Monday, August 9, 2010

Revisiting Visiting

This summer has been remarkable if for no better reason than for the unbelievably beautiful weather we've enjoyed. With bright sunny days, what better way to enjoy the company of friends and family than with a good old-fashioned picnic. I was recently asked, as an etiquette expert, an interesting question on a website which invites reader participation. The question was, "Is it okay to bring my own sporks (that clever invention which combines a fork and
spoon in one utensil) for my family to eat with because my hostess uses disposable plastic cutlery which goes against my environmental sustainability values." This seemed like a simple enough question to me to which I answered - No!, with a short explanation about keeping one's values to one's self whenvisiting someone else's house. I went on to explain that if you invite people toyour home, you are responsible for supplying the obvious cutlery required for eating the food being served. This, to me, is basic. Apparently, my opinion was not accepted by some readers who offered up a variety of different views. For example one person exclaimed that if she were having a party, she'd be thrilled if people brought there own forks and knives because then she would have fewer to wash up. Another argument was this was an opportunity to provide a teachable moment to her ecologically irresponsible friends. You get the general idea.

Luckily there a few folks who backed me up and shared the viewpoint that perhaps it is not appropriate to decide when teachable moments would suit your friends. As I began to uncoil from the surprise of these alternative points of view, I thought how useful such a simple question could illustrate a number of important points of etiquette which pop up from time to time in different situations. By understanding how these manners and habits can change in a simple situation such as with sporks, this dynamic will spread to other more complex situations
with greater ease.

First of all, if you are hosting an event, no matter how formal or informal, your job is to make your guests feel comfortable and welcome. When a meal is central to the get together, it is the responsibility of the host to make sure there is enough of everything including food and cutlery. In some cases, you will assign certain tasks to certain guests such as for a pot luck affair. Otherwise, guests should resist bringing anything more than a small gift. The host is giving the party after all, not the guest.

Secondly, a party to which one is an invited guest is not a time to become the center of attention by thrusting your views - political, religious, or otherwise - on others, unless that is the express purpose of the event. This trap is one into which some people fall often quite unintentionally. Usually this is the result of not thinking how your strong opinions might be received. This act of 'unthinking' is actually very disrespectful. Therefore, if you want to share your views on
recycling, either do it in a public forum or at your own house, but not at someone else's house.

The guidelines of etiquette are flexible to be sure. However, making someone else, especially the hostess, feel inadequate, uninformed, or in any way uncomfortable, either intentionally or unintentionally, is never a good idea. Likewise, the concept of thinking that it's perfectly fine for your guests to feel free to bring whatever they want and behave however they want is not cool. It enables disrespectful behavior by endorsing their assumption that the host/hostess is
inadequate in his or her ability to throw a nice party unassisted. We need not look too far to see how respect has taken a back seat to a carefree attitude. Though carefree ought not to become careless and become hurtful in some way. The way to avoid an unwanted hurtful result is to think through what one is about to say and do. As a guest it is our place to enjoy the visit with the host/hostess who has included us in a gathering. And our job to behave respectfully. We must be mindful of others and what we practice as positive examples. After all, our behaviour is a clear reflection of who we are and if our children learn their behavior from us let them learn good manners. Being aware of how our words and actions affect others is a behavior well worth passing along.