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Social etiquette in tight economic times

March 4, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Layoffs, late bills, unexpected expenses, they all make for sticky situations with friends these days. Do you ask how things are, or avoid the topics? And how do you handle it when you simply can't afford expensive invites anymore? The Emily Post Institute has some great ideas on how to keep from being uncomfortable or making others feel that way when it comes to "economy etiquette." After all, who doesn't know someone who is now looking for work and is having tough times?

Bruce McCord is unemployed, and he knows that talking about his job hunt with friends doesn't make for fun conversation, but he feels it's important to reach out to others.

"Some of my friends are in the industry, so I like to talk to them to see if they possibly have any contacts or know of anything," said McCord.

Whether you're doing the talking or the listening, unemployment can be an uncomfortable subject. Peggy Post, with the Emily Post Institute, says the etiquette of this economy is creating a difficult dance for many.

"The principles of etiquette are being considerate, being respectful and being honest," said Post. "Those principles are more important than ever these days."

If you're out of work, before asking a friend for help, feel out the situation, filter what you say about your layoff, and make sure any anger is gone. If you have an acquaintance looking for a job, it's OK to acknowledge it, and then assist in any way you feel comfortable.

"Maybe you could help that person with a resume, or do some role-playing with interviewing," said Post.

What if the issue is eating out? Not everyone can afford to split a big bill. Try postponing plans until your finances are fixed.

"Sometimes we can even come up with an alternative: 'No, I can't really go to that expensive restaurant with you tonight but how about going to the more moderate restaurant?'" suggested Post.

Another sticky situation: Donating to a group gift or fundraiser.

"Be honest and say, 'I just can't do it right now, but thanks for asking,'" said Post.

Have an invite to an out-of-town event like a wedding or graduation that's not going to fit into the budget?

"Just RSVP and say 'I can't make it, sorry, have a great time'," said Post.

Either way, Post says it's appropriate to still try to send a token gift in your absence.

Bruce McCord says the caring from friends helps him through.

"It's always important, but yeah, especially now in hard times," said McCord.

Another situation that may drive you crazy is carpooling. If a neighbor is leaning on you more often than is fair, post suggests you speak up. And work out a schedule that's split evenly by time and money.


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