Last week it was all about the host when we talked etiquette. This week I'm flipping the pancake and applying some heat to the other side of the matter: the guest. After all, it's not just the host who has responsibilities for being polite, right?
Thank you to all who left their thoughts and opinions in last week's post, I realize that etiquette can inspire some strong feelings and as Fawn mentioned in her comment it's a bit like grammar. There are rules and it's wise to be aware of them if nothing else to know when it's acceptable to tweak them to your specific circumstances and when to stick gracefully by them.
Etiquette certainly isn't about knowing the rules so you can feel superior to the slug besides you. I'm sure I've read something about that one in a book somewhere--something about pride going before the fall--though I don't recall it coming from Miss Manners, seems like that came from a higher authority . . . who was it now??
But I do believe etiquette helps us remember the other person and how to treat them by thinking of their comfort over our own which also comes from that same higher authority if I remember correctly.
Anyway, here's week two. As before, to see the answers to the quiz you'll have to click and drag your cursor over the blank area below the multiple choice selections which will highlight the answer.
1. You've received an invitation to a barbecue that mysteriously says "R.S.V.P." What does this mean?
a) Nothing, it's like "esquire" and no one really knows what it signifies.
b) Respondez-vous, s'il vous plait. Pardon my French.
c) Don't forget to bring the chips and dip, or in the common tongue: "Ranch, Salsa, Veggie tray, Potato chips"
d) Please come a little early to help me set up.
B is right. Starting out nice and easy, huh?
Yes it's French and the translation is: Please respond. Or, more correctly, the command form of the verb as in: "RESPOND! Please." And it should be treated as such--a command. If someone has been so nice as to invite you to an event and they ask that you let them know if you're coming you'd better do so. If for nothing else so they can get a head count and know how many guests to plan on.
Now I myself have been lazy from time to time in dealing with this--guilty along with so many others--but really, it's very rude not to let them at least know if you will or will not be attending. There is nothing on earth that says you must go or even that you must provide a creative excuse. A simple, "I'm very sorry but I have another engagement that night" does the trick very well though I'd also add that if you can't come it's nice to at least let them know you very much appreciate the invitation and would have loved to have been there. Otherwise it tends to sound like an "I've got to wash my hair" kind of an excuse.
2. You've been invited to an event, you've responded and said that you'd come (so far so good) then it turns out that you can't come. What do you do?
a) Drag your bleeding body to the party anyway. I don't care if the operation was scheduled at the same time.
b) Notify your host as soon as you find out that you can't make it. They'll understand you got a better offer.
c) Arrange for a replacement to show up in your place--you know? A body double?
d) Don't worry, they'll probably not notice that you're not there anyway. Forget the whole thing.
The answer is B. Kind of. Sort of.
I was tricky, very tricky here and if you had no clue what the answer is it's just because I was wording my questions in a slimy, used-car-salesman kind of way. If you're going to a party and then you have something else come up then yes, you should immediately call your host and let them know you can't attend after all.
The problem lies in the reason you're canceling. You see I've had several incidents where someone told me they were coming to a party but then canceled because they wanted to go to another event. Of course this is pretty irritating for the host because it says, in essence, that "I got a better offer and you're just not as important as the other person/event." Nice.
If you're having emergency open heart surgery, if your mother has died or if western culture has collapsed in a fireball of ruin then yes, you have my permission to cancel on your host. If, however, you've been invited to another party, event, obligation, whatever there is no polite way to cancel the first. Your duty as a guest once you've committed to attending is to stick to your word. When you get that second invitation that is the one you must politely decline by saying, "Thank you very much but I've have obligations to attend another event. I wish I could be at both but I've already committed to the first."
I've had this happen to me and it's happened to my kids--maybe it's a hint? Don't do it, trust me it hurts.
3. To which of the following is it acceptable to show up "fashionably" late?
a) A wedding
b) A funeral
c) A cocktail party
d) A business party
e) A dinner party
f) None of the above
C is right. I shall enumerate.
