Newport Manners & Etiquette: Halloween Dos + Don’ts

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


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When the treats are very small, kids take more than one, but when in doubt, they should know to ask.

The etiquette of What to call my husband's mom? Neighborhood trick-or-treat manners. Handling ghouling family members and wearing white in October? All haunting topics into Didi Lorillard at this week before Halloween.

Don't call me mom

Dear Didi,

What do I call my mother-in-law? Mother B, mom, Mother Alice? Now that her son and I are married after a three-year courtship and many delicious meals at her house, do I still say, "Mrs. Brown," or call her what my husband calls her, which is mom? L.B., Manhattan

Dear L.B.,

It would be best to ask her. Actually, it is your in-laws who should be asking you to call them by their first name. She's not your mom, so don't call her that unless she insists, and you don't have a mom of your own. Say, "I'm new at this, do I still call you Mr. and Mrs. Brown?" At that point a gracious lady would say, "Linda, dear, please call us Ted and Alice." Remember, should you decide to have kids, you'll be revisiting the same dilemma of what to call 'grandmother.' ~Didi

Schmoozing with relatives

Dear Didi,

What kind, brief comments could be made to another bitter, hostile family member? K.N., Hyannis, MA

Dear K.N.,

It is easiest to win them over with honey rather than vinegar. People like to be complimented and appreciated. If this is a face-to-face encounter, then immediately focus on something you can compliment. It can be an accomplishment such as a published piece or as simple as an article of clothing, say, a scarf or tie. Give people what they want. Everyone always appreciates a compliment.

When appropriate, congratulate the person on a milestone such as a birthday, anniversary, marriage, or birth of a new family member. Put a smile on their face by saying something pleasant, but be specific and ask the baby's name, etc. You never go wrong when you go up the ladder in terms of being friendly and kind. In other words, take the high road over and over again until they give in and warm to you. It may sound as though you're enabling and accommodating them, but the narcissist doesn't see this.

If this someone is an arrogant, selfish, narcissist, they probably like hearing their own voice, so ask questions to keep them talking. However, don't fall into their attitude of seeing the glass as always half empty. Try to lead with how you feel first. "I love coming here to Granny's for Thanksgiving, it makes me feel that I'm really home." Then highlight something unique about them to make them feel special. "You always bring the best wines." Lastly, try humor. A man I know always has a new short, funny story to tell that makes even the dourest dowager and crankiest curmudgeon smile. ~Didi

Halloween Dos + Don'ts

Dear Didi,

This is my husband's and my first Halloween in our new neighborhood and we don't have kids yet, what's our obligation to the trick-or-treaters? K.R., Middletown

Dear K.R.,

The friendliest and most familiar signal is when an outside light is left on and the inside house lights are lit as well, inviting children under thirteen to trick-or-treat. Whether you're displaying a simple carved pumpkin or your property is covered with spider webs and ghosts, don't go too scary because you really don't want to frighten the littlest ones.

Some neighbors leave a basket of candy on the front porch/step until nine o'clock so the trick-or-treaters can help themselves. Others want to interact with them and have a basket/bowl inside the front door and the child gets to ring the door bell or knock the knocker to say, "Trick-or-treat?" The response is "Treat," as you hold out the bowl of individually wrapped candy and let them pick and choose. Parents role play with small children ahead of time to say, "Thank you." Your response is: "You're welcome."

When the treats are very small, kids take more than one, but when in doubt, they should know to ask. It's OK to engage the monsters and witches in light conversation: Who are you tonight? Are you Cinderella? Are you Sponge Bob? Then bid them on their way with a "Happy Halloween." Read the labels on the wrapped candy ahead of time to learn which ones are nut free. Candy with peanuts, walnuts, almonds, seeds, etc., are kept in a separate basket. Eagle-eyed parents will check the ingredients listed on the wrapper before letting their child unwrap the candy. When you've had enough treating or you've run out of treats, bring in the basket and turn off the most visible lights.

It goes without saying that you would never invite a child into your house to choose her/his treat, or offer treats that are not individually wrapped and properly labeled. ~Didi

Wearing white in October

Hi Didi,

May I wear a white designer pants suit to an outdoor luncheon on October 30, 2013 - for the opening celebration of a new wing of a hospital in Santa Monica, California. We are guests of the couple who donated the wing. My concern is the white in October. Help! Thank you, Julienne, Los Angeles

Dear Julienne,

I would like it better if your pantsuit was a cream-colored white or winter white, rather than a bright white, because in October we're into fall colors. You can definitely wear your white pantsuit, just be sure to wear a blouse underneath that is a lovely color, such as a lavender or marigold, so you don't look like a surgical nurse or doctor, if you're not one. ~Didi


Do you have a question to ask Didi? Email it to [email protected] or visit her at If we use your question, we can withhold your name and address. Didi researches etiquette and all matters of manners for her book, “Newport Etiquette." Prior weekly columns are listed below. More topics can be accessed through a search.


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