Monday, 29 May 2017

The National Curriculum of Social Etiquette

I've read and heard a lot of comments from adults saying that they wish that at school instead of algebra and Pythagoras, they had been taught life skills such as budgeting and working out taxes.

I don't particularly wish that I had been taught budgeting and working out taxes, I've managed to navigate those on my own. 

There are, however, plenty of things I wish I had been taught. In fact, the further into my twenties I get, the longer my list becomes. Because my list is not made up of finance lessons, but of social etiquette classes. 

I really believe that social etiquette classes should become essential around the age of twenty five; the age that I, at least, was suddenly presented with a whole host of new social situations that I had no idea how to handle. 

So I, ladies and gents, have put together my own Social Etiquette Curriculum. If anyone is available to teach me classes on any of the following, please let me know...

1) The bride and groom have requested money for their honeymoon in their invitation. How much do I give them? 

I've asked so many people about this, and nobody seems to have a clear answer. It needs to be at least twenty, right? But then thirty also seems reasonable. But then thirty is quite a lot. Twenty five? Is it different for an evening guest? A family member? If I'm a bridesmaid? 

My wedding season began in September 2011 and hasn't really stopped since. I've been a bridesmaid, a reader, a day guest, an evening guest, a family member, a best friend, an old friend, a family friend, the friend of a family member, and the family member of a friend, and I still don't know. 

Help me. Please. 

2) Someone has just done something far kinder for me than our relationship really calls for. Do I accept? How do I ever thank them? 

This actually happens to me quite a lot- I have a lot of ridiculously nice people around me. As I was typing that last sentence I received a text from Dale saying that his sister has just done something so kind and thoughtful for us that again, I'm not sure how we will ever thank her. 

The example I was thinking of though- that I regularly cringe at- was when I told one of the mums at work that I loved her nail varnish and she said I could have it and she would bring it in for me. I opened and closed my mouth a couple of times and actually couldn't tell you what came out in the end because I just had no idea what to say. Should I have just said thanks, I look forward to it? Objected and said just telling me where she got it from would be enough? 

I think the reason I'm often so awkward in these situations is if it's so unnecessarily kind I fear I may have misheard. 

Imagine if I had said 'ooh yes please, that's so kind of you to offer to bring in your nail varnish for me to keep' and she had to say 'oh no, I was just saying it's from Avon and it's called hot pink.' Or worse, then felt she had to give it to me even though that's not what she'd said at all. 

Similarly when people do really lovely things for me I always feel like I have to do something really lovely for them, but then sometimes that would be weird. Like one of the dads at work once bought a coffee for every single member of the team that was in that day just because. It would be so strange if I just bought him a coffee. Or anything in return really. But then how do I make him realise how much that meant to us, and that none of us will ever forget that kind gesture? 

I try my best to be as kind as that, and to do things in turn for others who I think would appreciate it, but that doesn't make me any less awkward at accepting kind gestures.

As I said above, I'm surrounded by lots of outrageously kind people so this happens a lot. Any thoughts?  

3) I've just realised that I've put my foot in it. Do I acknowledge it, try backtracking, or just completely ignore it? 

Obviously what would be really great would be a lesson in how not to put my foot in it. But a far more realistic fix would be how to deal with it once I've realised what I've done. I've just been going on and on and on about how much I dislike the name Talia. That I think it's a stupid, ridiculous name and have no idea why anyone would do that to their child. (NB: I've purposely chosen Talia because everyone knows it's actually my favourite name. I mostly manage to avoid offending people when I'm writing because I have time to think. Mostly.) I've just got to the end of my rant and realised that the person I'm talking to is, in fact, Talia. She shortens it to Tilly so I had forgotten. 

Do I tell her I've just realised and I'm so, so sorry? Do I backtrack and say, of course, it's beautiful if you're blonde, and tall, live in Chelmsford, have a sister called Holly, work in a bank....other completely unrelated things about this particular Talia....

Do I just leave a horrible silence whilst we both think about what I just said? Or speak frantically about a totally different subject. "Anyway, tell me about your new haircut, ever so lovely..." 

4) What I've just said hasn't gone down the way I thought it would. How do I save it? 

I was actually on the other end of this recently. A poor lady commented on how teeny, tiny I looked. I think she was trying to compliment me. I have a personal dislike of people commenting on my size anyway (such a strange thing to comment on I think, but maybe that's because I'm socially awkward), and what she didn't know was that I was twelve weeks pregnant and had been sick every day for eight of them and was actually acutely aware of my weight, and slightly concerned about my baby for it. What she also didn't know was that it felt to me like she was eight hundredth person to comment on my size that week, and I had used up all of my polite responses and said 'well I haven't lost any weight' in a manner most unlike me. Fortunately this lady, unlike me, is a queen of social etiquette and didn't miss a beat. She smiled serenely and came back with a perfect response that immediately calmed me. 

A few days later I was on the other side of it, and had accidentally said something that didn't go down the way I thought it would. I like to think that I also replied with a smooth, calm reaction and fixed the situation, and was temporarily proud of myself. But then I spent the rest of the day cringing that I had said the wrong thing in the first place.

So really, my question is not so much how do I save the conversation, but how do I save myself from worrying about it forevermore? And does everyone do that all the time? 

5) I'm going to a friend's house for a lunch/dinner/barbecue/gathering. I've offered to take something (right at the last minute because I am the absolute worst at planning and don't think about anything until I'm doing it) and they say no thank you. Do I still take something? 

Really I suppose my question is: is there a trick to knowing when someone is being polite and when they actually mean what they're saying? 

How am I supposed to know if she really doesn't mind what restaurant we go to or if she's just too polite to say? How do I know if he really doesn't want a coffee or is just worried about me spending my money? 

And are you always meant to take something to someone's house? Where does it end? Dinner? Barbecue? Coffee? Dropping in a birthday card? 

Also what are you supposed to take? Flowers? Box of chocolates? Wine? Is there a rule for which gift for which situation? 

Who is meant to teach me this? How do other adults know? 

6) What makes a good house warming gift? 

I don't think I have ever bought anyone a good house warming gift. When we moved in we got some gorgeous gifts- but I was so open with our colour scheme and I am so easy going that I think I'm quite easy to buy for. But how am I supposed to buy a house warming gift for someone who has very specific taste but rarely talks about their home decor choices? 

It's so hard. Help me. 

7) My friend's had a baby. How often do I call/text/turn up? 

When someone's had a baby I take it completely for granted that everyone that they have ever met will want to see them. Perhaps because I love babies, or because I have a close family, or because most people I know love babies. So I just assume they'll be inundated with guests and won't need me getting in the way. And they won't want to be bombarded with messages from me when they're getting used to the madness of parenthood and dealing with all these visitors and getting over childbirth. So I'll pop in when invited but will otherwise leave them to it. 

But then I read something recently about new parents feeling let down and lonely when their friends don't call/text/turn up. 

But surely doing it all the time is just as much of a pain? 

Adulthood is a minefield, seriously. 

When am I supposed to learn this stuff, and who is supposed to teach me? 

I could actually write an entire novel on this topic. I haven't even got started on eating meat when your friends have forgotten you're vegetarian, talking comfortably about death and illness, how to deal with having a serious dislike of your friend's boyfriend, or what to do when you realise you haven't been listening and your pal is waiting for a response. So for the moment, I will continue trying to Do The Right Thing and Not Make A Complete Idiot of Myself, and will use all my ridiculous mistakes as writing material. But as soon as you start offering social etiquette lessons- sign me up. 

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