Darling, a dear friend asked me, “Why don’t you accept questions on How to Behave? Think of the millions you could help!”
Ah, but we in the upper, upper, tippy-top echelons of etiquette know that for most questions asked of an etiquette maven, the askee already knows the answer. The answer is not 42, it is ‘behave well.’ And often the askee is seeking, not knowledge, but a dispensation from the difficult work of being a grown-up.
The rules of etiquette vary considerably between cultures – but the goal is always the same: to integrate the people comfortably into society. The goal is not to force conformity or create Bridzillas.
Hence the golden rule is NOT ‘treat others the way you want to be treated’- that means treating everyone as if they are you. They are not you. They probably want something very different than what you want. The golden rule is deal with every situation in the kindest way possible that does not injure yourself while taking into account where you are.
You see how this will create epic moaning and groaning and everyone running back to ‘treat others the way you want to be treated.’ The original golden rule is so easy to do – pretend everyone is just like you! You like to be hugged, so you hug everyone you meet. You don’t like small talk, so you never do small talk with new acquaintances. You like to discuss politics, so you start political conversations. You always write ‘thank you notes’ so you think people who don’t are rude. Sigh.
I think it’s time we stop, collaborate and listen: etiquette is not rule-based, it is geography-based. You have to ask: “What makes the most sense for where you are? Good behavior at a 5 year-old’s birthday party is very different than good behavior at a 65-year old’s birthday party. Proper daytime behavior in a Muslim-majority country in Ramadan is not the same as proper daytime behavior at an Italian beach.
Darling, never ask a question in order to get out of the difficult work of being a grown-up. You do not ask a 5-year-old, “What do you want to do today?” You say, “We have 20 pounds cash and three hours, what would you like to do?” [You see how this forestalls “buy a panda” or “visit the Great Barrier Reef”?]
And never ask a question that you know the answer to: “my husband…my friend… my mom…” 1) you cannot change anyone 2) talk clearly and calmly to the person 3) decide for yourself what you will/ will not accept and stick to your limits 4) forgive teenagers and the elderly 973 times more than you want to 5) if necessary, then eliminate the person from your life.
Look where you are, then support the chi, restore the chi, spread the positive chi.