Social Etiquette and Good Manners/family etiquette


I have a small family. I am single. My brother, his wife and son are my only "family". My relationship with my brother use to be close. He now never picks up the phone to call me. Neither does his wife or son. I realize they are busy but I don't think that the "once in a blue moon" that we do speak on the phone that it should always be me doing the calling. My question is: with the holdiays coming, they typically invite me. How can I politely say "no thanks" to the invitation. My rationale is if there is really no relationship then don't call me to have an on-demand "family" when they need one or worse yet I don't want them inviting me out of obligation. (Note: my sister-in-law wears herself out around the holdidays with all the "entertaining" and has let it be known that it is a lot of work.) Also, my apartment can not accomodate and is confining so I have not entertained here in a long time.

Dear Rosalie:

Thanks for sharing your question with me.

Family is one of the most important things in our lives, and it is also one of the most challenging, emotional  and unpredictable. Rarely are things perfect nor do they meet all of our needs and expectations. Because you have enjoyed a close relationship with your brother in the past, you need to do everything in your power to keep that going and to roll your sister-in-law and your nephew into the mix.

This may mean on many (most?) occasions, you will have to give more than 50% to this effort, the two most obvious reasons being you are dealing with a busy couple with jobs and child rearing responsibilities/pressures and with a sister-in-law with self-imposed, unrealistic expectations for creating perfect holidays.  But let's be grateful for the holidays, because when they do roll around we feel obligated by tradition to gather and they give us the impetus to do so.

So, please don't view yourself as an "on-demand" relative.  Instead, think that you are fortunate to have immediate family and then work a little harder than you think you should have to in order to keep the relationship going. Unless your family relationship is truly toxic, it is worth the effort.

Think of ways you can get together that don't create an extra burden to your brother and sister-in-law. Plan a family outing where you are in charge of the coordination, perhaps a picnic at a local park with sandwiches from your favorite deli.  Or volunteer to babysit or plan a special excursion for you and your nephew. His parents will welcome a free afternoon, and you'll be creating an opportunity for a short, informal visit with them when you pick him  up or drop him off. Although your apartment is small, you could invite the couple in for a drink before going out to a restaurant. These small, informal get-togethers take the pressure off of everyone and will  allow you to focus on each other, instead of on a 20-pound turkey or gifts.

Consider the alternative if you don't make this effort.  Do you really want this relationship to evaporate? If you answer no to that question, then don't hesitate to contribute as much as 75-80% of the work to keep it going.  

Social Etiquette and Good Manners

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Nancy Mitchell


Social etiquette; Business etiquette; Entertaining etiquette; Wedding etiquette; Protocol, domestic (US) and international; Flag etiquette; Dining etiquette; Restaurant etiquette; Spa etiquette; Travel etiquette


Nancy R. Mitchell is a nationally recognized etiquette and protocol consultant and trainer with more than 30 years of experience in the field. She owns the firm The Etiquette Advocate and is an owner and founding partner of the firm Protocol Partners-Washington Center for Protocol. Currently, she is an adjunct faculty member at The George Washington University, where she developed and teaches protocol courses in the School of Business and the Career Center, and at Stratford University, Falls Church, VA. She serves also as protocol and special events consultant to the Library of Congress, the world’s largest library and cultural center. For 23 years, Mitchell was director of special events and protocol at the Library of Congress where she and her staff were responsible for planning and managing over 400 events each year. She coordinated the institution’s major special events, visits of heads of state and other distinguished visitors, galas, conferences and meetings. As the Library’s chief protocol advisor, Mitchell served as liaison to the White House, U.S Department of State, the Congress, the Supreme Court and other government agencies, embassies, academia and corporations.

Protocol and Diplomacy - International Protocol Association

Mitchell is quoted on matters of etiquette and protocol by CNN, ABC Nightline, Martha Stewart Living Radio, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Washington Business Journal, the Associated Press and Washingtonian magazine, has been featured on ABC Good Morning America, Fox News and National Public Radio, and is an etiquette columnist for, etiquette consultant to Alexandria Woman and to Engaged! magazine, and technical editor of Wedding Etiquette for Dummies (Wiley, 2010).

B.S., University of Utah, 1969

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