Of course "fashionably" late is up for debate as it is--the microtrend right now says being on time is the hot new "it" though I'm wondering who it is exactly that's seeing this new fad sweeping the nation because it hasn't yet reached Alaska.
If an invitation to a wedding, funeral, graduation, dinner party, business event or other formal affair that is dependent on a ceremony says it's starting at 7 then 7 is the time you shall arrive if you care to be polite.
The things that allow some squeeze are the ones that are more casual--getting together with friends informally--or that are later at night or don't rely on a certain event such as a dinner where food preparations or other preparations are involved. Dances, open houses, those kinds of things one can arrive slightly late to and still be free from mockery. The "fashionably" late window is about 30 minutes too, if you're interested. Apparently later than that means you're no longer fashionable and are rude. Who knew?
4. You've just enjoyed yourself at a holiday party with friends. Which of the following is appropriate?
a) Offer your host a twenty dollar bill to cover the expenses of the evening.
b) Politely extend a "thank you" as you leave.
c) Write a thank you note after the event.
d) B and C are correct.
D it is! Too easy huh?
The word is: the proper thing to do after attending a party is to send your host a thank you note. Period. I need to be better about this and I'm guessing I'm not alone out there in my oversight.
It's funny but actually offering people money can be rude--when someone is trying to be a gracious host by offering them money for their efforts it can demean their gesture of hospitality. Something about putting a price tag on the evening you've just enjoyed by saying, "Here's what I thought the party was worth--go treat yourself" seems a little tacky.
Of course if someone is hosting an event such as a baby shower and you'd like to help with the efforts and expenses then approaching the host early on in the preparations could be a nice gesture possibly. It's the tipping-the-waiter-move at the end that is so gauche.
5. You've been invited to a dinner party and would like to be a proper guest. You could:
a) Offer to bring something to the meal such as a side dish.
b) Do nothing--it's not your party is it?
c) Bring a box of candy for your diabetic hostess.
d) Show up early to help with the preparations.
A is the answer. And I like cheesecakes--bring one of those, please.
While you remember from last week's rampage that it's impolite of a host to expect a guest to pay for their own meal or entertainment there's nothing that says you can't politely inquire as a guest to see if there is anything you can bring. We do this all the time for things like Thanksgiving or Christmas celebrations and the host can either decide whether they'd like help or not--it's up to them.
Doing nothing isn't really wrong either, so it's kind of a trick question though I think at least offering is a nice gesture. As long as you mean it and follow through with whatever you're asked to then bring.
It's a nice thing to bring a hostess gift and this can be tricky. You don't want to bring something that causes problems or that must be served at the meal. No no no. Anything that can be easily set aside, put in a vase, saved for later or enjoyed by the host is perfectly acceptable. I've seen bottles of wine, loaves of fancy bread, boxes of candy, flowers, all sorts of nice little tokens. My favorite was when a beautiful Russian woman and her husband brought me a box of Godiva chocolates which I then hoarded and savored bite by bite. I really should have offered one to Andrew. Was I rude not to?
6. You've been invited to a dinner party and don't know what to wear. What DO you do?
a) Dress down because more casual is always better.
b) Call your host for clarification.
c) Dress up because fancier is always better.
d) Get your spouse to match you because then you'll at least have someone else in the room inappropriately dressed if you're wrong.
B. So there.
Though I do admit to trying out D myself from time to time--I figure if I've got Andrew alongside joining me in my faux pas then I'm not alone--I'm a trendsetter.
Usually if dress is important to the event it should specify it on the invitation. That's part of the job of being a host, notifying your guests of things like that. However what was often common knowledge in the proper etiquette for dress is now more difficult to discern so if you're really in doubt a quick call usually does the trick. And I don't think you're breaking any laws by requesting clarification.
My own personal opinion is that it's better to err to the side of more formal than more casual. Why? Well because when you're dressed more nicely it implies that you care enough to take the time that a more formal outfit requires which isn't a bad thing. You don't want to overdo it of course but in general I'd rather be in a casual skirt when most are wearing jeans than in jeans when most are wearing skirts.
