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Mind over manners.

Posted in Food & Entertaining, and Relationships

New Year’s Eve parties seldom deliver on their promise of fun. Most of us want to be at home in bed before midnight these days, and the idea of manufacturing cheer, just because of the date, seems a lot of hard work after a long year. So arranging a shindig for the 31st December can be nerve-wracking.

Last year, my friends decided to bite the bullet and host an event. Their home was newly  renovated and they wanted their pals to see it. Plus 2011 had been tough all round, and it’s passing needed to be marked. The New Year heralded a fresh start and new possibilities. Our health was intact: we had reason to celebrate.

So they sent out invitations, a follow-up prompt, and a reminder before the event. Their home was beautifully decorated, lit warmly against the chilly evening. Food was generous and delicious, every possible taste in cocktails was catered for, there was fabulous music and champagne in all hues.

20 of the 120 expected guests showed up.

No-one called to cancel.

Capetonians also have a laissez faire attitude to time keeping. I can’t remember the last social occasion when everyone was on time. And, by on time, I mean less than 40 minutes late. Guests will send a text message at the appointed arrival time, to say they’re running a little behind. And to start without them. At one recent dinner, a couple were 90 minutes late. Our host – who had spent all afternoon cooking up a feast, was visibly distressed and rushed off to the kitchen to see what could be done. The rest of the group had a good-natured grumble, we’d all experienced similar from the parties concerned – perhaps it was time we held a punctuality intervention? But when they showed up with an armful of good wine and brimming charm – no-one said a word.

It just wouldn’t have been good manners.

Over the weekend I sat next to a young couple in my favourite coffee shop. She was talking to him: he was instant messaging his friends. She tried so hard to capture his attention – but ping, ping, ping the messages came in (a double-dip of bad manners: his evident disinterest and the alert sound). When she caught my eye, she had tears in hers.

The nuns at the various convents I attended drummed both old fashioned manners and the fear of God into us: you spoke when you were spoken to, you said “please” and “thank you”, you were on time and you always had clean ears. If you didn’t you would go to hell. Or purgatory: depending on scope of your transgression. My family operated in much the same way.

My brother and I used to hate going on play dates. If the kid’s room was a mess, we would spend the whole afternoon tidying it up. For fear my mother would think we had not ‘cleared up’ after ourselves and we would catch it in the neck on the way home. We even had to say “Thank you for having us”, before we left. When it should have been the other way around. But we did it.  Because it was polite. Our chums’ mothers loved us, but if their house was chaotic – we would refuse to go back.

I know this scenario was echoed in the lives of most of my friends – but not anymore. That New Year’s Eve wasn’t a one-off. I hear report after report of unanswered invitations, no-shows, people who bring a group with them to a ‘plus one’ event, guests who arrive without a bottle and drink the host dry, a couple who left a dinner before dessert because they “double booked, oopsie ha-ha”.

So what happened? When did we get careless, how did we forget our manners? Is it social media’s fault, or is it that the world has devolved into such chaos, that survival is taking up all of our finesse?

Frankly – I think we have just got lazy and we need a clip around the ear. I’m no Debretts – but here is my list of absolutely essential modern manners:

– Reply to an invitation. Say yes or no. And ‘thanks for thinking of me’. Because someone has. Silence is not an acceptable response to an email, invitation, phone call or message from a friend or business aquaintance. If you don’t want to go/help/get involved say: “Sorry, no can do”.  It’s polite and it’s kind.

Look folks, no phones!

– Arrive on time. Simple.

– If being late is unavoidable (i.e. not due to bullshit reasons like you were taking a nap, surfing the net or responding to emails) – let the host know with plenty of warning. That way they can make plans to accommodate your tardiness. Sending an “I’m running a little late” text with a winking smiley face is not acceptable. It just means you didn’t think enough of us to get yourself organised in time. And if I am waiting for you somewhere please know I have a 10-minute rule: “you don’t show – I’m going to go”.

– If you change your mind about attending – just say so. No stupid excuses about being chased by a tribe of baboons. I will know and you will look like the monkey. Besides, we are facebook friends, so I will see pictures of your drunken ass at the party you did go to.

– Keep your blackberry, smartphone or iDevice away from the table. Whether it is a dining table, a coffee table, a drinks table, a boardroom table or a bedside table. Unless you are a Doctor on Call… no-one is more important than who you are with right now. If someone is – go there immediately. No one here will miss you.

– If you hated the party/holiday/dinner/date: don’t post it in your status updates. I will see it. And I will think you are an ungrateful twit.

– Thank your host. An email, a text or a quick phone call – all of these are acceptable, all take seconds from your oh-so-important- very-busy-day. Even President Obama thanked his helpers 5 minutes after he had been re-elected. Sure it was pre-planned … that’s the whole point.

Of course there are more … but those will keep. Meantime, l leave you with a thought from the doyenne of good manners Emily Post: “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”

And, thanks for reading, I appreciate you taking the time.

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  1. Absolutely – if we were a little kinder all around – to ourselves and to others – this would be a happier world by far.

    November 14, 2012
  2. silvia

    I think that kindness is the key word of this century, thank you for saying it loud

    November 13, 2012
  3. When I taught remedial grammar at a high school, I also taught them this: R.S.V.P. It stands for répondez, s’il vous plaît. It’s French and it translates to “respond if you please” or “please respond.” That means you are supposed to respond to the invitation whether or not you plan to go. So, if you do not plan to go, you either write a note back saying you will not attend, or you check off a checkbox included in the invitation showing that you will not attend. The reverse is also true. (I don’t have to belabor that here do I? Or maybe I do depending on who is reading it!) Your post brought up old, angry feelings of ill-mannered people I invited to parties. Whenever I’ve thrown a party, I always went “all out.” I’m sure you’re the same way. I remember one gal I knew who thought she was supposed to give her guests food she didn’t like or couldn’t use. Apparently she though her guests were second-class citizens. It takes all kinds, doesn’t it?

    November 12, 2012
    • Oh man I LOVE the gal who used to give leftovers to her guests .. what on earth was she thinking. I am imagining cans of pumpkin pie filling served over spaghetti served washed down with sweet wine. You gave me the laugh of the day.

      November 14, 2012
  4. I completely agree with all of those points!! Manners seem to be a thing of the past….where and when did they fall into the cracks? Great post. Thanks for writing it!

    November 12, 2012
  5. That needed to be said and it was well written! I am constantly ‘clipping’ some of these Italians round the ear. They don’t like it much and have made it clear to me but I refuse to eschew the subject. Instead I continue to remind them to learn some manners so I can stop treating them like children.

    November 12, 2012
  6. Time well spent young lady – totally agree. And for those who didn’t turn up at New Year, they missed a treat. It was a very special evening in a truly wonderful home. x

    November 12, 2012

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