Thursday, April 23, 2009

Are You a Polite Guest? Party Etiquette Part Two

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?

a) Yes.
b) No.

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:

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.
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One Mom said...

Wow, I'm a perfect guest which makes me feel better after discovering I was a not-so-perfect hostess!

Aimee said...

I did WAY better on guest etiquette than I did on host etiquette. Whew, I'm not a total social pariah! :)

Edi said...

I'd say my biggest pet peeves in regards to etiquette are: people failing to send a thank you note (especially when a gift is mailed out of town and other than directly asking the recipient the only way you know it's arrived is from a thank you note), and people that are consistently late for events.

Maddy said...

Why are there big white gaps between the questions?

Always good to know I'm on the right track.

Melissa said...

I did much better on this one than I did on the host one. Hmmm, what does that say about me?

Thanks for the blogs on these. I like the perspective - about making others feel comfortable. I just got back from a women's retreat and one session was all about the many commands in the Bible to be hospitable. The speaker pointed out that the word "hospital" is derived from the same root. Being hospitable is not about having great parties, etc. but about making your home a place where others can come for healing. Your posts go right along with that concept. You might think that a higher authority is trying to tell me something ...

Scribbit said...

Maddy--you have to click and drag over the area to highlight and reveal the answer.

cndymkr / jean said...

Obviously I am a much better guest than a hostess. I scored 10! So, everyone should invite me to their next party! I rock.

katy said...

I'm with you about the cheesecake!
As a hostess, I like getting a little potted plant - could use as centerpiece and it keeps.

fruitfulwords said...

I'm also a better guest than hostess. So invite away, women, if you "need/want" someone who's "proper" at your event. :-)

I'm a little confused on the logic behind #9. Why wouldn't D be the better answer?

For those who are having a hard time seeing the answers or don't mind seeing the answers displayed at all once, they could go to this comment page and click on "Show Original Post."

Thanks for this fun post. That's how I like my education, with a side of humour.

Headless Mom said...

The rsvp thing drives me nuts. No one does it anymore. How is a hostess to know how many to plan for? And related, it drives me more nuts that if something comes up and they can't make it after all, they don't call. My kids usually end up devistated because so-and-so never showed. (OK, I know that shows that I have birthday parties for my kids. Faux pas! ;-) )

Janelle said...

#1) My mom always taught me that RSVP stood for "Respond So Very Promtly" but I never knew its etymology was actually French. For those who have been hosts where no one has RSVPed, you can always try the "Regrets only" route. That makes it easier on the invitees -- only call if you won't be able to make it. (Although the last time I did that, it still didn't work.)

#9) I had an awkward moment shortly after my wedding. MY husband and I hadn't picked out any wine glasses because we couldn't find any that we liked. They all had something tiny that was just enough to make us look at the next set. Some friends of ours gave us a boxed set of four wine glasses for our wedding, and what do you know -- they were perfect! Just what we wanted! So the next time we saw these friends, we asked where they got them. They got embarrassed and confessed that the glasses were regifted from their own wedding, and apologized if we didn't like them. Only then did I realize the inappropriate way we went about that. We should have gushed about the glasses first and said we'd love to get two more sets and waited for them to offer up where we could find them.

#11) My mom gave us a full picnic set (blanket, insulated bag, wine case (and glasses), basket with dishes) for our first Christmas (which was 3 days before our first anniversary). It was a fun gift.

Apparently I'm a better guest than a host, which is ironic because I love to entertain.

Scribbit said...

On number 9 its a negative question--which should you not do.

Amy @ Experience Imagination said...

First, to the person who commented on your last post about not asking but just bringing something (#5), NO! That may be incredibly rude. Consider, if you decided to bring a cheesecake to my house; only my husband would be able to eat it. What about if you brought flowers so someone with a strong allergy and caused her to sneeze all evening? Nope, if you ask and the host says, "No," you just bring your little self and have fun.

Second, I disagree slightly with #10. The hostess, presumably, could go to her room for a moment and change. The other guest, not so much.

Kathryn said...

I have a question about weddings. There have been times when I have been invited to a wedding and I couldn't afford a gift (even a little one). In these cases I always felt too guilty about it and I just didn't go. I have gone to a few weddings and shown up without a gift and I felt very awkward.

What is the correct thing to do when you have been invited to a wedding but can't afford a gift?

MommyK said...

I think it's interesting how different cultures influence what is polite and/or expected and what is not.

