescues, heals and adopts more than 11,000 pets each year. We never place a time limit on how long cats, dogs and other pets stay at our shelter.

The Humane Society relies on donations to support their adoption, education, and animal cruelty investigation programs.

Image via the Oregon Humane Society's Facebook page.

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Sustainable Northwest

Sustainable Northwest restore forests, rivers, and rangelands for healthier habitat and clean air and water.

Donate today to contribute to one of their projects, such as water projects, climate projects and forest projects.

Image via Sustainable Northwest's Facebook page

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Friends of the Children

Friends of the Children works to provide children in need with a nurturing and sustained relationship with a professional mentor who teaches positive values and has attainable expectations for each child to become a healthy, productive member of the community.

Spend your time volunteering at one of their upcoming events and help teach positive values to local kids.

Image via Friends of the Children's Facebook page

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Ethos Inc

Founded in 1998, Ethos Inc. provides music lessons, group classes, camps, multicultural performances and workshops to more than 7,000 students across Oregon each year.

Those who would like to pitch in can volunteer their time at Ethos or donate an instrument to the program, along with making financial gifts.

Image via Ethos' Facebook page.

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Friends of Trees

Friends of Trees has planted more than half a million trees and native plants since its founding in 1989. They hold events with community volunteers to restore green spaces in the area.

To get involved, plant a tree yourself or make a financial contribution to Friends of Trees.

Image via Friends of Trees' Facebook page

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Boy Scouts of America

The Cascade Pacific Council of the Boy Scouts of America operates Boy Scout troops in 18 counties in northwest Oregon and southwest Washington.

Donate your time as a leader at a local troop or visit their website to make a financial gift.

Image via The Cascade Pacific Council of the Boy Scouts of America's Facebook page

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Portland Rescue Mission

The Portland Rescue Mission provides services treating addiction, mental trauma and poverty to homeless families around the Portland-metro area.

To help the Rescue mission during this Holiday season, make a financial gift or donate your old and no longer wanted vehicle to their car donation program.

Image via the Portland Rescue Mission's Facebook page

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All Hands Raised

Founded on the heels of cuts to public education in 1994, All Hands Raised works to raise funds to support teaching positions in the city.

Visit their donation page today to help brighten a child's educational future.

Image via the Portland Public School Foundation's Facebook page

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SCRAP, or the School and Community Reuse Action Project, is a donation-based creative reuse store and donation center in Southwest Portland.

Right now, SCRAP is in need of thread, sewing needles, pins, blank and used canvas, feathers, marbles and other arts and crafts supplies.

Image via SCRAP's Facebook page

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Emergency Food Program

Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon operates the Northeast Emergency Food Program, which provides a three-to-five day supply of nutritious groceries for local families in need. 

The Emergency Food Program is in need of volunteers to help deliver and organize more than 12 tons of food each month. They are also in need of donations of canned, packaged and frozen foods.

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Providence Portland

The Providence Portland Medical Foundation provides medical services and resources for Providence Portland Medical Center.

The Medical Foundation is currently seeking funding for guest housing, cancer research and more.

Image via Providence Portland Medical Center's Facebook page.

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Oregon Wild

Oregon Wild works to protect and restore Oregon’s wildlands, wildlife and waters as an enduring legacy for all Oregonians.

Members who donate to Oregon Wild receive a one-year subscription to Oregon Wild, their conservation newsletter, exclusive invitations to members-only hikes, excursions, and workshops and timely alerts and news about legislation and other actions that threaten the places you love.

Image via Oregon Wild's Facebook page

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Portland Youth Builders

Portland Youth Builders offer support to youth age 17-24 whose experiences with poverty, violence, drugs, hunger and loss have interrupted their route to success.

Donations to the Youth Builders help fund school supplies for students, GED testing fees, or textbooks for college students.

Image via Portland Youth Builders' Facebook page

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Oregon Zoo Foundation

The Oregon Zoo Foundation works to advance the zoo's mission of inspiring the community to create a better future for wildlife. Since 1997, the foundation has contributed more than $52 million to the Oregon Zoo to enhance efforts in conservation, education and animal welfare.

