Saturday, November 11, 2006

Common Courtesies Everyone Forgets

It's easy to forget little things when you're always running around with 10 things on your mind. It's understandable to forget to say "thank you" to the person preparing your food when you've been waiting in line for 15 minutes longer than you'd planned, or to ignore the cleaning person in your apartment building because you're rushing to a meeting. But eventually people build up enough excuses that they completely forget to use common courtesies in their everyday interactions, particularly with people who are serving them in some way.

Every day when I'm waiting in line at the cafeteria or at the campus center cafe, I watch how the people in front of me treat the staff, whether they look them in the eye, say hello, please and thank you, etc. A lot of people are talking on their cell phones while they order and wait for their food, while others avert their eyes, spit out their order and look annoyed when they have to wait a little bit. I'm amazed how the staff remains friendly and patient with people, because after one day of getting ignored by a bunch of stuck up college kids, I'd probably quit.

So, I'm going to use today's post to mention a few of the common courtesies that everyone forgets from time to time. Your mother may have mentioned them a thousand times, but it's always nice to have a refresher.

Smiling and saying hello
. If you recognize someone in passing (even if you've never spoken), you should smile and wave or say hi. It's so uncomfortable when two people stare at the ground because they don't want to acknowledge each other. This also goes for anyone serving you, particularly if you see the person in a regular basis. Just acknowledging people makes a huge difference.

Holding the door. This one is easy to forget, but it's something that everyone appreciates, particularly when they're carrying a lot or don't have a free hand. You aren't obliged to hold the door for 20 people, but you should at least push it open and hold it so the next person can come through.

Please and thank you. So basic. Anytime anyone does anything for you, use it. And it's almost impossible to overuse these phrases, so don't feel strange if you're at a restaurant and thanking your server every time they refill your water.

Saying excuse me. If you need to squeeze past or between people, let them know you're coming through. Accidents can happen if they don't see you, and it's rude to push up against someone without giving them proper warning.

Picking up after yourself
. Remember, if you don't, someone else has to. And even if it's their job, it's rude to expect them to deal with your mess. This especially applies to public places.

Helping people when they need it
. If someone drops something, needs help carrying something, trips and falls, try to help them. Rarely will this take more than a couple seconds of your time.

Basically, all these rules come down to showing respect for other people. Everyone appreciates it when others do these things for them, and a tiny bit of effort can go a long way.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Host/Hostess Gifts

A reader e-mailed me to ask about appropriate gifts for the host or hostess of a holiday party, and my first thought was "holiday parties? as in Halloween?" until I realized about a half second later that December is less than 3 weeks away. Eek! On to some gift ideas...

Because each party and host or hostess is different, I don't like the idea of "one gift fits all." As a college student, I'll probably only attend holiday cocktail parties where boxed wine and jello shots are the main attraction, so I'm not going to go out and buy a $30 bottle of wine or a big bouquet of flowers for the hostess. Instead, bringing a snack or a bottle of alcohol to share is more than sufficient.

I'm a big believer in personalized gifts. You should pick a gift that matches the theme of the party or the interests/personality of the person hosting it (assuming you know them). It's also nice to do something a little different and unexpected.

For example, if you're going to a wine and cheese party, everyone is going to bring a bottle of wine for the host, so be a little different and stop by a cheese shop to pick up a couple different cheeses (ask the staff for recommendations). Or, if you're going to a dinner party and you know the host loves to cook, pick up some nice olive oil or balsamic vingegar, kitchen basics that can really add oomph to a dish. If your host is a huge dog lover, a box of gourmet dog treats would be a nice and thoughtful gift.

If there's a book you recently read that you think the hostess would enjoy, that's a great present too. Make sure to include a short note on the title page saying why you thought they'd like it.

Unfortunately, a lot of the time you're invited to a party by someone you don't know personally, like a company party. In this case, it's ok to go with a generic gift. Traditional host/hostess gifts include a bottle of red wine, a bouquet of flowers, hand or body lotion, a nice scented candle or a picture frame. No one will be offended by any of these gifts, but they're kind of boring.

Personally, I think that you truly cannot go wrong giving someone food, particularly something sweet. A box of chocolates, cookies, brownies, macaroons or cupcakes from your favorite chocolate shop or bakery is always welcome. If you're looking for a more adventurous gift, check out the gift ideas from Zingerman's, my favorite gourmet food store (they ship nationally).

