Old Social Conventions that need to come back

I am a total old literature snob. I resist reading anything written after 1960 (unless it is Harry Potter, those books are awesome). I just feel like good literature died with the cultural revolution. So, I spend most of my time reading Wodehouse and Austen, and I can’t help but notice certain practical social conventions have inexplicably died with the passage of time. I think we should bring some of them back. I will list some examples.

Honoring a previous engagement. I will base this one on something that has actually happened to me several times. The names and situations have been changed, of course. My husband and I have invited “Mabel” and her husband over for dinner and set the date that this dinner will take place a week in advance. Accordingly, I spend that week cleaning the house, planning a menu, buying groceries, and making whatever such preparations are needed for entertaining. The day of the dinner arrives, and I receive a call from Mabel that morning. “Hey!,” she says. “I know we had planned on having dinner tonight, but something has come up. Some friends of ours just called and said they have two extra tickets to the Falcons game tonight. My husband is a HUGE fan, and probably won’t get another chance to go to a game. But I know we told you we would come to dinner, so I’ll leave this up to you. Would you rather we come over? Because we totally will if that is what you want.”
Now, Mabel has made two enormous social faux pas. The first is obviously calling and canceling an engagement she made with me because something more fun came up. She is basically telling me that whether she will hang out with me is contingent upon whether a better offer comes along between now and then. The second is that she clearly felt a twinge of guilt in doing this (that is called your conscience, Mabel) and decided to assuage that guilt by essentially “getting my permission” to be rude to me and leaving the “choice” of whether she is going to be rude to me “entirely up to me” knowing full well the only possible answer I could give her is: “go ahead, have fun!” I mean, what am I supposed to say, “No, I am forcing you and your husband to have dinner with us when there is clearly something else you would rather be doing.” Honor your previous engagements, people! A good rule of thumb is that the only acceptable excuse for canceling on someone is for something you would rather NOT be doing, like sickness, work, your babysitter canceled on you, car trouble, etc. If something more fun comes along, tell the person inviting you to the more fun event you are sorry, but you have a previous engagement, honor that engagement, and pretend to have a good time! You never know, you might actually have a good time. And you have the added bonus of being kind and considerate to a friend.

Introductions at parties. This one kills me at parties and social gatherings, especially if there are a lot of people that know each other well, and a few people who don’t know very many people. The person that doesn’t know very many people is left alone in the corner if the people he or she knows are otherwise engaged. It used to be that (the host or hostess in particular) would make sure to make all the necessary introductions. Also, if you are talking to someone who might not know anyone and you have to leave them for whatever reason, you introduce them to someone else and start a conversation topic that they might have in common. For example, “I’m going to go refill my drink, but have you met Alicia? She lived in D.C. for a few years too!” Don’t just leave and dump that poor person all by themselves! The only two people I know that are reliably successful at observing this wonderful social convention (outside of the books that I read) are my two cousins. They have all of the practical social graces, and they were both homeschooled. So whenever someone tells me that homeschooled children are doomed to be socially awkward, I just roll my eyes because the two most highly socially functioning people I know were homeschooled. But I digress.

Dancing. This one might be less practical and more for fun, but my generation has no idea how to dance, and it is just pitiful. And no, the guy just standing there while a girl does things that he used to have to give her monetary compensation for doesn’t count. Dancing used to be a beautiful art form that everyone knew how to do. It didn’t look like something that should be restrained to the bedroom, so you could partner with anyone and have a great time. You could be of any age, size, or description and get out on that dance floor with the best of them without fear of a raised eyebrow. My grandparents will still put on some Cuban music and start dancing with each other, just like they used to at parties back in Cuba. They look like they are having so much fun. I really feel like our generation has lost something important because we really will never be able to do that. (This also might be just an American problem. Thoughts?)

Offering to pay. Granted, this one isn’t in any Jane Austen books, but I feel it should be mentioned. We, as young adults, have all been dirt poor and quite frankly unable to treat everyone to their dinners. But, as we are all coming to our own and lunching with maybe only one other person, it is a nice gesture to offer to pay. Your server will be eternally glad because splitting checks is a huge pain in the behind. And next time, let your friend pay for you! It is a beautiful thing. I just feel like eventually we need to grow out of our teenage stage where we are having the poor server at the Mexican restaurant split the $50 check six ways, according to exactly what we ordered. And then can you split the cheese dip six ways? No wait, Susan didn’t have any, so just split it five. Stop the madness! I know, God willing, for us this might be several years down the road, but my grandfather and my father (and if they are both present, my grandfather has seniority) always offer to pay for the whole party, no matter the restaurant, no matter the number of people. And they are not fabulously wealthy people. Whenever we object, they tell us that it is their pleasure to pay for their loved ones, and to pay it forward. So if you are taking a young person, young family, elderly relative, anyone really out to dinner and you are financially able, offer to pay for them! You never know, your generosity might have a profound positive effect on them (because people don’t do that very often these days.)