For example, during a discussion on wedding gifts, an LDS friend of mine was shocked that my husband and I gave my brother and SIL 150 dollars as their wedding gift. And for friends, or less close family members, like cousins, we usually give about 50. In her neck of the woods, not only are money gifts unusual, but they are NEVER that high, and other gifts are usually priced at the 10-20 dollar mark. She said her family is so large that someone is always getting married or having a baby and they'd go broke quickly if they gave more expensive gifts.

An acquaintance is Indian, and her wedding was a huge affair with 600 guests. There was no way they could leave anybody off he guest list without creating drama and hurt feelings, and because you'd have to be a millionaire to pay for a wedding with 600 guests, everyone pitched in with food.

There was an article on wedding etiquette I read last year that I also disagreed with. It said that when friends announce their engagement, the etiquettely correct thing to do is offer to throw them an engagement party aand buy them an engagement gift. Then you should attend the bridal shower with gift, or send a gift if you can't attend. Then attend the wedding with gift or send a gift if you can't attend. I thought it was a bit much.

Scribbit said...

Good point, Amy--you'd have to use your judgment though I think the rule still can work.

Kathryn I have no idea, having been in the same position myself. I didn't realize until I looked it up that you were expected to send a gift. I've wondered if it applies to receptions or only weddings.

You're right Mommy K--a lot of etiquette is very cultural. And I've never understood the bring a gift to every event thing either. I had a friend on the east coast who talked about the big Italian family weddings she would get invited to and how that the events would cost $50,000 so guests were expected to really put out for a gift. Kind of shocked me.

jacjewelry said...

Thanks for Part II - glad to see I know something!

jacjewelry said...

P.S. I once got an invitation that said "R.S.T.P.". After much research, I finally discovered that it was "Respondez-vous, s'il tu plait", with 'tu' being the informal form of 'vout' (if I got the spelling right). Turns out means the same thing as R.S.V.P., but usually people who know you very well will say R.S.T.P. instead.

Renna said...

I scored so much better as a guest than I did a hostess, getting every answer correct today. Yea!

Cynthia said...

Wow, I've learned a lot from both of your etiquette posts. I definitely have room for improvement :-)!

M said...

Okay, me too on the cheesecake!

I wanted to pipe up about the formality of clothing issue...I thought the invitation itself was supposed to be the indication of the event's formality. An evite means wear your jeans, anything with tissue paper = dress up. Of course, it is the middle that is confusing. But basically, if the invitation is on nice paper or even if the font is formal that should be a clue. Right?

Organizing Mommy said...

Good review! Here's a thought. We have close friends who do things way out of the realm of proper hostessing. I know you answer "D" seems to fit--don't attend the events, but that seems rude not to attend--even if their hospitality style is weird. Tell me what you would have done. We were invited to an event at 6:30 or 6:00 p.m. It was a surprise party for mutual friends. When we got there, half of the guests were finishing up pizza and were obviously already there. We and the others who had arrived later, were expected to "eat cake" with the surprise guests when they arrived at.. dinnertime? It was so awkward. I wasn't sure if I should eat the cake or what? I know you are probably thinking: what kind of weird friends does she have? socially awkward. They don't mean harm, but I felt sorry for the other guests who arrived at dinnertime for.. cake? and doritos? This same family also invited everyone over again for a graduation party. The entire menu was: ham sandwiches or hummus sandwiches and cake. bizarre. We have other friends who told us over email that their son was getting married. When asked when we didn't attend, I said, "we did not get an invitation." They said, "Oh, we just assumed people would come" Huh? What do you do?

Scribbit said...

Org Mommy--wow that is weird. Nothing you can do except relax and try to enjoy yourselves. And eat before you go to one of their dinner parties.

J at said...

I would have paid the $10 if it were a good friend, and I would have ignored the fact that it was tacky. But if it were someone I didn't care about, I would have not gone. But I would rsvp. ;)

Fawn said...

Whew! Like so many others, I seem to be a much better guest than hostess, at least according to "The Rules". Thanks for the link!

Mrs C said...

Number 12 made me laugh. It reminded me of a post at Belgian Waffling where she and her family were invited to a Holiday party by the neighbors (that they accepted) and then later on, they were asked to foot 150 EUROS to help pay for the costs!

Lori said...

I'm getting an engraved invite! Woohoo! My daughter's book, Fancy Nancy Bonjour, Butterfly, taught me RSVP. It's always good to keep learning!

Beverlydru said...

I like quizzes. Thanks. With my mom's training behind me, I do quite well with ettiquette. : )

perilloparodies said...

I have yet to do the quiz... kind of nervous about it somehow. but may be a good thing to know, huh? actually, I came to check in but to also let you know that I am doing a giveaway. yippee. Please stop by to learn more about it... hope you are well. have a great day...