The Civilized Minute

a minute of manners and musings

modern manners?

I rarely find something in Real Simple I disagree with. It’s one of my favorite magazines. I’ve even used articles from that mag to create blog posts. This one about dinner party seating was one of my favorites.

Among the many reasons I really like the magazine is that they have a regular column on etiquette. It has changed over time – I don’t think they could figure out how to present it – but now, it seems they are set with the title Modern Manners and they even have a new writer.

I’m kinda bummed, though, because in a recent issue, some really bad advice was handed out. The writer was addressing whether or not it would be ok to take along uninvited guests to a party. Here’s her advice:

“…it might be OK to bring along an extra guest, if attending a large cocktail party where one more person might not make a difference. But why not call to check anyway?”

Bad. I do see the last part…why not call to check anyway…I didn’t miss that. This isn’t a why not situation. Checking with the host before bringing another mouth to feed is not optional. It’s not something you should do if you think of it or get around to it. If you are going to do it, make that call at least a week in advance. It’s only fair to give the host time to react.

Especially today when people are watching every dime that comes in and goes out, even one more mouth makes a difference in their party planning budget. The food and drink menus are planned based on the number of people attending. If I were hosting a party and had carefully planned the menu to accomodate 30 people, I would have to send The Hubs to the store if even 3 of my guests brought along some friends. 

Another reason letting friends tag along can be a party-pooper is that guest lists are put together with intention. Party planners often toil over who should receive an invitation because they want everyone to get along and enjoy the company of everyone else there. Your friend from work, who just happened to not have plans for the evening, could be the very nemesis of the event host.

The final reason this could send the host into a tailspin has to do with the effort required to ensure the evening goes off without a hitch. Among the many responsibilities of the hosts, they are to make sure guests are introduced all around, make sure guests are comfortable, make sure guests have someone to chat with, make sure guests have enough to eat and so on. How can they ‘make sure’ anything is right with someone they don’t know and/or didn’t expect.

Maybe the writer was thinking in modern terms since the column is titled Modern Manners. It’s true that modern etiquette is much more relaxed than in years past. I, for one, am in favor of a more relaxed approach to etiquette these days.

Modern is one thing. Inconsiderate, however, is another.


4 responses to “modern manners?

  1. Diane Gottsman December 15, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Kate, I agree with you. I would not be very “merry” if one or three guests brought an extra guest without warning. I always err on the side of caution and have more food than necessary at my dinner parties but the bottom line is that a gracious guest should not surprise a host or put her in an awkward situation. Keep up the good work! My best, Diane

  2. Jay Remer December 15, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    Hello Kate, I could not agree with you more. The invited should not ask the host to bring along an uninvited guest unless in the most unusual of circumstances – never say never. If an uninvited guest suddenly appears, of course you must welcome them with a smile – oh, what a lovely surprise! I for one would have a chat in private with their invited escort after the party. If the guest is unescorted, I would refuse them entry – usually. I recently was told of a woman who showed up at house expecting a New Years Eve party only to find new tenants. Imagine that! As far as more relaxed etiquette is concerned, certain things will be more casual, but the underlying dynamics of civility should not change. They are the very foundation upon which we build a healthy society. I love your writing and your comfortable approach. All the best, Jay

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