I don't think it's necessary that you bring a present with you to the party, as long as the host gets it by mail within a couple of days. Order the gift at least a week in advance so you can guarantee it'll get to the person on time. If you want to bring flowers, mailing them is actually a better option so that you're not asking the hostess to find a vase and arrange the flowers when she has other things to do as the guests are arriving.

I hope this helps, and if anyone has any other suggestions of gifts they've given or received that everyone loved, please feel free to post in the comments.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Finding The Best Foundation, Concealer and Powder For Your Face

I always find buying foundation and concealer really difficult, because the color never looks right after I get out of the store and when I get home I can't apply it the same way the salesperson did and I realize I've wasted $20. And then there's the seasonal issues- your skin is darker and oilier in the summer and paler and dryer in the winter, and I don't want to get seperate products that will dry out before I can use them again the following year. Luckily, I came across two great blog posts over the weekend that give fantastic advice on how to find the perfect color for your face and which products work best for every skin type.

The first is from my favorite blogging makeup artist, Elke von Freudenberg, who is teaching the masses how to buy and apply makeup with her insightful blog posts and instructive videos (you can read my earlier post on her videos here. In this post she gives great advice on how to test foundation and concealer so that you end up with a product you'll actually end up using and loving when you get home.

Another blog, Beautiful Makeup Search, tested 49 different concealers from varying brands and price points and recommends 27 different products, presented in a useful guide, which you can read here.

In case you're wondering, I use Bobbi Brown Smooth Skin Foundation (when I wear it) and Clinique Line Smoothing Concealer. Both work quite well and are mostly fool-proof when it comes to application.

Before I buy any cosmetics or beauty products, I always check out the reviews on Makeup Alley (you have to log in to see the reviews, unfortunately, but it only takes a minute). The more research you've done before you shop, the less money you'll waste on products you'll never use. Knowledge is power, my friends.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What To Wear With Knee Socks

I got the following e-mail earlier this week:

I recently got these socks from Urban Outfitters, and while I've enjoyed wearing them in my own home, I don't really know how to wear them outside of there. I need suggestions!

Thanks, Josephine

I think these socks are very cute, and now that the weather is getting colder, there are lots of ways to wear knee socks outside. As I mentioned in earlier posts, layering is very popular this season and I would layer these socks over dark, opaque tights, paired with a mini-dress or mini-skirt and flats.

Because they're covering up your calves, you still want to show off part of your legs. A few weeks ago I was doing some shopping and found a lot of very cheap, very cute pairs of tights at Target and JC Penney, so if you're on a tight budget I'd check out those stores first. If you're looking for a pair that will last forever and "hold you in", try these tights from Spanx. If you've never tried Spanx before, they are amazing. You will lose at least a couple inches off your waist, hips and thighs and they hide panty lines under skirts and pants.

Stay away from the schoolgirl look by wearing skirts that are fairly close to the body, nothing full or pleated. You want to have a clean line from your hips to your feet. Because knee socks are casual, wear them with casual skirts or dresses. Check out this cute black denim mini or this casual menswear mini. On top you can wear a comfy cardigan or wrap sweater or layered long-sleeved t-shirts.

For a more mod look, pair your socks and tights with a shift dress, another hot trend for fall. Here are two great dresses,

Me & You Wool Pinafore Dress

Forever 21 Waist Tab Dress

Don't forget the flats! The socks will look silly with heels, so check out my previous post on flats.

Meet The Parents

There are few things in a relationship more stressful than meeting your significant other's parents. You've been dating for some time, things are going well, you've met each other's friends...and then the parents come to town. Or it's Thanksgiving and your girl/boyfriend wants you to meet the family. Despite all the prepping you've done (don't mention this, this or this, emphasize this and that), you still have no idea whether they'll like you, and there's always the fear that if they hate you, the relationship is over.

But it doesn't have to be that way! Here are a few guidlines for making the big event as painless and successful as possible:

If you can, try to make the first meeting with the parents or siblings alone. It's the divide and conquer principle: it's easiest to get them to like you if you can focus your attention on one or two people at a time. Also, you're going to want to show different sides of your personality to different people. With parents, grandparents or older family members, you're going to want to be exceedingly polite, wear something conservative and respectable and show off how wholesome you are. If you're meeting siblings closer to your own age, you'll want to seem relaxed and cool.

