Thursday, June 24, 2004

Crazy Old People

The elderly are some really great people that have all done something spectacular. In the last ten to twenty years they have stopped accepting social change and simply ask us all to follow the rules of the road circa their childhood. I attribute grandparents for imperatively informing the younger generations that there are certain rules for every situation, commonly called etiquette.

It does not take someone long to realize the silliness of having three different forks or trying to set a platter down amongst the personal set of glassware in front of you. A lot of these issues are brought up in a wedding. Why, because when two groups of people that have a minimal level of comfort with each other there a level playing field is needed. It is like the Geneva Convention of social exchange. (With the same success rate)

I am midway into witnessing my second wedding planning. I enjoy it to this point, like all other spectator sports. Once it becomes an interactive experience I am sure my views and blood pressure will change. There are so many old relatives that just need to see traditions upheld that the bride and groom’s visions are at best, second on the list. So it seems, once your old, then you get to see what you really wanted to see when you got married forty years ago.

The phrase “the etiquette says…” is almost as obnoxious as listening to someone with a Cambridge accent. The rules of etiquette are just like our motor vehicle laws. No one follows them until they know they are being watched, or they see somebody else break them. Shame on them! One can not plead ignorance when they claim to be so proper. I find it to be tragically humorous when people argue over who should assume the bill/responsibility.

My favorite rule of etiquette is the bride’s family is to pay for the wedding. THE WEDDING. The groom’s family gets the rehearsal dinner. That’s huge. It’s like having to buy a new tux and then someone else chimes in “hey, I’ll buy your shoes.” It helps but really in the grand scheme of things it is a drop in the bucket. What is expected is that since the bride’s family fronts the bill, they get first dibs on everything.

The rules are much more closely watched during a meal of a formal event. Pass the salt and the pepper. Glasses to the left and when you finish your plate put the fork and knife at 4:00 to let the help know you are done. Only cut three pieces from your entrée at a time. Either back in England around 1200 somebody had too much time on their hands or they went to a reception where children were allowed.

Perhaps my least favorite rule is the thank you letter. I understand the written appreciation for a gift is nice. However I feel that my initial thank you was much more sincere and personable than a 4x5 card saying “thank you for the card and gift it was much appreciated. I also enjoyed getting to see you at the (fill in event).” When people read those blatantly insincere messages they still somehow feel better. “Oh, he really appreciated the gift. I thought his smile and hugs were all show. Now I can rest easily knowing that he truly was pleased with the gift.”

I want to start sending “you’re welcome” cards. This may take some time to catch on but I strongly feel that this gesture will let them sincerely know that I sincerely appreciate their sincerest gratitude for whatever gift to which I bestowed. As of now, it is the only load of crap occasion Hallmark has not guilt tripped us into.

I respect elderly people, most of the time. As long as they bathe and try to listen to the conversation I will most definitely let them sit down and enter a room first. Maybe the elderly hold onto etiquette since it is an excessive display of decadence. Decadence for them since it made them feel like aristocrats, fussing over the dire importance of such items as salad forks and butter knives.

The old world mentality manages to still survive decades of social change. Etiquette has long outlasted its good friend chivalry. Chivalry was a noble concept that eroded when women wanted more than a coat over a puddle or a chair tucked in for them. These social guidelines that are still in place are only still here for the same reason some families still have fine china from many generations ago. Both are only brought out when there is a special occasion amongst people with a special bond.

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