Around the holidays our Ms. Modern Manners Sharon Schweitzer, JD, is in high gear to share her insight on everything from host gifts, career guidance for friend’s children, awkward dinner tabs, and more.


Dear Ms. Modern Manners,

A quick reminder, please, on hostess gifts during the holidays?

Guessing Guest

Dear Guessing Guest,

Arriving with a hostess gift is one of life’s great social graces. Remember your mother’s advice to never arrive empty handed? Express your appreciation by bringing a small, thoughtful gift. Avoid ostentatious offerings that embarrass the host or upstage other guests. For BFFs you bring their favorite author’s newest release, a luxury candle, imported coffee or tea, or a shared memory beautifully framed. Unknown host? Ask mutual friends and discover what they like – otherwise, wrap and bring a new coffee table book, monogrammed napkins, or guest towels (paper or linen). Be cautious about alcohol, chocolate, nuts and fragrances due to potential allergies. Hosts bring us together and warm our hearts during the holidays, so express your thanks with elegance and panache.


Dear Ms. Modern Manners,

It happened again. I’ve been asked by a friend to help their college graduate child find a job in my field. I have little time and fewer resources. What’s the best way to handle this?

Good Career Samaritan


Dear Good Career Samaritan,

When a friend asks a favor, remember it is a compliment and testimony to your character, as well as a request for your valuable time. Graciously explain that you are honored, yet your time and resources are limited and all you can do at this time is share your humble advice.


Prepare a written resource to have ready at all times that you can personalize and send in response to these inquiries. Offer to make an email or LinkedIn introduction to a contact in the industry. Advise the graduate to create a professional LinkedIn profile to connect with classmates and industry contacts, and also encourage them to evaluate and join industry networks. Then, the graduate has the responsibility to move forward with your advice and your mission is accomplished. When the graduate lands that perfect first job, he or she will feel the satisfaction that comes from starting a career, and you will maintain those precious relationships that weave the fabric of our lives.


Dear Ms. Modern Manners,

Recently it seems like there is an epidemic of No Gifts, Please on invitations for birthday parties, anniversaries and beyond. I love giving a gift to show how much I appreciate the person being honored. Am I in the wrong?

Gratefully Gifting


Dear Gratefully Gifting,

Although your kindness and thoughtfulness are admirable, yes, this time you are mistaken. Making someone feel special with a gift is a lovely expression. However, if the host requests No Gifts, it is your responsibility to honor their request. By bringing a gift, you disregard the host’s wishes, make compliant guests uncomfortable and creating a larger carbon footprint. If the honoree is family or a dear friend and gift giving is a custom, present your gift at a different time. When invited to a celebration where the no gifts request is included with the invitation, this means your presence is their gift.


Dear Ms. Modern Manners,

My husband and I love dining out with other couples. We’re not foodies, so we don’t order extravagantly. Yet, when the check comes, the other couple often says, “Let’s just split it in half.” We rarely order expensive bottles of wine like they do and are never hungry for dessert. How should we proceed?

Inclined Epicurean


Dear Inclined Epicurean,

Actor Michael J. Fox says: The oldest form of theater is the dinner table. I, however, recommend skipping the drama. As a general rule, when dining with other couples, the courteous trend is to split the check equally to avoid debating the numbers. Try politely visiting privately with one member of the couple about ‘separate checks.’ However, if the well-dressed wino orders extravagantly on a consistent basis, try this approach: arrive early, advise the maître d or server in advance (or quietly as an aside) that your table requires two separate checks. Be gracious and remember that you can’t put a price on friendship.