Do your research. Find out as much about the likes and dislikes of each person you're meeting beforehand. This will give you good material for conversation. Even if you already know the answers to the questions, ask them anyway. People love to talk about themselves. For example: Uncle Bob works for General Motors. You ask, "Mr. Smith, Michael tells me that you work in the auto industry. What do you do?"

Use formal titles unless people insist otherwise. It's always better to err on the formal side as it shows respect. If the parent/grandparent/other relative really wants you to call them by their first name, they'll usually make it clear pretty quickly.

Keep your expectations reasonably low. Don't expect to win the hearts and minds of every family member after one dinner, the goal should be that they think you're acceptable. You'll have later opportunities to show how amazing you are, but because you don't know these people yet, play it safe and just try not to offend anyone.

Stay away from any sort of PDA. It's gross to see your parents kissing, so I think you can assume that they don't want to see you kissing either. Hand holding or arm around the shoulder is probably acceptable though.

Understand your place. Ignore anything that strikes you as offensive, as it won't do you any good to argue. If someone is making racist comments or tries to convert you, just nod and smile (or just do nothing, if it's so bad you can't even do that). If they ask you questions directly that are offensive, try to change the subject or politely explain that you don't feel comfortable talking about the subject.

Pile on the compliments. Don't come off as insincere, but make sure you compliment each person at least a few times. It can be as simple as "Mrs. Jones, I love your scarf, where did you get it?" or "This cake looks fantastic." If you hate someone and can't think of anything to compliment them on, just respond to one of their stories or comments with "that's so interesting, I didn't know that about you." By the same token, don't do this if you are or are going to seem insincere. There are few things more annoying (and less effective) than an inauthentic suckup.

Feign ignorance when people bring up family secrets. Even if they aren't really secrets, you want to pretend you haven't heard any bad things about anyone. If someone says "I'm sure Katie told you about what Uncle Mark did last year", respond with "no, she didn't" even if it was all over the local news for weeks.

Don't forget the thank you note. If someone has cooked for you, paid for your meal or given you a present, you should send them a paper thank you note within 24 hours of your meeting. Thank you notes are extremely underrated, and are almost always an excellent way of expressing how much you enjoyed meeting your SO's parents. Thank them specifically for what they did and don't forget to mention how much you enjoyed meeting everyone. If you had a terrible time, suck it up and lie.

Meeting the parents shouldn't be a traumatic experience, or even material for slapstick gags in a mildly funny movie franchise. Do your best to follow these basic points, and you're very likely to make a good impression. And who knows, you might even have a good time.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Facebook/MySpace Flirtation

Oh Facebook. You've provided me with unknown hours of procrastination and given me so many ways to stalk old friends and new enemies. But you are also the source of creepy behavior, in particular, the abuse of the "poke". I was recently poked (what does this mean anyway? even Facebook acknowledges that it's completely random) by a guy I have no connection to, who ironically attends the same college my boyfriend recently graduated from. There was no message attached to his poke, but his profile did contain this telling statement:

"Interests: Probably NOT you - but if I had to write a newspaper personal, it would read something like this:

Handsome, cultured, intellectual with a big dick seeks beautiful women in a long term, committed relationship for the purpose of making boyfriend/husband insanely jealous; for the purpose of securing diamonds, jaguars, new home in prestigious area or beach front property. Multi-orgasm training included at no additional charge."

I kid you not.

I agree that Facebook (and its sketch-ay cousin MySpace) is a great tool for meeting new people, including potential dates or hook ups, and I don't resent anyone for using the site for these purposes. But if you're going to try to flirt online, there have to be some guidelines.

First, you don't want to sound desperate, despite how desperate you may be (I go to a women's college so trust me, I have seen desperation). Although it can be used in a similar way, Facebook and MySpace are not dating sites, so don't use your profile to discuss who you're looking for and what you have to offer, etc. Just discuss your interests and show your personality and (assuming you're not a huge mess) you should get at least a few responses.

Make sure your profile states what you're looking for in a relationship: that you're single and looking for dating, a relationship, whatever you can get, etc.

You don't want to make it sound like you're poking or messaging every cute girl or guy within a 20 mile radius. If you have a gazillion friends and lots of flirtatious posts on your wall (or message board), people won't take your flirtation very seriously.

