Oprah's Guide to Really Excellent Behavior

Oprah Magazine - December 2006

O's Guide to Really Excellent Behavior

What Do You Do if...
a friend flirts with your husband? Your brother gets the table your mother promised you? From spills to spats, 13 experts show you how to get out of social mayhem.

Meet Miss (Ms., Mrs., Mr.) Manners
Thirteen experts navigate life's touchy, awkward, and most confounding social scenarios (page 293).

A former fashion insider, competitive ballroom dancer, and freelance makeup artist, Samantha von Sperling combined her skills to open Polished Social Image Consultants in 2000.

Aah, the holidays! Gifts, cocktail parties, glasses raised, wine spilled, and families thrown together, often in very, very small rooms. Now's the season when questions of right behavior baffle us the most. So we've gathered a crack team of experts to share advice on how to glide through any social through any social snafu – from which fork to use to the fine points of bedroom etiquette (fold the clothes? kill the lights?). These aren't guidelines to measure people against – or bludgeon them with. They're the ways we can signal welcome, compassion, and "No, really, you first." After all, what are good manners but goodwill made visible?

What to do if a friend...

... flirts outrageously with your husband

Don't let it get to you. Have confidence in your own fabulousness and the fact that your husband loves you. She's no match. But next time, maybe you don't invite her.

Samantha von Sperling

That's pretty cool! Be flattered. It means she finds your spouse attractive. But if your spouse flirts back, no wife should tolerate that. You have to tell him, "When you show X attention, it hurts me. I wouldn't do that to you."

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

She is not a friend. Dump her. Seriously.

Colleen Rush


... tells you she's going to marry the creep she's been dating

You might say, "I want you to know that I love you. If this guy makes you happy, then I'm happy for you. But if he ever doesn't make you happy, we'll get rid of him together.

Samantha von Sperling

Don't say he's a creep. Say, "Have you thought about what it's going to be like to be married to a man who doesn't want to work?" It's her choice - and it might work out. He may still be a creep, but he's the creep she loves.

Rose Murdock

If she is your friend, does she not already know that you think her fiancé is a creep?

Tim Gunn

A Vexing Inheritance Question

What do you do when a sibling has persuaded your mother to give him a table that your mother promised you?

You can say, "Mom, I know that Fred just asked you for the table, but don't you remember that you promised it to me at my wedding?" She might really have forgotten. My recommendation is no matter what is promised to you, live as if you were never to receive a dime. - Samantha von Sperling

Call your brother and say, "You know, I really wanted that table. If you ever decide you don't want it, please pass it along to me." Don't bring up the "Mom promised it to me" business, because that just invites one of those fights where you both regress to your 8-yer-old selves. In the end, it's just a table. - Colleen Rush

"Oh, you shouldn't have!"

What do you do when somebody you are close to gives you a really ugly present - and they visit often?

I make a big fuss, write them a thank-you note, and then hide it in the closet until the next time they visit. I do that twice. Then the thing has an unfortunate accident, and when they come again, I say, "My friend's kids knocked it over!" - Samantha von Sperling

Put it in some remote area like a guest bedroom. If you really can't find a place for it and they ask where it is, say, " I rotate things, and it's not out right now." - Harriette Cole

If it's an item of clothing, you could say: "I loved the sweater that you gave me, but when I tried it on, it dindn't look great on me. I took it back to the store to exchange it for another size/color, but they didn't have any more, so I purchased this, and I love it just as much. So thank you again!" - Tim Gunn

Be gracious. Say thank you and then pass it on. Make it the gift that keeps on giving. - Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Buy a second home and pretend the gift is there. - Nora Ephron

The Reluctant Reference

How do you tell someone you can't write a letter of reference for them?

I always say, "I haven't seen you for a while. I'd love to write the letter, but you're going to have to come over for an hour to catch me up." In sales techniques, this is called qualifying the prospect. You might not hear from them again. - Margaret Shepherd

I once told someone, "I'm sorry. I don't feel I'm the best person to do this for you." In another instance, I wrote the letter in such a way that the potential employer could easily read between the lines: For example, "John is educated and polite. He does very detailed work on small projects...." - Samantha von Sperling

The above are only excerpts from the article.