7. You're at a dinner party--which of the following is acceptable to do?
a) Ask for a tour of the home.
b) Ask if you can help clean up.
c) Stay late to talk with your host and "catch up."
d) None the above.
B. B. B.
Of course you aren't required to offer your services and are perfectly in line if you do not.
It is, however, rude to ask for a tour. Though honestly? If someone asked me to see my home I wouldn't think so--though maybe I need to wise up. The thinking is that you should wait for your host to offer (maybe the rest of the home is messy and asking for a tour would be embarrassing? Maybe?) but then as a host I'd feel kind of uncomfortable about asking people if they'd want to see my home because what if they didn't want to? I'd hate to push a tour on those who didn't want one. I'd probably wait for them to ask to see it before giving a tour so apparently my guests and I are at an impasse. My home will never be shown. Unless I have "rude" guests who ask. Whatever.
As for C the thinking is that as a guest you shouldn't do anything that monopolizes their host. It's impolite for the host to be occupied with only one or a few of their guests, they need to mingle with all. Maybe that's where the tour thing comes in because if you ask for one then your host has to take you all over the place away from the other guests. Who knows?
The host is supposed to see to the needs of his or her guests so you're supposed to be respectful of their time and not take them away from the rest of the party.
8. You've been invited to a wedding and want to bring your sister who also knows the bride but the invitation is only addressed to you. What do you do?
a) Bring her along, after all it was probably an oversight.
b) Bring a date instead, that would be more fun anyway.
c) Call the bride and get it cleared with her first.
d) Go alone--weddings are supposed to be a good place to pick up guys, right?
Tell me you picked D. Right??
Okay while some of the things on this quiz are rather frivolous and would hardly get you kicked out of finishing school this one is pretty important. You do not, under any circumstances, bring extra guests to a party. Never. Ever. Ever.
Etiquette is firm on this one and there's good reasons for it. If you're addressing invitations you're supposed to make sure you address them correctly to establish who it is exactly that is invited. Guessing who the invitation is for is never a fun place for ambiguity. I was once with my roommate at a college party and these two guys were talking to us and they started talking about how fun it was to have barbecues in the canyon and then one said to both of us, "Do you want to go?"
We both smiled and said, "Sure! Sounds fun!"
To which he stumbled, looked awkward then said, "Oh--um--I just meant YOU," pointing to my roommate. Apparently she was the only one they wanted to invite. Awkward. Let's just say their stupidity didn't make a good impression on either of us though she did go. And got food poisoning. The whole group of them. To which I often point to as proof that there is, in fact, justice in the world.
So make sure your invitations are clear. Then on the other end make sure you follow whatever it says. If it says "Your Name and Guest" then that means you're free to bring a guest. Even your sister. If it just has your name then you're flying solo. If it has you and your husband's names you do NOT BRING YOUR CHILDREN. Can I emphasize that enough?
If it says "Mr. and Mrs. Your Name and Family" then, and only then, are you free to bring the rest of your adorable brood.
Calling and asking the host if it's okay to bring an extra guest isn't cool because it puts them in the awkward spot of having to either say "No" or give into your request and deal with the change in the number of guests.
9. You've just been married and received lots of wonderful gifts. Except for the three eggplant peelers. You want to get them exchanged for something else. Which is the only thing you should not do?
a) Take it into the store and see if they'll exchange it.
b) Call the giver and ask where they got it to facilitate an exchange.
c) Regift it for the next lucky contestant.
d) Send a thank you notes and enjoy some ratatouille.
The answer is a shining B. Most definitely.
While regifting it can be an option I beg you to do it in such a way that the giver does not suspect your lack of affection for their offering. It's just not nice. Ditto on the store exchanges--while there's nothing that says you can't try to get a gift exchanged there most definitely is a rule that one does not call the giver and let them know of your intentions. In fact calling the giver to ask where they purchased their gift is about as tacky as one can get.
