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Lives of Doctor Wives: Survivor Saturdays: Not So Elementary Etiquette

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Survivor Saturdays: Not So Elementary Etiquette

Going from young wife to Mrs. MD can be a real culture shock. There's no training and everyone seems to expect you to know how to behave. Even worse, you may have unreasonable expectations of yourself. You can't ignore etiquette, but don't get so hung up on what is proper and fail to be yourself. I break rules of etiquette all the time, sometimes because I forget, and sometimes because it seems inappropriate. I'm left-handed so if I'm around friends, I switch my drinks to the left side (so I don't have to reach over my food). I also seem to pass the food in the wrong direction more often than not... so what?! I don't talk with my mouth full, and I've only spilled a drink once. In an effort to make your transition a little easier though, I put together a few tips to help you gracefully grow into your new title.

The most common place where etiquette counts is the dinner party. Before you leave for an event, make sure you have at least $10 in ones for tips, and a hostess gift if you're going to someone's home. Your spouse is likely to forget, so consider this your responsibility.

HUSBAND HINT: Your husband should tip at least $1 to the valet who parks his car, $1 to the valet who retrieves his car, $1 to the person who watched his coat in coat check, and $1 for every drink he ordered from the cocktail bar. Some physicians are embarrassed handing only a dollar when they make so much money and may tip more according to their generosity.

"... have you met my wife?"
How do you want people to think of you? Do you want to be the shy wife who blends in with the wallpaper? Most young doctors wives are shy and nearly invisible at gatherings, but the few who show their personality light up the room! It's perfectly acceptable to be either one, but decide ahead of time so you can start things off on the right foot. If you want to show you're outgoing, offer a handshake as you're being introduced (always from a standing position) and say more than a simple "hello." Some male doctors won't shake your hand unless it's offered. It's perfectly alright to introduce yourself, too, if someone is standing alone. If you are friends with a female doctor, introduce them as Dr. ___ ___ even though you normally call her by her first name. If you're attending a party in someone's home, don't arrive empty-handed. I bottle of wine is always a great gift, but unique and inexpensive gifts are more memorable. Consider stocking up on good hostess gifts such as a pretty butter knife, table candle, or fancy kitchen soap/lotion.

HUSBAND HINT: Your husband should introduce higher ranking people to lower ranking people, not the other way around. He should also never shake a woman's hand unless she offers it first. For an explanation, see That Which We Call a Handshake. If a cocktail bar is available, your husband should offer to get others a drink when he goes for his own.

"... are you going to eat that?"
Dinner etiquette shouldn't prevent you from enjoying the meal. As long as you don't double dip, eat off someone else's plate, or blow your nose at the table, no one is likely to remember you for bad manners. That being said, there are some good rules to follow so everyone has a good time. It begins with being seated. If you're at a table with a host, do whatever the host does. If there is no host at the table, wait for everyone to be seated before reaching for a napkin. Food and dishes always come in from the left and leave to the right, so pass food to the right. If a waiter is delivering something new, he will likely approach you from the left. Likewise, at the end of a course, the empty dishes will likely be removed from the right. If you're eating buffet-style, it is polite to begin eating when at least four people have their food. Another easy rule to keep in mind is that you eat from the left, and drink from the right. In other words, your butter plate, dessert, etc. should be to your left and your water, wine, coffee should be to your right. If someone makes the mistake of using your bread plate, don't point out the blunder. Simply use the side of your dinner plate instead. If you want a refresher course just prior to an event, check out this Dining Etiquette Guide. Now that all this information has been given, you should know that doctors tend to break rules of etiquette more than most and these rules may fly out the window with the announcement to be seated.

HUSBAND HINT: If your husband is near a dish to be passed, he should offer the dish to the woman to his right and expect to be the last one to receive it. If you are that woman, you may offer for him to serve himself before you pass it to the right. If the food is being delivered to the table and at least four people have been served, your husband should invite those served to begin without him so their food doesn't get cold. If your husband is used to eating some of your food and this is not a battle you want to fight, compromise by teaching him to discretely switch plates with you rather than eating off of your plate (but never do this during a business dinner such as an interview).

