Viewpoints: Entertainment and etiquette, a dying art?

  • Columnist Mugs/Furniture Ben Conant

Published: 11/22/2019 5:32:09 PM

I believe that entertaining at home is a dying custom. Changing attitudes about food, technology’s impact, and a decline in manners has contributed towards this situation.

In 1922 Emily Post first published her book on etiquette. It represented standards of behavior and conduct that Americans considered important for decades into the twentieth century. A host or guest was expected to act in a certain way in order that no person’s feelings should be hurt, which was the goal of manners.

A guest was expected to never complain about the food served. A guest was expected to eat the food. and, at least, pretend to enjoy it. A host or hostess was expected to do whatever they could to make guests feel welcome.

This, oddly enough, was not an economic class issue. Rich, poor, and the middle class were all bound by the same rules of etiquette. It had less to do with the value placed on food but on respect for the feelings of others. Wealthy people, in particular, were reminded that they must respect everyone including the poorest person they encountered. Behavior as a guest made no difference if you were eating in Jaffrey or at the White House.

I have lost my desire to entertain because of comments made by guests. ”I prefer to eat at restaurants and not in peoples’ homes.” “I only eat ice cream ay Kimball’s and not here.” “I refuse to eat anything I dislike .””We are living in a wealthy country; therefore, we should only eat what we want.”” I only eat glutton free food.” One in 130 Americans are in this situation, but all my guests have been. “I am lactose intolerant.” ” I am dieting so I never eat food anymore.” “Don’t give me food as I want to lose more weight.” “I eat only organic food grown by peasant cooperatives in Latin America.”

The other factor in reducing my desire to entertain is the misuse of cell/smart phones. Years ago, home entertainment consisted of friends enjoying food, drink, each other, and delightful conversation. How to engage in pleasant conversation was a big part of Emily Post’s book. Boorish, impolite behavior was frowned upon.

Cell phones are destructive of polite conversation. I have had guests come to my house, after I shopped, cleaned, and cooked, who spent the time at dinner not saying a word, but, rather, just staring at their cell phones. These guests seemed incapable of speaking. I felt like Donald Sutherland in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. I thought,” Are there any humans left or am I just surrounded by zombies?”

If you come to my house as a guest, please give me your attention. The really sad thing is that has gone out of style. Many people prefer going out with friends to restaurants, but that can be even worse. You end up paying for restaurant meals while a friend is looking at a cell phone as if it was a slot machine.

Cell phones have also diminished home entertainment when a guest decides to answer or make a phone call. That is extremely rude plus you have to hear the inane conversation.

Sometimes guests show me pictures on their cell phones. They act as if I was a visitor from another planet in need of bilingual education. “This is what my dog looks like.” “This is an apple, or a bush, or a tree in my backyard .” There are also photos of parties I never was invited to.

Sadly, this essay deals with the decline of friendships and respect for feelings of others. What can be done about this?

Rick Sirvint lives in Rindge.

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