The Zoo Foundation asks for donations to enhance the zoo's work on behalf of wildlife at home and around the world.

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Sustainable Today

The Center for a Sustainable Today operates the Green Neighborhood Project, which works to restore habitat, enhance ecosystem services, and create vibrant communities in the city of Portland.

Become a member today to support sustainability in Portland.

Image via Sustainable Today's Facebook page

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Feral Cat Coalition

The Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon works to improve the welfare and reduce the population of feral and stray cats through spay/neuter programs and education.

Donations are used to fund the spaying and neutering of cats. Volunteers are also needed to help perform the veterinary work, spread the word about the organization and help with office work.

Image via the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon's Facebook page.

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Young Musicians & Artist

Since 1965, Young Musicians & Artists has provided residential visual and performing arts residential programs during the summer for high school students.

The program has grown over its five-decade history from one week-long camp to 250 students working with more than 50 volunteers at different camps and workshops in the city.

Image via Young Musicians and Artists' Facebook page.

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TPI Projects

TPI Projects works with Portland's homeless population to help them transition from homelessness to housing.

Right now, TPI Projects is most in need of household products such as deodorant, toothbrushes, blankets, towels and more. To see more, visit their Wish List.

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Schoolhouse Supplies

Schoolhouse Supplies works to support teachers in Portland with their unique free store, which provides school supplies at little or no cost.

Volunteers are needed to help run the free store, or donate some new or gently used school supplies.

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Girl Scouts

The Girl Scouts of Oregon and Southwest Washington works to build  girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.

Donate your time as a leader at a local troop or visit their website to make a financial gift.

Image via The Girl Scouts of Oregon and Southwest Washington's Facebook page

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Hereford House

The Hereford House Food Pantry supplies food and social services for Portland families in need.

The Hereford House is currently also seeking funding to provide staffing, furnishings and equipment needed to expand our capacity to include dental van visits, basic health screenings, employment counseling and healthy eating/nutrition classes.

Image via The Hereford House Facebook page

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Yolanda Project

One in four homeless women in Portland identify domestic violence as the reason they became homeless in the first place.

Sponsored by the YWCA, the Yolanda Project aims to divert pressure onPortland's emergency shelter system by working with survivors of domestic violence at risk of becoming homeless to skip a stay in an emergency shelter and obtain safe, stable housing for themselves and their families.

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Dreaming Zebra

Dreaming Zebra is a nonprofit charity providing support so that children are given an equal opportunity to explore and develop their creativity in the arts.

Donors are needed to sponsor a classroom, establish donation centers in local businesses and host an art or music supply drive.

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Church Food Pantry

The Southeast Community Church Food Pantry provides emergency food boxes, clothes, and household items to any and all persons who find themselves in difficulties because their basic needs cannot be met due to economic hardship.

The Food Pantry is in need of canned and packaged foods, fresh produce, clean clothing and bedding and more.

Image via the Southeast Community Church Food Pantry's Facebook page.

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Step It Up, Inc.

Step It Up, Inc. works to provide high school students with access to educational career development resources, support, and guidance so they have opportunities to succeed, teaching students to believe in themselves and their abilities.

Donations support resume workshops, career mentors and other programs.

Photo via Step It Up's Facebook page.

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Portland-based non-profit Consano brings crowd-funding to the world of medical research by allowing donors to hand-pick the causes they donate to.

Visit their site today to donate to a variety of medical research, including lung cancer research and leukemia research.

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Write Around Portland

Write Around Portland offers 10-week creative writing workshops to hospitals, schools, prisons, shelters, senior centers, low-income housing, treatment facilities, health care and social service setting, and publishes anthologies of stories.

Volunteers are needed to host readings and serve as workshop facilitators. 

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Founded in 1992, JOIN works to support the efforts of homeless individuals and families to transition out of homelessness and into permanent housing.

Donations fund immersion, housing retention and outreach programs, as well as services such as showers, laundry, coffee and shelter from the weather.

Image via JOIN's Facebook page.

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Healthier Generation

Founded in part by the American Heart Foundation and the Clinton Foundation, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation works to tackle childhood obesity.

