Etiquette's Black Hole, Vol. 13, Issue 20

Dear Etiquetteer: My wife and I often discuss "the black hole." You may be familiar with this particular one. It's the one that has proven to be eminently adept at attracting/pulverizing/vaporizing every last shred of etiquette left in our fair planet's social consciousness.

My mother didn't make a move without referencing Emily's Etiquette book (that currently sits on our bookshelf).  My wife's family was etiquette-aware as well.  We are constantly floored at the lack of "Thank yous" following gifts we give for weddings, showers, etc.  Also, in her recent attempt to host a party for one of our friends, my wife received a number of "I'll say maybe, but cannot say for sure until the day of the party, in case there is another party that comes up, or there's a good snowfall and I want to go skiing," and other responses like, "I can't possibly attend your party for three hours, but I may drop by on my walk."  If my mom were still alive, she would not believe it.  And these responses are from people (family, friends, etc.) that adore my wife.  My sister-in-law even said that she doesn't believe in "thank yous!"

Dear Concerned:

With friends like these, as the saying goes, who needs relatives? Oh wait . . . um, Etiquetteer may have bungled that.

The cornerstone of Perfect Propriety, of the most basic good manners, is consideration of others. That means consideration of the time and effort taken to entertain one, to give one gifts, to show consideration of one in the first place. So, what is the consideration one shows?

  • One understands that when an invitation is given for a dinner, a party, a theatre outing, for any kind of entertainment, that the hosts need good data to make their plans. That means responding as quickly as possible with a definite Yes or No. No prevaricating, no waiting for a better offer, and absolutely no "I'll have to see how I feel." Let Etiquetteer tell you in no uncertain terms, NO ONE cares how you feel. What they do care about is making sure they're prepared for you if you condescend to accept an invitation . . . or just show up after saying no (it's happened).
  • Really, Etiquetteer takes particular offense to someone saying "Oh, I'll have to see if there's another party that day." What an insult! If these people can't appreciate the Value and the Beauty of an invitation to one's home, they should be crossed off the guest list permanently.
  • One understands that, when one is given a gift, one must take the time to express thanks in writing with a pen on paper. (Our changing means of communications over the last 20 years and how that has changed how thanks are delivered is engaging enough to warrant a separate column.) If someone has troubled to spend money (though how Vulgar even to have to refer to it) and effort, and considered one's taste to boot (which might conflict with their own), sitting down with a pen for five minutes is little trouble enough to take.
  • When one has been entertained, one reciprocates with one's own invitations. That's how social discourse  - what is now ostentatiously referred to as "community" - is furthered.
Etiquetteer is appalled to hear about your sister-in-law who "doesn't believe" in thanks. That would be quite enough for Etiquetteer to tell her Etiquetteer doesn't believe in giving her gifts at all if they can't prompt gratitude! That is even worse than the Happy Couple who sent out alleged thank-you notes following their honeymoon that were completely generic advertisements for their happiness, lacking any reference to the specific recipient or the gift given.
Long story short, our fellow citizens need to be more cognizant of how their bland devotion to their own whims hurts those who love and care for them. Some will say it sounds like work. Well, Etiquetteer agrees. It is work to maintain friendships and relationships! And far more often than not, it's worth the effort.