The real test of our manners comes when we are dealing with our most embarrassing moments. Here are some doozies, and tips from the etiquette experts on how to handle them with grace.
Oops! You forgot someone’s name
And when they then greet you by your name, you feel like even more of an idiot. Don’t just carry on the conversation or skate by with a “heeeeeeyyyyy!” Whether the deer-in-headlights moment happens in a business meeting or at your kid’s soccer game, it’s better to just fess up at hello. “Say something as simple as: I’m having one of those days, please tell me your name again,” suggests etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach. Or start with: “I know we met last week at the luncheon”—this lets them know that you do remember them, it’s just their name has slipped your mind, adds Whitmore. Say you just met the person that day, however, and you’re blanking on their name. If it’s a professional situation, ask to exchange business cards before you leave, suggests Mister Manners, Thomas P. Farley, an etiquette expert based in New York. Or in a more personal setting, suggest swapping cell phone numbers and have your new friend enter the info right into your phone—then you can quick-glance the card or phone before parting ways. “If neither solution works, be honest and admit your momentary brain freeze so you can say goodbye graciously, and without embarrassment,” adds Farley. Don’t miss these tips on how to commit names to memory.
Crap! You ruin a surprise
Birthday party, baby shower, awesome anniversary trip meets your big mouth and now the beans have been spilled and you feel awful. If there’s any way to attempt a quick recovery, go for it, suggests Daniel Post Senning, co-author of Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18th edition. But don’t lie—making up another ruse to cover your loose lips means you have to maintain the deception. Instead, try to reintroduce a little question or mystery: ‘Oh, they haven’t mentioned a party to you, maybe it’s not happening or maybe I misunderstood,’ suggests Post Senning, who also co-hosts the podcast Awesome Etiquette (and yes, is related to guru Emily Post—he’s her great-great grandson). All that said, if the deed is done and there’s no way to shove the cat back in the bag, accept responsibility and apologize. In some situations, you may also want to call the host and let them know, says Post Senning. But if the honoree would rather you not tell anybody, and says she’ll act duly surprised at the appropriate time, you can honor that request. Here are 50 little etiquette tips to help you avoid embarrassing moments.
Shoot! You send an email to the wrong recipient
We’re not talking a “meet you at the restaurant for dinner” message that accidentally went to Joan in accounting instead of John, your husband; we mean the my-boss-is-the-devil email meant for your close colleague, sent to your now very offended boss. Of course hindsight is 20/20, and obviously it’s a bad idea to rant and rave over email, especially at work: not only can it be sent incorrectly, it can also be forwarded. But you did it anyway. “Now you have to own up to it,” says Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas. Confront the situation as soon as you realize your mistake. Call you boss, explain the circumstances—that you were frustrated with a meeting, overwhelmed with extra work, whatever it may be—and that you were letting off steam, suggests Gottsman. Say you’re sorry and acknowledge you should have discussed your concerns directly with your boss. In general, it’s good practice to hit save, read and re-read any email before sending, adds Whitmore. And when you blood is boiling and you need to vent, pick up the phone and call your friend. Here are other email etiquette rules you definitely don’t want to break.
Oh no! You fart in the elevator (or anywhere public)
Despite a valiant effort to keep it contained, you let one loose—but whether you take ownership depends on the situation. “If it’s obvious you are the offender, a simple ‘pardon me’ is all you need to say: “No one is interested in a lengthy explanation of what you had for lunch that afternoon,” says Farley. But, if that unfortunate moment occurs in a group of people where the source is a little more nebulous, you might want to just let it linger. “There’s no need to draw attention to an awkward or embarrassing situation if you don’t have to,” say Post Senning. And in that elevator full of strangers, you definitely don’t have to. Here are answers to all your bathroom etiquette questions.