It has always been wrong to decline an invitation with a lie —particularly when you’re going to another party on the same date. “I’d love to attend your eggnog happy hour," you might fib, “but I’ve been uncomfortable around the stuff since an unfortunate high school incident involving an excess of eggnog and an unforgettable queasy stomach."

Business etiquette: You’re expected to show up at office parties.

How do I turn down an invitation to my office party?

“If it’s an office party, the answer is never no," says Diane Gottsman, who owns the Protocol School of Texas in the US. “Certainly, if your sister is getting married or someone is in the hospital, those are extenuating circumstances. But it’s a dicey situation to decline. It’s business, and you’re expected to show up, to mix and mingle, and make a good impression on your boss and your clients.

What’s the best way to decline an invitation to a holiday party or dinner?

“It is perfectly fine to say, ‘I already have other plans,’ " notes GiGi Lewis, founding director of the Club Etiquette of Houston. “Those plans might be staying at home in your slippers, but that’s OK."

Gottsman, a nationally recognized etiquette expert based in San Antonio, agrees, adding: “Never start a decline with, ‘Please don’t be mad.’ That means that you deserve to have someone be angry with you. Simply say, ‘Thank you for the gracious invitation, but I have other plans.’ "

Friends and family have come to expect an annual invitation to my holiday party, but I’m tired of hosting one every year. What’s the best way to end this long-standing tradition?

Being honest is the best way, Gottsman says—no excuses or feigned illnesses. “Say, ‘I want to shake it up a little, if you don’t mind. So I’m not going to host this year.’ Tell people you want to spend a quiet night at home, or that you hope to be invited someplace else." Give people as much notice as possible—a month is optimal—to get used to the shift in tradition, so they have time to make alternative plans.

I’m tired of attending the same holiday party with the same group of people every year, but I’m nervous about bucking tradition. What’s the best way to get out of an event where my presence is taken for granted?

We all have the right to choose what we want to do, Lewis says—it’s a matter of not offending the other person. “You could say, ‘I can’t do that this year but I appreciate your thinking of including me.’ "

But if it’s a family tradition you intend to break, you have to anticipate hurt feelings, Gottsman says. “You can say, ‘Mom, I want to start a new tradition for our new baby,’ or something like that. Just be honest. You can make alternative plans to see your loved ones."

A friend has asked if his family can stay at my house for a few days during the holidays. The request comes at an inconvenient time. How should I decline?

Gottsman advises: “Simply say, ‘Unfortunately, it’s not a good time for us to have overnight guests. I am sorry that I am not able to accommodate you, but I am happy to help you with a list of some moderately priced hotels that are centrally located and convenient to museums and the theatre.’ "

I have been invited to a holiday party, but I’m expecting an invitation for another party that I’d rather attend on the same evening. Can I buy myself some time responding to the first invite?

Yes, a little. According to Gottsman: “If you aren’t sure what your plans are and are hoping for a big invitation to a coveted event, say, ‘Thanks for thinking of me, I have to take a look at my calendar before I can commit. I will call you by tomorrow afternoon.’ You can’t wait too long or it appears that you are still shopping your options."

©2011/the New York Times

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