Friday, January 30, 2009

Etiquette. What's to get?

Etiquette. The rules and conventions governing correct or polite behaviour in society in general or in a particular social or professional group or situation.

Sounds pretty simple to me.

Lack of etiquette really gets my goat. You either have it, or you don’t. You can’t make grand, sweeping gestures with your etiquette skills. Your etiquette skills are subtle, often go unnoticed, if you have them. If you don’t, then your lack of them can be so smack bang, shoutingly obvious to others, it’s hard to believe people don’t realise just how impolite they are. I suppose they would if they were trained in etiquette. People trained in etiquette are so aware of being perceived as even slightly rude, they go out of their way to be generous, courteous, thoughtful. I like people with etiquette.

You don’t have to go to finishing school to have basic etiquette skills. I think my mum’s best friend, my favourite fake aunt, went to finishing school, but aside from her, I don’t know of a soul who was sent to finishing school. Yet most of the people with whom I choose to spend my time have etiquette in abundance. And when I find myself in a situation with people who have none, I get really wound up. It’s an injustice.

Good etiquette skills – some examples:

My best mate and the future bride to my maid – the most thoughtful, generous woman I know, except me. Cesca, for that is her name, is a fellow letter writer. If invited to dinner, she arrives with wine. At dinner, she engages in conversation, asks about the host’s life, gives great banter. She eats enough to show she’s enjoyed herself, but not so much as to be seen as some kind of guzzling, get-it-cos-it’s-free hobo. After dinner, perhaps the next day, she writes to thank the host for the spread, thus giving the host a warm glow and a want to reinvite her soon. It’s not rocket science, but judging by some of the invitees I’ve had round for dinner, you’d think it was.
My dear friend Laurence. He never, ever, let’s your glass get empty. He would never dream of filling his own glass without filling yours too. As soon as guests arrive, he offers them a drink and then spends the rest of the night with a vigilant eye on their glass. He opens doors for women and serves other people before himself. He’s also rude, loud, obnoxious, opinionated and stubborn. My point being, you can be anyone, have any personality traits, and still have etiquette.

My sister Tammi. Thoughtful to a fault. So thoughtful she, if you actually worked it out, probably finishes a night out of pocket, as her generosity knows no bounds. And most of her friends take full advantage of this, the pikey little scumbags.

My father – good etiquette skills. Opens doors for women, will live and die by the FHB rule. (that’s Family Hold Back, to the uninitiated. If you don't know about FHB, you probably don't have any etiquette skills).

The list goes on. But let's move on to the rude.

Perched on their probably stolen stools on the other side of the fence, some other friends of mine, who I suppose will have to remain anonymous, although quite why I’m being so kind as to keep them anonymous I’m not sure. Oh, it’s that bloody etiquette again isn’t it. Damn. If only I was as rude as them, they’d be named and shamed right here.

Gareth and I went for dinner with some friends the other day. Not once did either of them ask me an iota about my life. Every pause in conversation, I had to think of yet another thing to ask - about them. Banter. Banter goes to and fro, no? Obviously not to these self absorbed bastards. I've told Gareth I no longer wish to see them. I've written them off.

Last night, we had some other friends round for dinner. They brought a bottle of wine.

(I will interlude here. Bringing a bottle of wine to a dinner party is like a rite of passage into my life. If you don’t, it's bye bye bingo. The host is providing the meal, slaving away over it, the least you can do is bring a bloody bottle. When Laurence and I lived together, I would take pride in sending my rude and incompetent friends down the road to the off lcense if they were rude enough to arrive without a bottle. And then, after the evening was over, I would strike them off the list of people who were invitable. When I first started seeing Gareth, he was invited to a dinner at my then home, which I shared with my etiquette-in-abundance friends Cesca, Mike and Cordelia. He did not bring wine. Unfortunately I rather liked him so I had to hold off from striking him off my list. But I still told him he was walking a fine line and never to ever make that mistake again. Which he did. And he doesn’t pour me a drink when he’s pouring his own. But I’m working on him.)

So these friends came for dinner. Yes yes, they brought wine. Well bloody done. Clap clap. It was red. I don’t drink red. So they drank it. They drank the wine they brought me. Then they proceeded to drink ALL our wine – I worked it out the next morning when I was clearing up. Gareth and I drank rose, and there were two empty bottles. They drank red. Five empty bottles, plus all the spirits they moved on to once we had run out of red.

A bit rude, I feel. Now we have no wine reserves. In one fell swoop they rinsed us of our wine collection which, if I do some quick sums, would have cost us about £40. Plus the price of the meal. So I spent perhaps £100. They spent £5. And drank it.

I know hosting costs more than guesting. I’m not an idiot. I love hosting. I just love etiquette more.

Basic etiquette.

I suppose it’s about thoughtfulness. Thinking about how you come across is social situations and deciding whether you want to be generous and thoughtful or thoughtless, tight and insensitive. I’m pretty annoyed about the wine, in case I hadn’t made myself clear. The only way I can make that back is if I go to their house and get slaughtered, making sure I drink at least five bottles of their wine before moving on to spirits.

But I can’t. I couldn’t consume that much. I would vomit. So I’m out of pocket. And out of wine.


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