Call it two-faced if you must but the rule books call it courtesy. Regardless of how you feel about a gift everyone who sends one deserves a thank you. And another note about thank yous: if someone gives you a gift and they are there to see you open it and receive your verbal thanks then you need not send a written thank you note.
You thank them right then and there and that's the appropriate response. However, most parties--such as wedding receptions--say that to open gifts in front of the guests is wrong so the happy couple open things privately or with a few friends in which case thank yous should be sent to those who were not able to be thanked in person.
Birthday parties are tricky this way because as I said, you're not supposed to open gifts in front of the guests but at parties this has become part of the entertainment and parents often want to use the experience as a tool for teaching their little host the proper present-response etiquette. So this rule isn't always obeyed, I'm just letting you know it's out there and why it's proper for someone not to open a gift in front of their guests if that's what you encounter.
10. Oh here's a good one! Okay . . . you're at a party and your host or another guest has a run in her nylons. Do you tell her about it?
B--No. I'll explain.
Now this item isn't so much about parties though it does tie in. Do you ever see something horribly wrong with someone--say they have toilet paper stuck to their shoe--and you wonder if you should say something? Well the rule to get you through this is simple: if you see something wrong that the person can fix then quickly and discreetly tell them so they can do so.
If, however, you see something wrong--such as a run in the nylons--where the person really can't do anything about it then the best thing to do is to ignore it altogether. See? Simple.
To be told that you've got something wrong with you that you can't fix is irritating. It just feels like criticism but if it's something that can be quickly corrected then it's a blessing. The line is there, make sure you're on the right side of it.
11. You've been invited to a wedding and don't know which gift is appropriate. Which could you properly do?
a) Don't go so you can avoid the problem entirely.
b) Gift certificates--who wouldn't love 50 Bird Bucks for the local pet store?
c) Give the happy couple money--they'll know how to spend it.
d) Give them a toaster. Everyone can use a toaster.
Ah, trick question. If you answer B, C or D I'd give it to you.
Really the only one that would steer you wrong is A because whether you go to a wedding or not if you receive an invitation you should send a gift. Now I don't know if this extends to receptions and you must bring a gift if you're invited to the reception but not the wedding but regardless, the point is to celebrate the happy event by bringing a gift and helping the couple to set up home.
Though I wouldn't have known what to do if someone had given me Bird Bucks at our wedding. That would have thrown me for a loop. Though I did get three picnic baskets and I have to say that even though there were three of them I kept them all and loved each. What a creative and fun gift.
12. You've been invited to a party and the host asks that you donate $10 to cover the cost of the meal. What do you do?
a) Send him a copy of Miss Manners so he can see how very wrong he is.
b) Ask the other guests discreetly if they think this is odd too.
c) Go but don't pay, he's totally got it coming to him.
d) Stay home.
Are you surprised it's D?
Seriously, this is the whole thing about etiquette: there are "rules" and then there are "RULES." While it may be rude to do one thing incorrectly or to stumble and make a faux pas to belittle, gossip, criticize, condemn and feel self-righteous are usually considered the greater sins.
So someone makes a mistake--oops. So what? Get over it. If your host's tackiness so offends you have the option of refusing his invitation--nothing says you have to accept, you know.
That's what really makes me laugh about most of the Miss Manners columns you'll see. They seem to fall into one of two categories: you have those who want to see if they can get away with doing something to save a buck or go against the rules for selfish reasons and then you have those who have been offended by someone else's error and want vindication. What did I say about etiquette last week? It's the art of making others feel comfortable. If your purpose is to make those around you feel comfortable and happy then not only are you going to do fine, you'll get invited to plenty of parties because everyone will love being around you.
So how did you do? Here's the highly scientific breakdown for your score:Sponsored by Manfred Mantis for play sets for play equipment for the 21st century.
10-12 correct. You deserve an engraved invitation. And I'm sure you'd R.S.V.P.
7-9 correct. You're probably the life of the party and people forgive your mistakes.
4-6 correct. Well, I guess you have some new skills to work on.
1-3 correct. Well at least your family still loves you, right? They'll invite you to their parties.