The test of good manners is to be patient with bad ones. — Gabirol
There are few things that ruffle my fancy feathers more than acts of inconsideration. A shopping cart left stranded close to my car, being subjected to a shrieking child in a restaurant, or encountering abandoned coffee cups on the sidewalk can sully my mood for hours. That therapist I suffered for three sessions might say my extraordinary irritation with boorish plebes stems from my dysfunctional desire to control everything and everyone around me. She once said I’m too attached to the word “should,” as in “Someone should have returned that cart; those parents should extract their howling monkey from polite society; that person should have placed that cup in the trash.” The Rhinestone Shrink might say I seethe because I can’t make people behave the way I think they “should.” Perhaps she’d be right. But actively ignoring such behavior does not make it go away, nor does it make it any less appalling. After all, if we do not voice our discontent, who but we are to blame when indecency prevails?
Social sins are never more evident than at a party. A confined space, liberally dosed with alcohol, provides a nutrient-rich environment for faux pas to thrive. Conscious of the mini-society to which a soiree gives shape, I am discerning in my party planning, anticipating and eliminating foreseeable conflicts. For example, when compiling the invitation list for my “Elation Day ’08: Barack to the Future” gala, I was careful to include only those friends whom I knew to be politically active (meaning no one who would object if their conversations were shushed so everyone could listen to the candidates’ speeches). I also made sure my guests were all voting for the same team, as the only “red” I wanted to see that evening was joined by white and blue on the banners, flags, and lights with which David had festooned our home.
I recognize that it’s impossible to be mindful every minute of every day — yesterday, for instance, I became the asshat when, while perusing merchandise in a small, quiet shop, I took a call on my cell phone. But just because we get caught up in the moment every now and then doesn’t mean we can’t try our best to be aware of how our actions might affect those around us. Like yoga, courtesy is a practice — you don’t just throw your legs over your head and balance on one arm in the first class. Whereas yoga is all about making yourself comfortable (and strong, flexible, and “at one with Shiva” or whoever), the essence of courtesy is to make others comfortable.
Etiquette guru Emily Post once wrote, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use.” On the flip side, if you lack commonsense-itivity, no amount of proper utensil usage can help you.
Some guests at a party I recently attended offered several shining examples of party malfeasance, the first of which was to break that most sacred social commandment: Thou shalt not bring uninvited randoms to the party. The perps, a couple I happen to know and like but in whom I’m currently disappointed, foisted not one, not two, but SEVEN new guests upon the host and hostess, who had originally expected no more than the six friends they’d invited to their cozy studio loft. When a friend invites you to his home, never assume you can invite your own guests. To do so is a major imposition, as your host is most likely providing food and beverages, and that shit doesn’t just appear — it is planned for, purchased, and prepared. In this case, one of those uninvited guests invited yet another person. (Special note: inviting a friend to a party hosted by someone you’ve never met is unconditionally uncool.) Even two of my closest friends, who knew they didn’t “have” to ask, sought my consent before bringing dates to my Elation Day shindig, a courteous gesture that was most appreciated.
Inflicting their throng onto the host and hostess was the only snafu made by the couple I know and like — the rest of the transgressions were committed by their tagalongs, four of whom I’d never met before and did not like one bit. At the host’s insistence, the couple brought enough wine for their horde, not that any of them were in need of a drink. It was the younger of the two’s birthday, and the drinking had begun many hours prior. The crowd seemed to be treating the host’s pad as if it was just another bar on the birthday-celebration booze crawl and not someone’s home, to which only two of them had actually been invited.
In his attempt to reach the cupboard behind the one chick among the crowd of interlopers, the host said, “Excuse me,” in a polite tone of voice.
“Did you say, ‘Excuse me, ma’am?’” sneered the chick.
Confused, the host said, “No, I said, ‘Excuse me.’ I’m asking you to move aside.” When the woman — whose delayed, awkward movements made apparent her drunken state — simply stared at the host blankly, he added, “This is my home. I live here,” to which she huffed off and promptly reported to her posse in a hushed, indignant tone.
A few minutes later, I overheard the host asking three men not to stand with their feet against a lime green-painted wall. They removed their feet, only to put them right back a moment later. (When I visited the host the following morning, I learned the marks had not disappeared with soap and water and that he must now repaint the wall.) Throughout the offenses, the host, whose chivalry runs deep, remained hospitable.
When the food was gone, the couple lingered for a few minutes as the bulk of the crew set off for the next stop — a club — without so much as a thank you or goodbye to the host. I was amazed — it had been so long since I’d personally dealt with tactless people. I was reminded of a party I hosted at David’s apartment six months after we started dating. Many of my friends were meeting my new boyfriend for the first time, and David, eager to make a good impression, spared no expense or detail in his preparations. Things were going fine until one of my friends (a man no longer worthy of the word for plenty of reasons, this being one of them) extracted from his pocket a glass pipe, loaded it with weed, and sparked it up. I was horrified. As I tromped across the room and told him to cease and desist lest I became guilty by association, I couldn’t help but think, What kind of moron doesn’t realize the impropriety of lighting up in the home of someone he just met?
I had this in mind when the birthday boy was saying goodbye before stepping out to join his crew at the club. “I’m sorry for my friends,” he said to the small circle of three standing around him. The host, polite to the end, said, “Not to worry, all is well”; his wife, gracious to her core, said, “If they’re anything like you, I know they must be wonderful.”
I gave him a hug and said, “It was great to see you; have a fabulous rest-of-your-birthday.” Then, breaking my own rules of etiquette, I added, “But, wow, those friends of yours sure are a bunch of bitches.” I looked to the stunned host and said, “Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.”