Monday, July 11, 2005
Etiquette and Courtesy
Here's a rant and a half for your Monday.

As a preface, I would just like to say that I'm not Emily Post or Miss Manners. I am aware that times have changes from the days of "at home visits" and "visiting cards."

But I don't think that all of etiquette's rules and general courtesy need to also go the way of the dodo. I have ranted in the past about certain people's misunderstanding of what R.S.V.P. is all about. It seems I must also offer the following guidelines to some adults who are clearly unclear on the concepts of etiquette and common courtesy.

This weekend I attended a party at the home of a friend. Upon arriving, I greeted the host and hostess, as is proper. I was invited to attend and they are friends. Naturally, as a guest in their home I was cognizant of the fact that my behavior reflects not only upon myself, but also on the host and hostess. Their invitation of me is really an introduction to others and implies their good opinion of me. Most people don't knowingly invite cretinous mouth-breathers into their homes, do they? (Okay, frat boys might, but adults with nice homes do not.)

The hostess of this event informed me that she never met a great many people at her party. This fact begs me to point out two errors of etiquette. First, if you are attending an event at the private home of someone unknown to you, you are duty-bound by courtesy to introduce yourself to the host and/or hostess. (In fact, as I've indicated above, you should still greet the host and hostess even if you were an invited guest.) Secondly, if there were people at this event that they did not invite, that means that some guests brought other guests. This re-invite is not necessarily gauche, however, it does necessitate the obligatory chat with the host "do you mind if I bring along so-and-so." Unless the circumstances are unusual, the host will not begrudge another head at the table, but, and do not misunderstand this, the choice is always that of the host or hostess. If he or she deems the additional guest undesirable, burdensome, or hesitates in any way, you must not bring this other person.

Next, if you are going to attend some function, you must make yourself part of the activities. As I've said before, your behavior reflects on your host and hostess. If you segregate yourself from the party, choosing only to associate with the party crashers you brought, you are not respecting your host and hostess. If the company you keep is so alluring, consider removing yourselves to your own private space instead of acting as though mingling with the others is beneath you.

Respect. I can't believe that I actually have to write this down, but it seems that I do. If you are invited to someone's home for an event, respect their property with more care than you might give your own. Ask for a coaster if you don't see one around. Ask where the trash can is if you don't see it, and for god's sake, throw away your trash. Do not leave their home littered with empty bottles and glasses sweating rings into the woodwork. Do not leave your plate unattended in some random corner of the house.

Do not, under any circumstances, make yourself too comfortable in their home. For example, don't go roaming around in the obviously private and clearly off-limits parts of the house. What are you, a Barbarian? This is despicable behavior! If you need to be private for a while, to breastfeed a babe in arms, repair a button, or return an important call, ask the hostess if there is somewhere private that you can spend 5 to 15 minutes. (Note: if you need more than 15 minutes, you should go home and deal with your situation there rather than burdening your hostess.)

For absolute certainty, under no circumstances should you segregate yourself from the party with your party-crashing friends and leave the area of the home that you claimed looking like a frat house after a night's debauch. If you are in an area of the home without the host and hostess, make sure that you pick up the trash and deal with it. You are an adult, and you are not at your mother's house. Pick up after yourself. (This assumes that you are not at a black-tie affair with waitstaff. The people who need this advice would not be invited to such an event, and therefore the rules of etiquette involved with such shall not be addressed here.)

Another issue: Uncomfortable social situations. You have a duty to your hostess to be polite to the other guests. Let us suppose that someone that you find to be objectionable is at the same party as you find yourself. You must not forget that that person, however vile you may find them, has the approval of the hostess as do you. You are equal in this neutral location. If you respect your hostess, you must at all times be polite. If you find that civility is impossible, you are duty-bound to remove yourself from the event so as to preserve the harmony of the hostess's event. You should not bait your adversary, but "be above the fray." Let the person imagine that they matter not at all to you, that they are not on your radar. Be polite, but not fake. Do not pretend that "everything is all right." This is insincere and flatters you not at all. Remember that your hostess's comfort is all-important and that she would not wish for your discomfort. Do not let her think that you were in any way discomfited. This is your duty. Be polite, but don't delude yourself that you must needs form some close relationship with the person(s) in question. Be polite, but distant.