Donations can help provide healthy recess programs, school lunches and doctor's visits.

Image via Healthier Generation's Facebook page

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EcoDistricts works to promote sustainable growth in Portland, Oregon and across the United States.

Your donation supports innovative EcoDistricts programs that help convene and train urban leaders throughout North America to envision and implement urban regeneration projects that are transforming neighborhoods for the better.

Image via EcoDistrict's Facebook page

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Climate Trust

Climate Trust is a unique environmental conservation organization. They work to accelerate carbon mitigation with the development and purchase of carbon offsets.

Donate today to contribute to one of their innovative projects geared toward reducing carbon emissions.

Image via Climate Trust's Facebook page

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Self-Enhancement, Inc.

Self-Enhancement, Inc. help pride support for thousands of at-risk children in the Portland area.

Donors are needed to sponsor a student, a half-class or even a whole class of children in need.

Image via SEI's Facebook page

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Moore Street Food Pantry

The Moore Street Food Pantry is a shopping style food pantry operated by the Salvation Army. It serves 13 zip codes in the Portland-metro area.

Volunteers are needed to help staff the pantry and donations of food items are gladly accepted.

Image via Moore Street Food Pantry's Facebook page

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Oregon Reproductive Help

The Oregon Foundation for Reproductive Health is dedicated to improving access to comprehensive reproductive health care, such as preventing unintended pregnancy and planning healthy families.

Donations help to advance reproductive rights and advocating for reproductive health equity in all Oregon communities.

Image via The Oregon Foundation for Reproductive Health's Facebook page

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Free Geek

Free Geek takes old technology products and upcycles or sells them to fund job-training and education programs.

Financial support is crucial to Free Geek, as they must pay to clear all data off the donated technology.

Image via Free Geek's Facebook page

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Chess for Success

More than just a clever name, Chess for Success works to help at-risk youth improve their self-esteem, behavior, and academic performance through developing skills learned in chess.

They are seeking funding for chess clubs, tournaments and more.

Image via Chess for Success Facebook page

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Green Empowerment

Green Empowerment works with local partners around the world to strengthen communities by delivering renewable energy and safe clean water.

Donations will support the implementations of new water and energy projects, the training of local leaders and the development of international networks to guarantee comprehensive access to resources.   

Image via Green Empowerment's Facebook page

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Bradley Angle

Bradley Angle offers shelter and other services to victims of domestic violence.

Participate in Bradley Angle's Holiday Wish Drive by picking out a gift for a victim of domestic violence.

Image via Bradley Angle's Facebook page

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Sight &Hearing Foundation

Oregon Lions Sight & Hearing Foundation  works to screen, treat, save, and restore sight and hearing, in partnership with Lions Clubs.

Donations fund  surgery, treatments, exams and glasses or hearing aids for those in need.

Image via Oregon Lions Sight and Hearing Foundation's Facebook page

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Oregon Dog Rescue

Oregon Dog Rescue is an all-breed, no-kill shelter serving the greater Portland, Oregon area.

Funding helps provide homes for great dogs in Oregon and medical treatment that is urgent and/or necessary to facilitate a successful adoption.

Image via Oregon Dog Rescue's Facebook page

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Outside In

Outside In helps homeless youth and other marginalized people move toward improved health and self-sufficiency.

Donations help Outside In provide support for more than 10,000 people every year.

Image via Outside In's Facebook page.

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Ecology in Classrooms and Outdoors inspires elementary school students to connect to our natural world by providing hands-on ecology enrichment programs.

Donations help fund programs for students and schools.

Image via ECO's Facebook page

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My Voice Music

My Voice Music that engages youth in music and performance in order to promote self-esteem, social skills, and emotional expression.

My Voice needs volunteers to help lead music education programs and accepts donations of gently used musical instruments and equipment.

Image via My Voice Music's Facebook page.

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Animal Hospital

Dove Lewis Animal Hospital is a 24-Hour Emergency and ICU Animal Hospital, offering advanced veterinary care.

Donors can choose how they would like the Animal Hospital to spend their gift.

Image via Dove Lewis' Facebook page.


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