By Stephanie Emma Pfeffer
It's easy to assume you're the perfect holiday party guest: You arrive with a smile, watch your alcohol intake and stay far away from the mistletoe. But sometimes your words and actions can irk the host-or other partygoers-without you knowing it. Take small talk, for example. You may think mentioning your upcoming vacation is just conversation, but the topic may rub a fellow reveler the wrong way if she's out of work, says Marley Majcher, owner of The Party Goddess in Los Angeles, CA. "Before sharing your own good fortune, get a read on where the other person is in life," she says. "Listen first and run your mouth later." Below, experts share other common faux pas. Photo by Thinkstock.
1. Arriving without a hostess gift.
Never show up to a house party empty-handed, even if the hostess says you don't have to bring anything, says national etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, owner of The Protocol School of Texas. "Present her with a small, unwrapped token of gratitude for the invitation, something you can carry in and leave in the kitchen." Flowers are fine-if you send them in advance. Otherwise, it takes the hostess away from her duties; she has to trim the ends, locate a vase and find a good spot to display the bouquet, says Gottsman. Wine is also good-just don't assume it'll be served at the event, says Jodi R. R. Smith, a Boston-based etiquette expert and author of The Etiquette Book: A Complete Guide to Modern Manners. "The hostess gets to decide what to do with the gift," she says. "If you bring me gourmet chocolates, I'm saving them for myself once all the dishes are clean-and you should take that as a compliment!"
2. Spending too much money or time on your Secret Santa gift.
According to Gottsman, going over the spending limit for Secret Santa is a not-so-subtle sign that you're disregarding the boss's rules or trying to outshine your colleagues. "Nobody likes a show-off," says Majcher. "You know full well everyone in your office is stressed and barely getting it together for the holiday party, so don't be that employee whose gift is perfectly wrapped in handmade paper with an ink-stamped card." Chances are your colleagues don't want their noses rubbed in your overachievement. Stick to the allotted amount and don't get too fancy with the presentation.
3. Monopolizing the conversation.
"In awkward social situations, people tend to ramble about everything," says Lisa Mirza Grotts, etiquette expert and author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. "It's better to discuss specific, safe topics, like sports, movies and new restaurants in town." To foster a give-and-take dialogue, ask questions of other guests while avoiding politics, religion and health issues. It's fine to mention your kids, but don't show a million digital photos of them, says Gottsman. And the worst offense? Being under-responsive, either by giving one-word answers or standing in the corner. "You were invited because the hostess thought you could add value to the gathering," explains Grotts. "You have to sing for your supper."
4. Bringing the boss a present.
"It's dicey for an employee to get the boss a gift because it may be seen as vying for favoritism," says Gottsman. A better idea is for workers to pool their resources and purchase one item for their supervisor. If you feel especially close to your boss or have known her for years, a gift may be OK, but choose something neutral, inexpensive and not too personal. Buy a package of her favorite flavored coffee, for example. Or pick something the entire office can enjoy, like homemade baked goods that can be placed in a communal area.
5. Being overly familiar with male colleagues in front of their significant others.
Whether you're married or single, be cautious about how you act around other people's romantic partners, cautions Majcher. Regardless of how close you are with a work colleague, don't be too friendly in front of his wife whom you see only once a year. "The fastest way to alienate a pal's significant other is to be too informal with her man," she says. That means no touching or inside jokes. "Even if you two are BFFs at the office, he likely hasn't communicated that at home," says Majcher. She suggests initiating a genuine chat with a colleague's wife to show that you respect their relationship.
Related: Learn about these 11 signs he might be having an affair.
6. Complaining about how busy you are.
"It's annoying when someone whines about her hectic life during the holiday season," says Majcher. "It implies that she thinks she's Superwoman, and that the party is lucky to have her for 10 minutes." Everyone has demanding schedules this time of year, so give it a rest. Avoid complaining altogether, for that matter. Party conversation should be upbeat.
7. Stuffing your face at the buffet.
"You don't want to spend the evening with your head in the shrimp bowl," says Gottsman. Have a snack before you arrive so you're not famished, and go through the buffet line only once. If you absolutely must have more food, at least wait until everyone's had a first serving. After all, you're not there to fill up, reminds Gottsman.
Related: Check out these healthy afternoon snacks that keep you full.
8. Asking the hostess to cater to your food aversions.
Complaining about the menu is another misstep. Don't say you hate lamb when the hostess has spent all day preparing it. Mention food issues only in the case of severe allergies. "Bringing up peanuts is OK if they'll kill you," says Grotts. "But for the most part, when you're invited to someone's home, either eat what's served or nibble around it." Or eat beforehand if you have dietary restrictions. You can't expect a hostess to remember (or take into consideration) every guest's individual needs.
9. Hanging around the kitchen-or other places you're not welcome.
Unless a hostess asks for help, stay out of the kitchen. "People tend to congregate where food is being prepared, but they usually get in the way," says Smith. Most often, the hostess wants you in the living room or dining room. "If that's where she's decorated or put out platters, that's where she expects you to be," adds Smith. Creeping around upstairs or going on a self-guided tour is also in poor taste. And please-no snooping behind closed doors!
10. Dressing inappropriately.
Just because an office function is after work hours doesn't mean it's an invitation to dress flashy or wear a revealing outfit, says Smith. "Skirts should hit your knee, and nothing should be too tight. Absolutely no cleavage." She suggests wearing festive nighttime fabrics in metallic colors and adding flair with accessories. At friends' parties, also err on the side of being overdressed rather than underdressed to avoid offending the hostess. "Always take it up a notch during the holidays," says Smith. "There's never a downside to a touch of glamour."
11. Arriving late to the office party, or skipping it entirely.
Holiday work events aren't optional, says Gottsman. In fact, Smith advises going early to rub shoulders with the VIPs. "Things get worse as the evening goes on-when people are more likely to get drunk or dance inappropriately. And executives tend to make a brief appearance," she says. "You don't want to miss them, since your attendance is mostly a career move." Plan to mingle for 60 to 90 minutes for a cocktail affair. If it's a sit-down dinner, you're expected to stay through dessert-it's rude to duck out early when the company is footing the bill.
Related: Discover the best body language for every situation.
Original article appeared on WomansDay.com.
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