Manners and the Women’s March

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Copyright Victoria Pratt

I attended the Women’s March in New York on Saturday and was thrilled that despite the enormous crowd and extremely slow movement, New Yorkers were at their absolute best. There was no pushing or rude remarks, people trying to get across the march were allowed to move through easily. I even encountered some tourists trying to get across to Grand Central with several large suitcases. When those suitcases inevitably fell over, people stopped to help them right them and get across to the train station. I had intended to write a whole post about it and then about how you don’t have to be polite to people who actively seek to harm you. But then I started reading a whole lot more about how the March made many groups feel excluded and felt that those discussions were better left to people much more informed than me.

One thing that did really strike me about my experience that also relates to etiquette, is the importance of invitations in life. We would be completely isolated in our lives if we never extended or accepted invitations. And sometimes those of us who are inclined to stay home and binge watch The Crown yet again, can be lured away by a tempting invitation. The same holds true with political action. It’s soooo easy to say to yourself, “I don’t know where to go or what to say to get involved, so I might as well just stay home.”

When all my girlfriends were going to Washington with their mothers to March and I wasn’t extended a particular invitation from them (which is fine! for the record! I love you guys!), I thought to myself that getting to DC by myself was too much trouble and that I would just sit this one out. Then I found out that the New York March was also happening, and I also said to myself “no one else I know mentioned going, so I think I will sit this one out.” But then I realized what a big thing it was going to be and decided I HAD to go. But I still didn’t want to go alone. So I reached out to a bunch of people who were going to be around and asked them to come with me. And they did! And some of them might not have if I hadn’t asked. So, I think, that beyond your own political actions, one of the most important things you can do is do that action, but also bring another person along with you. Now you’ve doubled the number of people! And then that can go on exponentially! Host a get together where everyone sits around and calls their senators. Invite some friends to go to a Town Hall with you. Get a group and go to the NEXT big march.

Jaya reminds me that the one caveat is that if someone doesn’t want to go because they feel that the march marginalizes them or makes them feel excluded, or many of the other very good reasons why they wouldn’t feel comfortable attending, then of course, don’t push them on it. And then see what you can do to make them feel more welcome at similar marches, or just in general.

I know that people are grown ups and should be able to do what’s right on their own. But seriously, people are so incredibly lazy most of the time. There are whole memes about the excitement of cancelling plans. Peer pressure really works! So please, send an invitation to the revolution and hopefully the thanks you receive will be bounteous.

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Asking After Invitations

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

A friend of mine  her daughter had a wedding. I asked why I didn’t get invited. My friend said that I really wasn’t involved in her daughters life. So that’s why I was not invited to the wedding.
The daughter got pregnant on her honeymoon , and since the wedding the daughter has moved
Now the daughter is having a baby shower, and now I’m getting invited to the baby shower.
I just don’t understand the reasoning behind the whole thing. Nothing has changed since the wedding, I don’t understand why I’m getting this invite to the baby shower.
 I don’t want to go especially since it’s 1.5 hours away.
And what is my reason for not going? I keep thinking she told me I wasn’t involved in her daughters life. That’s why I wasn’t invited to the wedding. So why now the baby shower??
And should I give a gift?
I am friends with the mom of the daughter.
Thanks,

Confused About Invitations

 

Our Take

Jaya: So right, my initial suspicion is that her friend was making an effort to include her after she complained about not being invited to the wedding.

Who knows, it could be a blatant gift grab, but that just seems like the most likely explanation.

Victoria: Yeah, I think if you complain to someone about not being invited to something, they feel like they have to invite you to the next thing.

That’s kind of why you aren’t supposed to ask about invitations.

Jaya: Right. Like, are you asking because you thought you were involved more in her daughter’s life and wish you were invited? Or because you were under the assumption you had a place in the wedding no matter what?

Victoria: Yeah, I think also that as more and more couples are paying more for their weddings we’ve had a shift in the attendees to being more about the couple’s friends and less about the parents friends. But a lot of people don’t realize that and assume that because they are friends with the parents, they will automatically be invited.

Jaya: Exactly. It is what it is, and it’s just a good reminder that you should never assume anything.

Victoria: Ha, yeah, assuming invites to weddings is bound to lead only to heartbreak.

Jaya: Regarding the baby shower though, yeah, it seems like an olive branch given that the LW expressed her displeasure about not being invited to the last thing.

