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Guest Etiquette

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Eight common etiquette violations all guests should watch out for.

"Never again" is not supposed to apply to visitors you've recently hosted.
There are guests who stay too long and those who don't stay long enough. There are guests who are too demanding and guests who are too passive. How do we strike the proper balance without losing our minds or patience in the process?

Some of the burden for maintaining our savoir faire lies at the feet of our guests. The overriding principle is: Don't do anything to annoy the host. Obvious, right? The reality belies this assumption. Here are eight common etiquette violations all guests should watch out for.

Etiquette Violation #1: Don't ignore your hosts and their other guests. Friends are often invited over at the same time, and they usually have a lot of news to catch up on (having not spoken in at least an hour!). So they seat themselves at the end of the table, turn to each other, begin talking and proceed to ignore the rest of us the entire evening. Under such circumstances, I feel like a waitress and am tempted to ask if "Table Two in the corner" needs anything!

Etiquette Violation #2: No whispering. This is a behavior that even very young children recognize as slightly mean and exclusionary, which is of course why they do it!

Whispering is usually the perquisite of married couples, and while their comments may not really be about the tastelessness of the soup or the recent weight gain of their hostess, it is nevertheless inappropriate and, dare I say it, rude. Same goes for speaking in a foreign language!

Etiquette Violation #3: Don't make derogatory, impatient or dismissive comments about your host's children (even if they deserve it!). As parents, even though we may find our children occasionally frustrating, it is always tempered by tremendous love. Without the love, it's only hurtful. It's my children's home too and they are sharing it with the guests.

Conversely, guests who pay special attention to all the members of our family, who treat them with respect and sincere interest, become regular invitees, and often good friends.

Etiquette Violation #4: Never insult your hostess' cooking. In fact, obsequious flattery is a fine strategy.

Etiquette Violation #5: Don't communicate that you can't wait to leave, even if your children keep piping up, "Can we go yet?" Some people are always rushing. They've squeezed a meal at your home in between birthday parties, golf games and afternoon tea. They never stay until the end of the meal. This can be disconcerting and a little demoralizing to the hosts.

As hosts, it is our responsibility to end the meal before the natives get restless (We operate by the principle of "leave 'em wanting more"). As guests we need to be attuned to social cues and stay until the end, unless that end is seriously delayed or there is a genuine medical emergency.

Etiquette Violation #6: Don't ask unnecessary personal questions, like details about your host's income and business deals. Along another vein, when my kids and I were younger, people would walk into our home and be surprised by the size of our family. Frequently their first question would be, "Do you plan to have more?" Back to manners class.

Etiquette Violation #7: Failure to appreciate that the host and hostess have spent time, money and effort on your behalf. Though the host may try to dismiss it as "I was cooking anyway," the clever guest knows that this is not all true. Hostesses plan for the individual needs of their guests. They plan for the number of guests and types of guests and carefully match personalities. Even if they enjoy entertaining (which I do), that doesn't make it effortless.

This means that last-minute cancellations should only be done in the case of the aforementioned medical emergency, with a few other exceptions. But certainly not in the case of another invitation, laundry to do, work to finish or when "something came up".

Etiquette Violation #8: Not saying thank you. Thanks can be expressed in many forms -- oral, written, or a small present upon arrival. Expressing gratitude is essential for the character of the guest and the continued good spirits of the host.

In Judaism nothing is left to chance. Proper interpersonal interactions are not instinctive. We need training and guidance to treat others appropriate in each situation. And maybe if I can communicate these ideas to my family, and we really assimilate them and become the ideal guests, someone will actually invite us over...

Next Week: The Host's Responsibility

Click here to read Host Etiquette.


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