Friday, November 20, 2009

Modern Day Manners

Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use. ~Emily Post

We are soon headed back home to Canada to sleep on my sister-in-law's couch and join a household comprising two dogs, a teen, parents, a grandma and now, an aunt. It's crazy but we're really looking forward to it!

Even when staying with family, we never take for granted that we are in fact interrupting their lives and their home with our jolly presence. We always:
1. Bring gifts
2. Pay for groceries and booze
3. Keep the den we take over for 3 weeks as clean and tidy as possible.
4. Help with the housework
5. Fill up the car we borrow with gas
6. Treat them to a meal "out"
7. Leave money for long-distance phone calls or other expenses incurred during our stay.

Does this cost us money? Of course it does but imagine the costs if we were to stay at a hotel for that long a period of time. And even though we try to pitch in more than our share, it costs them as well. It costs them in water, electricity, gas, car wear and tear, inconvenience, time, toilet paper, and the list goes on...

Maybe you say, "Family is family. You shouldn't keep a running tab." But it's not about who pays for what at the end of the day. It's about respect. Respect for each of them and self-respect. When you notice your guests are not reciprocating, it makes everyone feel bad. And we're all supposed to be having a good time together as a family.

In my humble and well-mannered opinion and based on some recent research into the subject, I have come to the conclusion that these are the minimum obligations of a guest:
1. ALWAYS bring a host/hostess gift. Bottle of wine, flowers, chocolate, etc. Does it have to be expensive? Absolutely NOT. It's the thought that counts.
2. ALWAYS offer to help around the house, with dinner, etc.
3. ALWAYS offer to pay for gas if your host/hostess is shuttling you around.
4. Depending on your length of stay, ALWAYS offer to take your host/hostess out to a meal/for coffee to show your appreciation. If you can't afford it, you shouldn't be staying to begin with.
5. ALWAYS send a thank-you. It could very well be a thank-you email. But a personal note that expresses your appreciation is what's needed, no matter the form.
6. ALWAYS keep your living quarters tidy and clean.
7. Depending on your length of stay, ALWAYS offer to pay for groceries or just go out and buy some if you see your hosts are running low.

And before you ask, "No, the pleasure of your company is NOT gift enough."

This is a very sensitive and sore subject for me because hubby and I are usually on the receiving end of company. As many times as I can recall feeling awful due to ill-mannered guests, I choose right now to focus on the positive and name some guests who truly left an impression on me:
1. A friend would stop by on warm summer days to sit by our pool, a box of freshly-baked canollis in hand.
2. A different friend would stop under the same circumstances and bring booze and sushi for everyone.
3. My dear 21-year old cousin, a student on a tight budget backpacking through Europe, showed up with chocolates for us and a bottle of wine as a gift for my birthday. I almost cried.
4. My maid-of-honour who never forgets a hostess gift or misses a chance to help out.
5. A friend who brings beautiful flowers everytime she comes for dinner.
6. A mother-in-law on a fixed income who pitches in generously and spoils our children incesssantly.
7. So many friends and acquaintances back home in Montenegro who would turn down an invitation if they could not afford to buy a host/ess gift. These are people who have so little money compared to us "rich" North Americans.

To be frank, it took me a few years to understand etiquette and its impact. I was not raised in a barn but I started living the life of a "Woman" at a young age. I was entertaining and being entertained by "important" people at the age of 20. I was naive and ignorant in those times (not that it's all bad mind you as you're sorta suppose to be naive and ignorant at 20..ha!) But I did learn quickly after some major stumbles.

I'd like to point out that I realize etiquette rules can vary from culture to culture. Apparently farting after a meal in Asia is considered a compliment to the host...bahahahahaha. I think the universal truth is this: Be thoughtful and be respectful and if you are entering a culture different from your own, do yourself and your hosts a favour and please take a few moments to read up on local etiquette.


septembermom said...

Very good reminders. It's sweet when a guest brings a little something or shows appreciation in a personal way. Have a safe and happy visit in Canada!

SwedishJenn said...

We just passed each other septembermom. I was JUST NOW visiting you and reading your post on alone time..ha! These reminders were just as much for me as for everyone else. Recently had an "experience" that encouraged this post :-)