16 Dec 2022

Etiquette in a Cost-of-living Crisis

Some of us will be contemplating the prospect of the Christmas season, and the winter cold, with trepidation, worried about rising costs of food and rocketing energy prices.

We may already have turned our homes into a battleground, where ‘thermostat wars’ are being waged with grim determination. All too often in a family or household, there is a division between the austere, economical, tough-it-out school of thought, and the opposing faction who loathe feeling cold, and whose only recourse as temperatures plummet is to turn up the thermostat and hunker down next to a radiator. People who are prepared to tolerate the cold are likely to espouse the virtues of exercise, thermal underwear and thick sweaters. Heat-lovers feel under attack and may become defensive about their stance. Teenagers, who like nothing more than spending hours in their rooms communicating with a range of electronic devices, are likely to demand that the heating is turned up high and be resistant to the warm sweater argument.

Clearly the solution lies somewhere in the middle ground. No one person in a collective household should be able to dictate temperature parameters to fellow householders, but it would certainly be a good idea to talk about the challenges and negotiate a collective agreement about heating and energy use. Compromises will need to be made: the Spartan may have to concede that the living room should be well heated in the evenings; the comfort-lover may have to accept that the heating will be turned down in the day and hot water bottles, woolly blankets etc will have to be deployed. Teenagers should be reminded about household economy, global warming etc, but you may have to accept that their acquiescence will be grudging at best.

A family, couple or shared household may well be able to reach an acceptable compromise, if they take everybody’s views into consideration. But what happens when you invite other people into your home?

Christmas Hosting

The very essence of hosting is making sure your guests are comfortable. This means ensuring that they have been well fed, that they have been offered drinks at regular intervals, that they have somewhere relaxing to sit. Hosts should always be super-vigilant about the well-being of their guests. This goes well beyond monitoring empty plates and glasses. It also means looking out for tell-tale signs of fidgeting and discomfort and, above all, clear demonstrations that a guest is feeling the cold – shivering, sitting as close to the radiator as possible, piling on extra clothing are all clues that should not be ignored. This is especially important when you are entertaining elderly relatives, which is often the case at Christmas.

You may have settled on an economical approach to heating your home, but you will need to reappraise this over the Christmas season, and you will probably have to accept that – for a few days at least – your rules will have to be abandoned, and heating will need to be liberally provided.

If you are appalled by the impact that this will have on your energy bills, you may be able to offset some of these costs by taking your guests up on their offer to “bring something”. This standard request is conventionally offered, and frequently brushed aside. But this year, consider actually taking guests at their word, and politely asking them if they would mind bringing, for example, cheese, mince pies, a Christmas pudding, wine and so on. You don’t need to apologise – everyone knows that Christmas is a hard slog for the host, and they will genuinely want to contribute. Many guests will appreciate the opportunity to help because they feel uncomfortable in the role of passive recipient of Christmas largesse.

There are other ways in which you can control energy use over Christmas without inflicting discomfort on your guests. If they are staying overnight, you could only put on radiators in their bedrooms in the evening and ask them politely to turn them off in the daytime – most people will be joining in with the family festivities for most of their stay and not in their rooms, although elderly relatives might appreciate ‘time out’, in which case you will need to ensure their rooms are warm and cosy. You can always offer your guests hot water bottles….

No matter what, there will probably be someone in your Christmas party who feels the cold, so make sure you’re well-equipped with warm woollen throws and blankets, sheepskin lined slippers, woollen socks and so on. Show your guests where to find them, and invite them to help themselves if the need arises.

You may fear that, despite your best efforts, your house will be cold this Christmas – maybe it is old and draughty, or we might be in the middle of an Arctic blast. It’s fine to text or call your guests beforehand and explain that you’ll be doing your best to counteract the winter chill, but it might be a good idea to pack thermals and woollens, just in case. As long as recommending a DIY heating solution to your guests isn’t your only option, nobody will accuse you of being a bad host.


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