Imposing on other people’s kindness. Pretty much anything you could have hired someone to do, like helping you move, pet sitting, driving you to the airport, letting you crash at their house while you are in town on business, etc. that you are having a friend or family member do for free is a HUGE favor and you should respond in kind. Usually by giving them a small gift or treating them to a meal, or whatever it is that would make sense for you to do. Just a little token of your appreciation. Basically, don’t take advantage of people. I do realize that this is something people have been doing since the dawn of time and not necessarily a social convention that has been lost, but I think it is worth noting.

Those are the only ones I can think of for now. I’m sure an endless amount of additional ones will occur to me while I’m showering (that is where I get my best thinking done.) What antiquated social conventions would you like to see brought back? And if you say dressing for dinner, I totally agree. (Lord Grantham from Downton Abbey in his tux springs to mind. Oy.)

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About sylcell

Wife, mom of four girls, Catholic, insatiable sweet tooth
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21 Responses to Old Social Conventions that need to come back

  1. Amelia F says:

    Love this post, there are so many niceties we don’t seem to be teaching anymore — or worse, make fun of when some lovely soul observes them! You mentioned dressing for dinner, but really dressing for anything has become a huge imposition on society. I was taught that the level of effort you put into your appearance is a direct reflection of the respect you have for the event and its hosts (and the effort they put into having you over or organizing the event). Why not spend an extra 15 minutes to be our best selves with our friends?

    Also, thanks for the homeschool shout out, Syl! With great Hosting comes with great responsibilities πŸ™‚

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    • sylcell says:

      I totally agree. I wanted to lament the fact that everyone dresses too casually these days, but I thought people might find that weird coming from a stay at home mom with no place special to go. Whenever we go out, I do always feel like I am the dressiest person there, however. And Scott has been dying to wear his tux to weddings, but they are all too casual. (I want him to wear it as well, because he looks damn sexy in it, but I guess we have enough children).

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  2. spaleksic says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I will admit that I am awful at introductions but I am working on it. I can’t dance either and I am from Canada.

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    • sylcell says:

      Introductions are tough sometimes, though because you don’t know who already is acquainted with whom. And they look at you like you’re crazy when you introduce them and they already know each other.

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  3. morgan says:

    Ha. That dancing-thing is NOT entirely american. As a sort of former semi-professional latin ballroom dancer I totally blame it on all those people who tell all boys that “dancing is not manly” and “only girls enjoy dancing” and “all male dancers are gay”.
    That starts even in kindergarten. My son enjoys dancing only secretly, I didn’t get the reasons out of him, but they suspiciously sound like some gender-mainstreaming b*llsh*t (And maybe the fact that he’d be alone with a bunch of girls and his SISTER will be there, too ;-))
    Also that [censored] mother who saw him sitting outside the room and telling me while standing RIGHT NEXT to him “yeah, boys just don’t enjoy dancing” was NOT helping. I sooo wanted to punch her somewhere. grrr.
    Yes, there ARE dancers out there who are gay. But there are also many who are as straight as you can be.
    And without boys, there’s no dance. Except that “standing more or less awkwardly around and let the girl do all the stuff, whatever that might be”
    (My husband unfortunately has two left feet and NO sense of rhythm or anything, so that’s a lost cause. He even failed at learning to play any sort of instrument – and his parents tried…)

    Your “friend” called “Mabel” is just rude. I’m really sad that this seems to get more common in your area or social circle or … 😦

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    • sylcell says:

      You don’t get much more manly than Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly! (Well, maybe not by today’s machismo standards, but those are the worst anyway). I hate it, but I think you’re right. My husband is actually a wonderful dancer (one of the reasons I fell in love with him) but he doesn’t know the classic dances (few do) and has been resistant to my suggestions that we take a class together. Perhaps someday I’ll win him over! You are a ballroom dancer!! That is so amazing! As if I didn’t like you enough already;)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. SinΓ© says:

    It may just be the company that I keep, but I feel extremely blessed to have friends who honour engagements and who are good at making introductions. As a fairly introverted person, I tend to keep to a corner if introductions are not made.

    A social convention I am working on being better at keeping is saying a proper goodbye before leaving a social gathering. Sometimes tantruming overtired toddlers take precedence, but I have been trying to make a point to say goodbye to the host or hostess at the very least.

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    • sylcell says:

      You are SO lucky! You would think “Southern hospitality” would reign here, but nope. And agreed. Saying goodbye to the host or hostess and thanking them for having you is a great one to add. We are usually conspicuous when we are leaving due to the screeching toddlers as well.

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  5. Rebekah says:

    I love this post! Particularly the Honoring Previous Engagements! I get so annoyed with people backing out of previous commitments!

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  6. Thank you notes! (Annnd yours is still on my kitchen table so maybe I should shut up.) But seriously, I hate when you give a gift at an event where you don’t directly hand it to the recipient and then you are left wondering if they ever got it.

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    • sylcell says:

      Thank you notes are a good one! Although, I have had a lot of luck with that in that in that most of the people I have sent gifts to have written me one. I just couldn’t bear to add that one because I am notoriously unreliable when it comes to thank you notes. I am so ashamed.

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  7. Holly says:

    Great list. And Mabel… Not cool! Society is far more selfish these days at times.

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  8. I loooove Downton Abbey!!!! πŸ™‚ We are kindred spirits!

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