A couple of weeks ago, I threatened to throw out my wife’s copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette, a compilation of advice on proper comportment, updated periodically by the descendants of the late manners icon. I have now decided the book may be a valuable addition to our library, not because I have any intention of changing my boorish ways, but because the volume is a gold mine of potential columns. Proper humor protocol requires that you take advantage of an opportunity like this.
One of the chapters is about appropriate demeanor when visiting a home with servants. The authors observe that many people have questions in this area. Yes, I have a question: How come I don’t know a single person who has servants? I skipped those 10 pages.
In this edition of the book, the writers claim that the basic rules covering a week-long visit to a friend’s home have never changed. “Easy or not, you must conform to the habits of your host family ... have meals at their hours, eat what is put before you and go to bed according to their schedule.” This is similar to the advice found in The Idiot’s Guide to Joining a Cult and is likely why so many beagles run away from home.
On some of the issues Mary Ellen takes a different point of view. The authors say, for example, that even if your hostess has not begun to eat, once several people have been served at the table, it is okay to pick up your fork and begin. I tried that once and my wife also picked up her fork; and stuck it in my thigh.
Here’s another gem: “Don’t tell your guests beforehand if you are serving an unfamiliar dish; it could prejudice them before they even taste it.” Yes, wait ‘til they’ve taken a bite before you casually mention that it’s not Beef Burgundy but rather Gopher Goulash.
There’s lots of advice on how to cater to someone who will be staying in your home’s guest bedroom. Ms. Post suggests lightly scented sachets in the bureau drawers. Yes, when you kick your no-good mooching brother-in-law out on his butt after two weeks, you want his clothes to smell really fresh.
Punctuality is important when it comes to dinner parties. To prevent guests from showing up late, it is suggested that the host “ask invitees to come about a half hour before you expect them to arrive.” I read that six times and I’m still not totally sure what it means. If you try this idea and your friends start ringing the doorbell while you are still in your underwear, you may need to rethink the concept.
What about guests who linger and overstay their welcome? Incredibly, the authors suggest that it is okay for the host to excuse herself and trot off to bed. Really? This does provide a good opportunity for guests to replace some of the missing flatware in their own kitchens. Another option is pretending to stifle a yawn or saying something subtle, like: “You know, I think it is time we went to bed, so these good people can get home.” I prefer this one: “Would you mind dropping our kids off at school on your way downtown?”
The chapter ends with a cautionary note. “Overnight visits absolutely require written thank-you notes.”
I couldn’t agree more. I spent a weekend at my sister’s house in New York recently and despite what an awesome house guest I was, not a word of gratitude from her in almost a month. I thought our mother taught us better.