Etiquette Dilemmas


I was asked by Prima magazine to give some ideas on some dilemmas people have around Christmas.  The idea was to give the readers some really practical usable solutions.  They couldn’t fit in all of both dilemmas, so here they are:


Q 1

My husband loves splashing out on presents but I’ve spent the whole year trying to budget and I don’t want him to blow it all at Xmas. How do I tell him without sounding unappreciative?


Guys tend to do that. It’s a hunter gatherer thing, they want to demonstrate that they are good providers.  Not all men do it and some women do, but it is usually a male thing and it isn’t terribly PC in modern society. However, our brains are programmed to value big displays even if they’re not appropriate any more. It’s not daft, or chauvinistic, it is human.


Here are two suggestions.

If he’s quite sensitive and often buys you thoughtful things that you really like, try explaining to him that what you really would like would be something inexpensive because the budget is really important to you this year and you would be so proud of you both if you could save for whatever it is, paid back the loan or done whatever you are trying to do by budgeting. If he’s thoughtful, he wants to please you and will listen and, if you phrase it right and make him part of the solution to the budgeting problem, not part of the problem, he’ll be really chuffed to be so helpful and have given you what you want that he’ll probably be saying what a great wife you are.


Generally, it’s better to be honest about stuff like that because it is much simpler and honest communication is really important. If that really isn’t an option, and if you’re not so sure whether the presents are about pleasing you, or chances to demonstrate his manliness by splashing out, you might want to take a different approach. Could you ask for his advice (most guys love that) and see what he would suggest for somebody (whose identity you’ve promised not to reveal) who has your problem? What does he think the wife ought to do, the husband is ever so loving, and wants to buy her expensive presents, but she’s worried about money – what does he think your friend ought to do so as not to offend her husband, whom she loves dearly, but to save her worrying about the money being spent? He might get the message anyway (although parallels, metaphors etc. are often too oblique for blokes), but he’ll at least give you hints as to what he would want – so you’ll know whether to tell him straight out not to buy expensive gifts or whatever is his favoured method of communication. Then you have to play it by ear.



Q 2

My office has a Christmas lunch every year that we have to pay for. I never enjoy these forced occasions and my husband lost his job this year so money is very tight. How do I get out of going without being the party pooper?


Social bonding is important to people – that’s why solitary confinement is a punishment. But some enjoy social gatherings more than others anyway, and there are marked individual differences in whether somebody can enjoy partying with people they work with day to day and whether they can enjoy anything much when somebody hands them a squeaker and a funny hat and says, “you will have a good time”! Clearly you don’t like those sort of occasions, and apparently lots of your workmates do.


My first resort is usually being honest. Explain that it really isn’t something that you enjoy particularly and with your husband’s situation money is really tight. If these are good friends, I would expect people would understand, particularly if you can arrange to go for a little drink or something with your real buddies, which you could enjoy, that makes for something a bit special for all of you, (and an extra celebration for them), keeps you bonded with them and doesn’t break the bank to
do something you don’t want to do. It might depend on how big a company it is, but then if it is big and impersonal I wouldn’t have thought you’d be missed except by your friends who are the only ones you’re really bothered about and to whom you can explain. If it is small and friendly, again, surely people can understand the money situation and, if it is really friendly, would know you well enough to know that you don’t really like these do’s anyway.


If all else fails, and you can’t bear to go, you can always fall back on the old standby of the family party, visit from long lost Uncle Cedric, home from Australia for just the one day after 40 years etc., but personally I don’t like those – it’s
like people pulling a sickie every Monday, it gives you a reputation as untrustworthy, so I really think you’re better off being honest (and maybe playing up the money angle). In the final analysis, will your friends think you’re a party pooper if you tell them the truth, and if they do think that, do you really want them as friends?




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