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These Etiquette Tips Will Help You Survive Your Next Reunion

These simple etiquette rules can keep your school reunions from being just as embarrassing and drama-filled as your old school days.

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Break the (virtual) ice

Your alma mater may have a Facebook page dedicated to reunions, but even if it doesn’t, you’re bound to find at least a few old classmates on popular social networks. Reaching out ahead of time will help clue you in to what your old friends, frenemies, and main squeezes are up to now (if you don’t already know from Facebook stalking, that is). These glimpses into their current day-to-day lives can provide you with safe, easy, conversation starters. “If you’re following each other on Facebook, it’s understood that you’ll see information and updates,” says modern-etiquette coach Maggie Oldham. “It’s perfectly acceptable reunion etiquette to acknowledge what you read online—as long as your friend request has been accepted by your old classmate and you aren’t acting like a stalker.” These conversation starters will make you instantly interesting.

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Stick to spritzers

Even if you’ve got a severe case of pre-reunion jitters, don’t try to grease the social wheels with a double martini before you even get there. “Overindulging in alcohol is a big etiquette don’t,” Oldham cautions. “Remember that social media is ever present, and that this is a network of people you know and care about. It is not anonymous, and neither will your actions be, if you overdo it.”

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Be your own, gorgeous self

Of course, you’ll want to look your very best, but don’t put pressure on yourself to lose 20 pounds in two weeks, get a facelift, or buy a toupee, in anticipation of your reunion. This also isn’t the time to go retro, trying to reclaim your old style (or age). Unless the reunion specifically states a particular mode of dress, leave your 1970s hippie garb, 1980s Madonna-wear, or 1990s grunge at home. Unless, of course, that’s the way you currently dress. Look great, and rock your current style. Striving to look the way you did back in high school is a bound-to-fail, etiquette don’t. When looking to make a good impression, avoid the styling mistakes that can make you look messy.

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Hello, I love you, won’t you tell me your name?

It’s bound to happen—an old pal enthusiastically greets you by name, and you draw a complete blank. Did you know each other from art class? Driver’s ed? Detention? Let’s face it, nobody looks the way they did back in the day. As embarrassing as this situation might feel, it’s not uncommon, and it’s completely understandable. “If you don’t remember someone, the best thing you can do is be completely honest. Simply say, ‘I’m so sorry, but I just can’t recall your name.’ Most people will understand and not be offended,” Oldham says. Or try, “Remind me what class we were in together?” to jog your memory. Conversely, if someone doesn’t remember your name, don’t take it personally. “I don’t look that different than I did in high school, but several people didn’t recognize me. I was starting to feel a tad upset but then I remembered that even though my physical appearance wasn’t all that different, my social skills were,” recalls web designer Gerald Himes, class of ’92. “In school, I was painfully shy. I have much more confidence now. I think the new, improved me was unrecognizable to some old classmates.”

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Let bygones be, you know…

School kids are not known for their communication skills or ability to achieve closure. Now that you’re grown up, it’s possible you’ll have some still-tender-to-the-touch feelings about former classmates (think former bestie, student council rival, or first crush). “Go in with the best intentions, and try not to obsess about old, bad memories,” Oldham says. “You’ve changed so much since high school, and so has everyone else.” Focus on having a good time, remember what you currently have in your life, and let the past go.

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Let the snark (not) be with you

It wouldn’t be a reunion without at least a few scattered barbs and mean-spirited comments. If any of them are aimed at you, consider the source. “Is this coming from someone you’re not close to? Then, don’t let it upset you,” Oldham says. “People sometimes resort to snarky comments to feel better about themselves and to compensate for their lack of success. Make a joke about it or ignore it, and move on.” Here’s how to navigate life’s embarrassing or awkward moments.

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Keep your questions neutral

If you already know about someone’s great job, children, or happy marriage, feel free to bring up those topics, but if you don’t know what someone is up to, keep your questions neutral. Not everyone has an interesting career or a seven-figure bank account. Not everyone makes it to the altar or has children. Some people don’t want kids; others are unable to have them. The childless among you might include the girl in math class who never stopped talking about her dream of being a mom, so make no assumptions about what life threw at her, and talk about neutral topics like movies or pop culture instead. Or ask broad questions like “What have you been up to?”

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Keep your answers neutral

If you find yourself on the receiving end of an insensitive question, take a deep breath before responding, and don’t feel compelled to provide full explanations. Be matter-of-fact and give simple yes or no answers, if you can. Also feel free to suddenly notice someone you haven’t spoken to yet on the other side of the room, or a delicious hors d’oeuvre you must nab, and excuse yourself from the conversation.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Corey Whelan
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer and reproductive health professional who has worked with infertility patients and adopting parents for over 25 years. Her work has been featured in multiple media outlets, including Reader’s Digest, The Healthy, Healthline, CBS Local, and Berxi. Follow her on Twitter @coreygale.