The Saddest Note of All: writing letters of condolence

This week’s subject comes from a reader. She wrote that someone she knows, but has not seen in a long time, recently passed away and she wanted to write a letter to his wife. However, she is struggling to find the right words and tone in English. Could I help?

First, may I say that letters of condolence are always difficult to write – whether it’s in your own language or another – not because of the grammar or vocabulary, but because you are dealing with emotions.  People often avoid writing them because they either don’t know what to say … Read the rest

How to give a great holiday toast in English

I love this time of year. Here in Frankfurt, we have the Christmas Market – which is one of the most wonderful things about living in this city. Then there are all the lovely Christmas parties I’m invited to. Some of these are business events, others are private parties. But the parties all have one thing in common: someone has to give the toast.

I’ve been to events where the toast was so good it had me close to tears. In that same vein, I’ve been to holiday parties where the toast was so bad, it also had me close … Read the rest

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

It’s more complicated than you think.


It’s December, and once again in the US there is a debate over whether one should say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”.  Since both are friendly greetings, you would think it shouldn’t be an issue.  Trust me, it is.

Huffington Post columnist Doyin Richards describes “happy holidays” as a greeting of inclusion because not everyone celebrates Christmas, even if they celebrate something between 24 December and 1 January.  On the other side of this argument, there are those for whom the phrase “happy holidays” is nothing more than political correctness gone berserk or … Read the rest