Sunday, July 19, 2009

Social Responsibility: Etiquette 101

Continuing my series of how I think the world should be, today's topic is:


Etiquette, of course, is the art of making social interactions run smoothly. It is knowing what to say, when to say it, and when not to say anything.

As some of you know, for years I have been part of an online community that discusses etiquette. We discuss social etiquette (weddings, showers, parties, etc.); workplace etiquette, dating etiquette, and general etiquette. A good deal of our discussion centers around what "traditional" etiquette says about any given topic, and whether or not the traditional etiquette is still relevant in today's fast-paced, whack-a-doodle world.

I'll say it now: I'm not a weirdo. A lot of people who know me in real life look at me askance if I mention that I belong to an online forum that discusses etiquette. The fact that I have definite opinions about that "party game" in which shower guests write their name and full mailing address on an envelope shocks many of them. It has been quite a blow for me to learn:


Really. I didn't know that.

I didn't know there are some people who don't care how wedding invitations are addressed. I didn't know there are some people who believe Miss Manners writes a humor column. It was shocking to me when I found out most of my friends are these people.

On the other hand, I didn't know there are some people who believe a "proper" wedding must include live music, an open bar, and a full sit-down dinner. Some of these were people I "met" on the forum. It's quite a spectrum.

Some of what we discuss is quite practical. If I had to summarize, I would say it boils down to, "How do I politely deal with rude behavior?" Because, in terms of etiquette, one of the worst things one can do is return rudeness for rudeness, especially if the initial rudeness was committed out of ignorance. However, we also discuss whether or not strict, traditional etiquette really "works" for every situation. I confess I sometimes have my differences.

For example: how does one tell one's bosom companion that her 5-year-old son, 3-year-old daughter, and 7-year-old dog are not welcome at the intimate dinner party one has planned? She brings them everywhere with her, and has not taken any "hints" regarding the appropriateness of doing so. Etiquette tells us it would be rude to issue a non-invite, or "unvitation," but practicality tells us it would be far more painful to turn away said uninvited guests at the door.

The solution? According to strict etiquette, one simply stops inviting her to adult-only events at all. One does not mention such events to her at all. One day the dog will die and the kids will grow, so she can again be included in such events. I have no doubt the transition will be seamless.

My solution? I would give it one try. One sit down where I said to my very good friend, "I'm thinking of having a dinner party next week, and I'd love for you to come, but it's going to be kid- and animal- free. Would you be comfortable with that?" and go from there. If she throws a giant screaming fit, then I go with the strict etiquette answer.

Traditional etiquette doesn't always work today. For instance, did you know:

Response cards in wedding invitations are technically rude? They imply that your guests don't know the correct etiquette, which is to get out their own personal engraved stationery and hand-write their response.

Registry information in any invitation is technically rude? Including registry information where your guests can easily find it implies that you expect gifts. The correct etiquette is to pass your registry information, verbally, to several nosy aunts so guests can call them and ask. If you have no nosy aunts, ask your mother's three best friends. Isn't that just as easy?

Complimenting the appearance of someone to whom you have not been introduced is rude? I confess that this is the one where I have a personal story: one time, in a Wal-Mart parking lot, someone I had never seen before or since stopped me and told me the top I was wearing made my eyes look beautiful. I felt good for days. How rude!

Typing or printing any personal correspondence, or addresses on any outer envelope, is rude? I admit I knew this one. I read Miss Manners. So I hand-addressed all of my wedding invitations, hand-wrote all of my thank-you notes, and hand-addressed the baby announcements (in the case of Dexy, I hand-wrote those announcements). So what if I have no sensation below the second knuckle of any finger? I did the polite thing.

So I invite you all to become like me! Become obsessed with the polite way to do just about anything. It makes your life much, much more interesting.

I can hardly stand it.


Joanna said...

There is a shower game where people address their own wedding invitations?!? Is that before or after the money tree where people are encouraged to contribute to the happy couple's credit card repayment fund?
Sometimes I'm scared by how much you know about this stuff!

LeShel said...

you are so fun to read. I'm so glad Boy Mom sent me this way!

3 Bay B Chicks said...

I live to be more like you. :)

Oh, and is it OK to say you and my mom would be the best of friends? Cause you two would. She is the pinnacle on social etiquette. Nary an invitation has been circulated from her household that included registry info.



Mummy McTavish said...

I hand wrote all our wedding invite envelopes... we couldn't figure out how to get the computer to mail-merge.

I got thank you notes/ announcements out for baby #1... when he was 6 months old... Shh, we won't talk about baby #2... I designed his but, um...

I don't like being asked for money as a wedding present but I do want to know if they ask for money am I the one being rude by giving them a "real" gift? I always make sure it's something they need/want by asking questions and I figure they can say "no, really, just cash" and I'd conform but I just don't like the wishing-well or money-tree or whatever. Where's the fun of trying to flog off unwanted casserole sets still partially wrapped 8 years later if you only get cash?

My other gripe is why don't big telco's teach their phone monkeys etiquette? Is that a lack of etiquette on my part calling them phone monkeys? Sorry, I had a bad experience this morning.

CMspence said...

IMHO ettiquette books need to be re-written. The Emily Post ideas were written decades ago, and come from historical British societal norms which also included piano skirts for modesty sake. Should one have to spend amounts of money that are not in one's budget to purchase engraved stationary that may or may not be used to respond to an invitation? Should a bride and groom have to put off putting a down payment on a house and deal with own seven or eight fondue sets because money as a wedding gift is tacky? Needless to say I was not welcome on the ettiquette boards!

The Domestic Flunky said...

If I ever get married, we're telling our close friends only via text message one week prior to the event that the reception will be taking place at the local Taco Bell, gifts unnecessary since, as a bonafide adult, I've already accumulated quite enough crap. If they can make it, fantastic. I don't really care if it's tacky. It'll save me a lot of work. As for other people's weddings: I just want guys to refrain from saying stupid stuff like "you'd look really good in a bikini" after spending "quality time" at the wedding's open bar.