1. Always have your favorite book ready to name.
And make sure it’s not a terribly written trending piece like 50 Shades, but instead a literary work of fiction that says you’re intelligent and not creepy. When I was asked what my favorite book was by an incredibly powerful man who I was interviewing with, my mind went completely blank. After being pressed, I spit out the last thing I read— Gone Girl. Then, when pressed more about “classic literature” I replied with Crime and Punishment. I was beginning to look like a serial killer during my interview for a nanny job.
2. Know important acronyms.
Sure, there’s a lot in the world, but get to know the basics. I met a man once on an airport shuttle and we struck up a conversation. Things were going fine until he said, “I’m getting my MBA.” And I said, “That’s great! In what?” But I digress. I was only 18 years old, it’s fine.
3. Don’t assume anything about people’s photos.
Once, at a family doctor’s office, I commented about the children in the photograph at his desk. “Your kids are adorable!” And he replied, “That’s my niece. I’m not even married.” I unwittingly struck a nerve, and our appointment was suddenly cut short.
4. Similarly, don’t assume people are related or dating.
At an intimate brunch gathering, I grabbed coffee in the kitchen and met a man at my professor’s home. “You must be her husband! I’ve heard so much about you!” He replied, “I’m her son.” My professor was 83.
5. Stick to gender-neutral pronouns.
At lunch with a friend and her coworker, a woman showed me a picture of her child. “He’s too cute! But I thought Stacey said you had a baby girl…?” Her reply: “I do. This is Abigail.”
6. Don’t work out before a body appointment.
Whether you’re getting a massage, a Brazilian, or a spray tan, sweating is going to ruin the experience for you. I took a 7:30 spin class and had a 9:00 spray tan. I thought all would be fine— I’d have just the right amount of time to go home, shower, and walk over to the appointment. Unfortunately, my body heat was still elevated, and, once naked in front of the technician, I could feel sweat beading up and dripping from my body. She kept politely dabbing me, wondering if the room was too hot, then brought in several fans to try and stop the overflow of liquids. She kept asking if I thought it was too hot in the room and I kept telling her no no, it’s fine, as I continued to bead up with water spots all over my back and chest.
7. Know the company you want to work for.
When I was 17, I toyed with the idea of going to cosmetology school. I liked doing makeup, though wasn’t particularly talented at it. Still, I was confident enough to apply to MAC Cosmetics at my local mall. I got an interview the next day, and went in with what I thought was a heavy face of makeup (I was trying to fit in, obviously). The second my interviewer stepped out, though, I knew how dowdy I must have looked. Not only did she ask me what the MAC Campaign was about (which I think I simply said, celebrities endorsing your products! and not AIDS awareness), she asked if I would consider wearing a less natural look; more dramatic. With her vaudeville-inspired makeup and corset top with fishnet bottoms, I think we both knew this wasn’t a good fit. After the perfunctory “we’ll call you” goodbye, I walked back to my car wondering what I was thinking.
8. Always wear underwear.
Oh sure, you think this is a given? Well, when it’s laundry day, sometimes you have to go commando to run out and grab a few groceries. Just make sure it’s not a windy day. And you’re not in a dress. And there’s not a group of teenaged boys walking in full-moon view behind you.
9. Set boundaries, even with your parents.
On a road trip up north around age 13, my mother was exploring different colleges she wanted to consider transferring to. We stopped at a local restaurant for dinner and after we ate, my mom was clawing at me after saying she thought she saw something on my face. All of a sudden she started popping a zit on my nose. Mortified, I went into the bathroom as the guy at the cash register asked me, “Did you get it?”
10. Read all signs.
Besides body language, it is always important to be aware of your surroundings and read simple signage, like “women” or “men” or even “do not enter.” This will save you embarrassment when you walk into the men’s locker room at a fancy country club; a club filled with old white men with sagging breasts and small white towels (thankfully enough to cover their junk) who ask you, “Are you lost, honey? There’s plenty room in here!” then cackle in a crude way that makes you feel dirty and stupid.