Send a personalized message with your friend request and use self-deprecating humor. It doesn't hurt to insist that you're not a stalker.

Speaking of poking, don't poke! It's lame! Send a quick message or just add the person as a friend.

If you are single and hope that people contact you, make sure your profile is fairly detailed, so that people who've never met you can get a feel for who you are and what you're into. This includes the picture. If you're trying to meet someone on Facebook or MySpace, you have to have a good picture. This does not include pictures from your childhood, a picture of a celebrity or any photo where your face and/or body are partly hidden. Don't expect people to want to meet you if they have no idea what you look like, because I assure you they'll assume the worst.

Don't be offended if no one responds. As I said earlier, Facebook and MySpace are not dating sites and many people are still a little uncomfortable with the idea of meeting total strangers through the sites. If you want to try online dating for real, use JDate or

Monday, November 06, 2006

New Feature

I've really enjoyed writing this blog and I have no intention of stopping anytime soon, but I've made some changes as of late that I hope will improve the blog and your experience reading it.

I'm trying to make Faking Good Breeding an INTERACTIVE blog. I love it that people comment, but I'd like to make the site more entertaining and useful, so that I'm not just blabbing on about what comes up in my life. There's a link to my e-mail address on the right sidebar, and I'm hoping that people will use it to send me fashion/style/etiquette/anything questions or ideas for posts. Let me know what information you're ok with me posting and though I can't promise I'll get to everything, I'll try to answer as many questions that I think other people may share or just things that seem fun to talk about. Oh, and don't send me anything stupid or hate mail (yes hippie woman who lectured me about the gender politics of leg shaving, I'm talking to you!), I'll just ignore it.

So, let the games begin!

Getting Ready For A Big Event

I absolutely love having the opportunity to get dressed up for an important event, even if it doesn't happen as often as I'd like. I love the feeling when I walk out the door and feel great about myself, even if it's just for a night out with my friends. You don't have to be up for an Oscar to want to look your best; you should put in the effort to feel confident and glamorous anytime you're attending something that's important to you.

As promised, today I'm going to write about looking your best for a special occasion. Because each event is unique and may require a different look (a Halloween party vs a formal wedding for instance), I'm not going to set any hard rules for what you should or should not do. But I do have some tips to make prepping for the event as easy and painless as possible.

First, don't try to be someone you're not. If you just don't feel like yourself when you wear makeup, don't wear it. You'll be uncomfortable and you won't be able to enjoy yourself as much. Do what you can to maximize your confidence, while still looking appropriate for the event. Which brings me to my next point...

Do your research to find out the dress code in advance. If it's not listed on the invitation or explained to you when someone calls you, feel free to contact the person hosting the event to ask. Under or over-dressing for an event will make you feel self-conscious.

Don't be afraid to get help. If you're going to an event where a lot of focus is on you, consider getting your makeup (and possibly hair) done professionally. Make an appointment to have your makeup done for free at a department store cosmetics counter (I'm a big fan of Bobbi Brown and MAC) or Sephora. Make sure you explain what kind of look you'd like, what you're wearing and what the event is. When they're finished, you're obligated to purchase at least one product (I usually pick up the lipstick they used so I can touch up my lips later in the night). Often having someone else do your makeup (even a trusted friend or family member) will save you time and frustration if you're not very good on your own (and I'm certainly not).

Give yourself a lot of extra time. Every time I put off getting ready for something until the last minute, I end up gashing myself shaving or getting mascara on my shirt, or something that results in me scrambling around like a mad woman. If you feel rushed, you're likely to forget something important, so budget your time well.

Don't try anything for the first time. This applies mainly to cosmetics, beauty products and shoes. I've gotten allergic reactions to products I've worn for the first time while getting ready for special events, and it was a disaster. If you buy a new pair of shoes for an event, wear them around the house for a few hours in the week before the event. You may find out that they hurt like hell, and it's better to wear a better pair than to suffer all night.

Be prepared for activities that require special items.
If your daughter is getting married, make sure to use waterproof mascara. If you're going to be on your feet a lot, don't wear uncomfortable high heels.If you're going to an outdoor event, bring an umbrella. Plan accordingly so that you're able to participate in everything.

Special occasions offer people the rare opportunity (for most of us, at least) to look and feel our best. By giving yourself the time and effort you devote to other people or things, I guarantee you'll enjoy the event far more.