Victoria: Yeah, for sure.

Jaya: But the same rules apply–you don’t have to go if you don’t want to.

Victoria: Exactly!

Jaya: Do you have to send a gift? In the sense of you never HAVE to send a gift but it’s societally expected to send a gift?

Victoria: I believe that you don’t have to send a gift for a shower you can’t attend. A wedding is technically the only thing you are strongly “supposed” to send a gift for even if you can’t attend. Because it’s an honor to be invited? It’s a weird thing.

Jaya: Very weird.

But yeah, I think the ultimate lesson here is don’t be surprised if you get invited to more things if you complain about not getting invited to things.

Victoria: Hahaha yeah, exactly

Jaya: And, this is just me speculating, but it sounds like the LW is still feeling hurt and slighted about not being invited to the wedding. Maybe a good step would be to talk to her friend about their relationship and her expectations.

Victoria: Yeah!

Jaya: Any other thoughts?

Victoria: Not really. I realize that wedding invitations are super fraught, but there’s a lot that goes into wedding planning and honestly, you can’t take it personally if you aren’t invited.

Jaya: Exactly. There are budgets, and different sides of the family coming in with their own expectations and guest lists, and the couple’s ideas of what they want the day to be like. After planning a wedding, I will never be upset about not being invited to one ever again.

Victoria: I will, but silently.

Jaya: Hahahaha

Keeping a Big Weekend House Party Organized

Good Morning!

I am a member of the Foreign Service and have Home Leave once every three years or so. Rather than try to go around to every friend or family member for the few weeks or month I am home, sometimes I rent a cabin or beach house and invite people to come to stay for as long as they like. My only request is that they bring a ham, or a casserole or some such. A large dish that can be shared among everyone. That way the limited cooking facilities are not over taxed and I don’t end up buying and making all the food.

My first time with this went very well. I selected all my favorite people and almost everyone said yes and a wonderful time was had by all. However, this most recent time the house I had used before was no longer available and the only one available was an Outer Banks style “Party House.” I also threw it open to all my friends and family on social media rather than individually selecting guests myself. There was much Sturm und Drang and problems with sleeping options.

My protocol question is thus:  Out of the 20 people who came, only one couple brought a casserole. One other fixed a lasagna, which was nice, but many people did not bring any food at all (some people were given a pass as they had to fly to attend) and many people revealed dietary restrictions upon the start of someone cooking. Some were vegetarians, some no gluten, others no garlic or onions. I had thought I had made it very clear in the invitation that people needed to bring a certain kind of food, but how responsible am I for food restrictions of my guests when I am not told in advance? They looked at me and my partner to “organize” meals, but I had intended a very free form style.

What should I do next time to improve things? Help!!

Sincerely,

A Stranger in a Strange (Home) Land

 

Victoria: Ah, the life I could have led if I had gotten further into the Foreign Service process! I only got past the initial test though.

Jaya: Firstly, I love this idea. I think making everyone come to you if you have limited time and resources is the way to go. Everyone should do more “office hours” type planning.

Victoria: Yeah, it’s amazing, like the bigger version of “I’m in town for one night and will be at this bar, come see me.”

Jaya: Exactly. But I think where he went wrong was opening it up to everybody on social media.

Victoria: Yesss, that was a terrible idea because people are monsters.

Jaya: Facebook is great for party planning, but makes it harder to be specific–which is what a gathering like this needs.

Victoria: Yeah, I think as long as he lays out the expectations very specifically, then all will be well. I mean, I think it still would have worked with the bigger group open to all as long as it was super super clear that you were expected to bring food.

Jaya: Yeah, and it’s hard to tell if he did that and people on social media just ignored him, or if those ideas weren’t laid out. Either way there was a miscommunication.

Victoria: Yeah, I mean, he says it was only 20 people, so that shouldn’t have been too terribly hard to manage.

Jaya: But right, booking a house and saying ANYONE can come automatically makes  sleeping problems. There are only so many beds!

Victoria: Yeah, I don’t think open houses really work when there is sleeping involved. So the format probably does need to change a bit. Especially if people are flying in!

Jaya: Yes, I think in the future, going back to a curated guest list will probably minimize this sort of issue. But in general, if you’ve said people need to be responsible for bringing food and they don’t, that’s on them.

Victoria: Yeah, and if they have dietary restrictions they definitely need to let you know in advance! And if it’s a particularly complicated one, maybe they should plan on just bringing their own food.

