Etiquette Central vs. the “love languages”

A friend of a friend needed information, so I gladly provided it, after which she pulled out a large box of chocolate chip cookies. “Oh, no thank you,” I averred. “But cookies are my love language,” she said.

Sigh. Having a ‘love language’ is a helpful way of looking at the world, the more information about who you are, what you want and what you can give to others, the better. It’s useful to know if you are a Words of Affirmation – Acts of Service – Receiving Gifts – Quality Time – Physical Touch person (or some combination) but it all goes south when what you want to do gets turned into “I like to give X so you need to accept it.” No. Not chocolate chip cookies, not hugs, not washing someone’s clothes, not a paeon. Do not inflict your POV on others in physical form.

Let’s talk about a minor point first – in the Middle East a package of cookies is a great multi-use commodity. You can give it to the man who cleans your car, the woman who cleans your house, the tea-assistants at work or the person who bags your groceries. But a container of home-made treats is utterly suspect and not received with joy – the recipient can never be sure that it is ‘safe.’ Cookies from other expats might be made with animal fat, pork or alcohol and are therefore usually not eaten.

[How do I know? Watching tea assistants at my work going through the leftovers from parties. Anything commercially made is snapped up, anything home-made is not touched. They know that food companies need to follow Islamic dietary restrictions; food brought by a person won’t be eaten unless they know the person and their religion!]

[But, you say, maybe the person who washes my car doesn’t like the kind of cookies I buy. Of course, Darling, but you can ask what he prefers (sometimes difficult if you don’t speak the same language) or buy a selection. In any case, cookies are a commodity, not a hand-knit cardigan you expect to be cherished for decades. At my work, there is a team of six car washers, so he could give it to another guy, trade or sell them. Or stuff his face.]

Asides over, we shall return to our main point: embrace your love language but ask before you start creaming the sugar and butter. And take that ‘no’ gracefully. And if you insist on giving – don’t expect a gush and don’t look for the X you gave when you next visit your friend’s house.

How to ask? of course Darling I have examples at the ready.

  • Health freak: Dear Hubert, the berry patch is bursting – would you be interested in a few jars of raspberry jam, made with organic brown sugar?
  • High school student: Dear Ernestine, I am such the fuddy-duddy and not up on fashions but I would love to get you something for the start of the school year. My budget is about $75, is there anything that catches you eye? Please send me the link.
  • Dear Ludwig, I have just found the most divine tea cozy in the shape of a bust of Plato and am longing to get it for you, would it match your kitchen décor?
  • Dear Enoch, I just saw the most fey advent calendar with a shot of whiskey for each day, would this make you December merrier?
  •  Dear Hortensia, such a long winter it’s been, I was thinking of sending you a box of pears, or perhaps you would like oranges?

Now let’s say you followed all this advice, and after all that, the response is crickets and you want etiquette central to give you permission to bring in the howitzers… No. To give, then stand around tapping your foot waiting for the gratitude means you gave for the repayment, not the joy of giving. Shame on you.

Give because you want to – not for the reward. Of course all good people write thank you notes but divorce yourself from expectations. If you give and don’t get acknowledgement – the solution is to not give again, not have a hissy fit. And certainly not harrumph or scold or call missile command. Let it go.

[But are there exceptions? Of course, Darling, at Etiquette Central we hand out exemptions faster and more furiously than Vin Diesel. For example – teenagers, sigh. Forgive them and accept their hideous manners (or their obsequiously being nice to you so they can borrow your pearls). Just wait – most grow up to be charming companions whom you wish to treat to high tea at the Ritz. The elderly and the walking wounded/ bereaved – give whatever time, food, gifts you can knowing there will never be an acknowledgment. People in a fog can’t see anything but their own pain – help as THEY WOULD LIKE HELP and be grateful it is not you in pain.]