"... so, tell me about yourself"
Conversation is usually the point to a gathering, whether it's a holiday party or a dinner interview. This is where friendships begin, office politics are put aside, and opinions are explored. Have some topics ready to talk about so you don't look like a mannequin. Find out what's new in the community, be aware of upcoming events, or be prepared to share something interesting you recently did. If conversation takes off into a discussion mostly in latin, turn to the nearest spouse and ask a question they're sure to be able to answer, such as "have you heard anything about that new restaurant in town?" or "are you planning any fun vacations?" Don't try to talk medicine with the pros! If there is no spouse around, wait for a break in the conversation and ask the physician something about him/herself, such as "where did you go to school?" or "how long have you been with ___ Medical Center?" It's a great way to be friendly without knowing anything about the person. If someone asks you about yourself, don't sell yourself short by saying you just stay home. Tell them what you like to do, how you met your husband, how many children you have... paint a picture of yourself. If you're new in town, take that opportunity to tell them you don't know many people and you would appreciate help getting connected. This is an opportunity for you to open the door to invite them over later.

HUSBAND HINT: Talking business is unavoidable, but your husband should make a conscious effort to keep it short and include everyone in a conversation when possible. If someone else is speaking (especially if it's a superior), he should not interrupt the other person or try to over-talk them. Listen more. Talk less. Doctors are so used to giving their opinion that they often don't know when one is uncalled for.

"... it was nice meeting you."
The end of the night is usually the most fun. The men have taken off their jackets and the women have probably kicked their shoes off under the table. Before you leave the party, make rounds to say goodbye to people who were especially friendly. Also, say goodbye to people you intended to approach earlier but weren't able to. Lastly, thank those who were in charge of the party and don't ignore the lower ranking people who probably did most of the work. If the party was held in someone's home, send a written thank-you in the mail the next day or two. If you made any new friends, be sure to call them within a week or two so they don't think you forgot about them.

HUSBAND HINT: Your husband should make an effort to say goodnight to spouses of superiors. He should also get your coat for you, get the car ready, and tip accordingly.

Dinner parties should be fun, so don't let a few judgmental people steal your fun. So you fumble here and there... those around you will still enjoy your company. More strict rules of etiquette apply to political and community events, job interviews, and business mixers. I'll have to cover those in another post since most of it applies to the high profile spouse.

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13 Comments:

Blogger twinkles said...

Great tip Kathi! Thanks. Proper etiquette seems so complicated!!!

August 8, 2009 at 8:32 AM  
Blogger Behrmans said...

Who would have known all those things. Thanks for sharing.

August 8, 2009 at 9:48 AM  
Blogger Amanda said...

Thanks for sharing, Kathi! I'm always confused about etiquette, especially when I'm at a fancy dinner/party. I may have to share some of this with my spouse...just in case he's not aware of some of the tips. ;)

August 8, 2009 at 10:11 AM  
Blogger Married to a med student - Marissa Nicole said...

Thanks so much!

August 8, 2009 at 10:56 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

This is absolutely fantastic. Thanks so much for your play-by-play of how these things should be approached! As someone who grew up in very humble (but well-educated) circumstances, these tips are golden. I love that your emphasis is on being a good listener and a respectful, gracious guest.

August 8, 2009 at 11:19 PM  
Blogger Alexandra said...

I love it! Thank you! I will be passing this along to the hubster so he can refresh himself on what his role is.

August 8, 2009 at 11:52 PM  
OpenID joz1234 said...

very helpful, thanks. I ran into the buffet style problem and when to eat when we were at our graduation dinner this past year. I didn't know whether we should start or not.

August 9, 2009 at 12:18 AM  
Blogger Timani said...

Great stuff! Thanks!

August 9, 2009 at 2:57 AM  
Blogger Rachel said...

Thanks for the tips! I will definitely refer back to this post before the next social gathering :)

August 9, 2009 at 11:43 PM  
Blogger Kathi Browne said...

My husband has a small handbook on business etiquette that said large tables can begin eating when at least four people are served. He was so excited to find proof he didn't have to wait to eat, so he shares that fact at about every large gathering we attend (lol).

August 10, 2009 at 9:59 AM  
Blogger Melisa said...

Kathi! What would we do without you?! Awesome job!

August 10, 2009 at 6:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Some physicians are embarrassed handing only a dollar when they make so much money and may tip more according to their generosity."

How would they know he was a doc unles she showed up in a white coat and steth? Just because you make more doesn't mean you have to tip more. Tip according to the quality of service and total bill.

August 14, 2009 at 8:13 PM  
Blogger Kathi Browne said...

In a public place, you're right Anonymous, nobody would know. I was referring to the typical Christmas party, or physician recognition event where everyone there is a peer. I'm not implying anyone should tip more because they make more. I'm just saying that some physicians feel that way and no one should feel obligated to do either one because someone else does. My husband always tipped the bartender well so he would keep the Maker's Mark stocked and not serve the cheap stuff (lol).

August 14, 2009 at 8:43 PM  

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