Jaya: You can certainly offer to help, whether it’s lending them your car so they can go to the grocery store, or sharing what you have if it’s enough. But if you did your best to make it clear and remind everyone of their responsibilities, they don’t get to be mad at you for ignoring it. (I mean they will be mad, they’ll just be wrong.)

Victoria: Haha yeah, exactly. I also don’t think you can really plan on a free form house party…there has to be some degree of organization. Like assign meals to people or something.

Jaya: Yes. And it sounds like the original plan offered some structure like that. Maybe it’s just a matter of reminding everyone of that.

Victoria: Yeah, when people are basically all in one place for a weekend or whatever, they need to know that there will be meals and sleeping places and enough showers and all that stuff. And someone has to be the one to coordinate it and that person is usually going to need to be the host (except, haha, I have sometimes jumped in with close friends and sorted out who is sleeping where, but that is very much a me thing!)

Jaya: Totally. Maybe if you do share it on social media, you can say there are X number of beds, this is first-come first-served, everyone is responsible for at least one dinner/making any dietary restrictions known, so you don’t get 20 people showing up to a five bedroom house. I mean, the lesson here is best laid plans, right? You can make reasonable requests and remind people of your expectations, and sometimes they will ignore them and then get pissy about it. And all you can do is try to offer some small help while setting boundaries. And then next time invite the people you know have their shit together

Victoria: Yes, exactly. I think it’s very important, as a big planner myself, to know who you can rely on and when it’s important that you are inviting only reliable people, to just do that. Although, I guess if you only get to see people every couple of years then maybe you want to be more generous.

Jaya: Yeah, it’s a balance. See more people but risk having to take more responsibility, or limit your guest list.

Victoria: Or do your thing somewhere where there are a lot of restaurants and just eat out. I think a loosey goosey sort of thing is probably easier in a place where there is decent transport and restaurants/grocery stores. Like if you are in the middle of nowhere, everyone had better come prepared with EVERYTHING.

Jaya: Exactly. Whereas an open house works best when it can actually be open–people going into town or to the beach as they please.

Gifts for Destination Weddings

A friend asked me recently if you have to give a gift when you are going to a destination wedding that is going to cost a LOT- like $1000 a person a lot- to attend. And the answer, like most things about weddings, is a bit complicated.

  1. Technically wedding gifts are always “optional,” but in traditional American culture, it is generally expected that you will give a gift whenever invited to a wedding (whether you can actually attend or not).
  2. However, in traditional American culture, weddings aren’t held on tropical islands that cost thousands of dollars to attend.
  3. So generally, I think you are pretty safe in these situations in considering your “presence” to be your “present.” Doubly especially if the couple states somewhere on their website or other communications that they don’t expect gifts because the wedding itself is so expensive.
  4. However, if you are dealing with the kind of person who might actually be so rude as to inquire where your gift is (um, why are you attending their wedding if they are so awful?), then you can always do a token $20 gift.
  5. Token gifts are especially great if you feel like YOU are going to feel like you are being rude by not giving an actual gift. Just a little something acknowledges the day without adding too much burden to your overall cost.

So basically just go with your gut and assume that anyone you love enough to spend extreme amounts of money to attend their wedding will understand if you don’t want to add an extravagant present on top of that. And if your friends AREN’T that reasonable, maybe consider not being friends with them anymore, because you don’t need that in your life.

Ordering at a Fancy Restaurant

menuI was having dinner with a friend at a new Welsh restaurant in Brooklyn when I started thinking about how one of the anxieties people have about restaurants is pronouncing what they are ordering. Right up there with knowing which fork to use, I think a lot of people get the impression from the media that if you can’t pronounce Coq au Vin correctly, your dining companions will be absolutely mortified and you will feel like an imposter.

The truth is that no one cares if you mispronounce anything. However, in most instances, there is an easy trick you can use. Just call it by it’s name in English or pared down to the basics. In my case at the Welsh restaurant, I wanted to order the ffagodau and haha, I don’t speak Welsh and I am not even going to TRY with that one. What I did do, was ask for the meatballs, which is what the dish was. This works pretty well for menus that are small where there is say a dish each of salmon, tilapia, steak, chicken, and lamb. Just name the meat. Or the preparation or sauce.

If worse comes to worse, just mispronounce with abandon and laugh it off!