I was recently interviewed by a blogger who asked what etiquette tips I would recommend for the year ahead. What a perfect column to leave you with as we part ways for the coming months. Now in the home stretch of pregnancy, I’ll be shifting my focus from decorum to diapers, an experience that, I’m sure, will provide unending material for future columns. Here are my recommendations — some pulled from previous columns — of timeless topics to fill the gap until we meet again.
The family that dines together
We’ve just shared a season of feasts, those memorable events that occur but a few times a year. In stark contrast, for the remainder of the year we often struggle to make time to eat together, instead wolfing down a meal out of a paper bag in the car or zapping a microwave dinner with a side of text messaging. It left me wondering: Who’s coming to dinner anymore?
As if in response to my query, I received a most appropriate gift; the book The Family Dinner by Laurie David (former wife of actor/writer/comedian Larry David). Full of advice about dinner games, conversation starters, recipes and statistics on the benefits of sitting down to eat, it’s a 245-page instruction manual on how to connect with family over dinner.
Why should we eat dinner as a family? Because like a nutritious meal, it’s good for you. Studies show that children of families who sit down to dinner excel academically, and are less likely to become obese and abuse drugs and alcohol. Routinely sharing dinner also prepares young people for adulthood by teaching conversation and dining skills, patience and respect for elders.
So, how do we make every evening a special occasion? Dine with intent and set a standard. You don’t have to own Limoges or know how to make Beef Wellington, but you do need to make a commitment and stick with it.
• Eat at the same time every evening or as often as you can. All family members must attend. And no technology at the table!
• Set the table. Have the young ones create a centerpiece.
• Serve everyone the same meal. Your children will learn to try new things.
• Even if you prepare dinner fast, you don’t have to eat fast. Create dialogue.
An RSVP is not optional
I was flattered to receive an invitation to an annual holiday party last month. Upon arrival, there looked to be over 100 people in attendance. The hostess told me that only about 20 percent of the guests RSVP’d to the invitation. How on earth do you prepare for a party when only a fifth of the invite list responds but almost 100 percent show up? Experience.
RSVP (or répondez s’il vous plaît) translates to “please respond.” Today, however, it may as well mean “Hey, I invited you to an event. I hope you received the invitation and I am going to spend XYZ dollars on food and drink should you decide to show up.”
“Please respond” means saying yes or no to the kind host who has graciously included you and is willing to expend time, money and energy on your presence. Not responding shows disrespect to the host who is forced to fly by the seat of his/her pants.
Respect your elders
In today’s culture, it is very common for grown children to move far away from home. Visiting grandparents, however, is less common than ever, leaving us ill-equipped to interpret their needs and show true understanding. The younger generation would do well to spend a long weekend (or longer) with the grandparents from time to time. Such interactions teach us patience, compassion and the true meaning of the Golden Rule.
After 89 years, Newsweek is now available only online, dating plays out via text messaging and Skype-ing gives new meaning to visiting the relatives. Many technological advances are positive. Society and etiquette evolve with the times as well. But you can’t replace the value of human contact. This has never been more evident to me as I travel with friends and family the path to welcoming a new being into the world. And, I look forward to making contact with you again with the birth of a new range of topics this spring.
Bizia Greene owns the Etiquette School of Santa Fe. Send your comments and conundrums to email@example.com or 988-2070.