And now, the question of children at social functions. Certainly children are a fact of life. They can be a welcome addition to any party. However, this too is a matter for the hostess to decide. If the hostess indicates that children are not appropriate to an event, this is the final word on the matter. You must either arrange childcare or decline the invitation. Do not drag your children to the event and burden your hostess with the necessity of their entertainment and feeding when it wasn't planned.

If children are deemed appropriate, go ahead and bring yours, but remember that you have additional responsibilities. First and foremost, your hostess is not your babysitter. You have a duty to watch your children in her home, just as you watch them in your own (we hope). If they are playing in an area away from you, you should check on them regularly to make sure they haven't breached private spaces of the home or damaged goods or property. You should teach your children manners, including "please" and "thank you" and teach them that they are not animals. If your child eats in another person's home, the least you can do is make certain that they do so in a way that doesn't drop crumbs on furniture, grind grease into carpets, or spill soda. Now, that is not to say that accidents won't happen where children are concerned (and the odd adult for that matter) no matter what you do. Accidents happen. However, as a guest you must attempt to avoid these scenarios and act suitably mortified if an accident does happen. It is the right thing to do.

There are two more things that must be considered about children at social engagements. First, if they are deemed acceptable, then you must realize that they aren't acceptable for the entire duration, necessarily. Now, if the engagement is an event that will conclude before normal bedtimes, you can safely ignore what I'm about to say. However, if the party goes on late into the night, you must realize that there is a limit to a child's welcome. Suppose for a moment that your child's normal bedtime is 8 p.m. If the party is slated to end at 9 pm, you can safely bring your child and take him with you when you leave.

However, if the party is open-ended or not expected to end until the wee-morning hours, you should respect the hostess and other guests and remove your no-doubt cranky child to his own bed. If this means getting a sitter from 9 pm until whenever you arrive home, so be it. Under absolutely NO circumstances should your child still be awake and at the party at 1 a.m. in the morning, unless your "child" is 18 years old.

What's the big deal, you ask? It is simple. As a party moves into the late hours, the greater quantity of liquid refreshment that the adults have imbibed. As we are all aware, liquor makes for loose lips and children will be exposed to coarse language and ribald discussions of a graphic nature, or they could be. Your hostess will not want to be responsible for your children being exposed to this. Have the decency to take your children home, even if it means you miss the end of the party. (Taking your kids home, putting them in their pajamas, and bringing them back is outre if it is not a slumber party.)

The second issue involving children is an expansion of the idea that your children are your responsibility. A hostess may provide babysitting services for her guests, but this is highly unusual. However, this weekend I encountered what can only be called the hijacking of a baby-sitter. One smart-thinking couple knew that the party would go all night, so they arranged for their baby sitter to come near the end of the evening to put the children to bed and watch them while the party continued. But I found myself horror-stricken for the hostess, the baby-sitter's employer, and the baby sitter.

It was "decided" that the sitter could watch all of the children and keep them outside. (Good luck with that suicide mission.) These children were so plentiful and of such varying ages that keeping all of them anywhere without an organized activity was going to be impossible. Did any of the other parent's offer to pick up part of the baby-sitter's tab? Not a chance, though this is the only polite thing to do.

Did anybody think to consider the untenable position that this put the baby-sitter in? Two small children is a significant responsibililty. 10 is a nightmare. She wasn't expecting this much work, I'm sure, and no doubt found her job suddenly more than she bargained for.

And the poor hostess had to look on while her house was being abused and her friend was being taken advantage of. What could she do? She couldn't tell these people that it is their duty to watch their own children, could she? She couldn't suggest that people offer to share with the expense of the baby-sitter, as that would be rude.

I tell you, sometimes it feels like there is very little civility left in the world. The fact that I needed to point out these etiquette blunders drives me batty. I realize that I may hold myself to a higher standard, and I have been informed that there are things that bother me that don't bother "normal" people. Indeed? Fine. But I know that I am not alone out here, cracking Emily Post's whip at the heathens of Wisconsin. There are limits to what is socially acceptable and you should never burden your host and hostess. At least, not if you want to be invited back. Sound off in the comments if you want to add to these rules of etiquette or ask an etiquette question.
posted by Phoenix | 10:12 AM


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