It’s every party planner’s nightmare – a string of on-the- day no-show texts – and something that’s becoming more common. But, asks Kathryn Flett, if this is the New Rude, what are the New Rules?
I'd thought about my big birthday on and off for a couple of years: would I make a fuss or ignore it completely?
As the day raced into focus, I eventually decided I did want to celebrate, so I drew up a list of 82 beloved guests and booked a London party venue for a date six weeks ahead. While I wished the budget could run to caipirinhas and canapés on-tap plus a superstar DJ, one free drink per guest, balloons, iTunes on shuffle and a slideshow of my fiercest haircuts would have to suffice. Hell, we’d make our own fun.
And it was fun. We had a lovely time. And yet the next day, sporting a fizzy hangover, there was the inevitable post- match analysis: why hadn’t Wotsit and
So-and-so turned up? Where were Wasserface, Them, Him, Her and That? And where on earth were They?
I whizzed through the stats: out of 82 invitees there were 39 no-shows – nearly 50 per cent! Several were valid, shared with me either before or very quickly after the event, but that still left plenty who presumably took one look at their Game Of Thrones box sets and thought, ‘Sod it...’
‘London manners,’ said one friend wryly (who was also a no-show, but with a good excuse). Or perhaps I’m just not very popular any more? (Back in the day, I had gatecrashers at my wedding.) One girlfriend even RSVP’d that she was sorry she couldn’t make it but she’d been asked out on a date on the same night. Given that neither of us is 17 and dates are a moveable feast, I racked my brains for a correct (ie, polite) response... and couldn’t come up with a thing.
This got me thinking about modern social etiquette. Not which fork to use for the fourth course at a posh dinner but just everyday common-sense courtesy. Would my turnout have been any better if, say, the invite hadn’t been emailed (I suspect e-vites automatically downgrade an event’s status)? But having committed to email should I have sent a ‘save the date’ first, followed by an invite, and then chased everybody again for the RSVPs (a bit needy/bullying, frankly)?
A quick poll of the friends I’ve still got revealed that this kind of It’s-My-Party social anxiety is actually very common and we’re probably all confused. A recent survey on modern manners (using the most basic measure of good manners – ie, saying please and thank you – as a guide) reveals that those aged five to 15 are the least polite (no surprises there), while 45 to 55-year-olds are the most polite. Basically, if somebody cares sufficiently to invite you to their big event (big as defined by them, not you: ie, weddings, funerals, christenings, bar/bat mitzvahs, retirement parties and all landmark birthdays) then, barring last-minute crises, making a reasonable effort to attend demonstrates reciprocal respect, even love. In short, it’s not only polite and kind and the right thing to do, it’s massively appreciated. Old-fashioned? Apparently so, but together we could make these old manners the new New Thing.
The Top 5 New Rudes
Etiquette expert William Hanson guides Kathryn – and you – through the manners minefield
1) Unexplained no-shows
Kathryn: This is a bit of a nightmare. Or as one friend put it: ‘My thinking was: shall I be really annoying and tell Kate I won’t be coming at 6pm on the day, or shall I assume she’s having such a good time she won’t notice and then apologise the next day? I went for B but maybe A is better manners?’ She’s right. I had a small tsunami of e-bails while I was getting a blow-dry at 6pm. At least another three people emailed a day or two later with variations on the theme of, ‘Stoopid me! Got the date wrong, thought it was next week!’ Just a politer version of, ‘I couldn’t be arsed.’
William: If you’re going to send an electronic invite it will definitely devalue the invitation. Instead, send a ‘save the date’ email or text and then follow it up with a paper invitation. And as a guest, if you really can’t attend you must let the host know by telephone.
2) Not apologising extravagantly for lateness
Kathryn: Unexplained lateness, especially when food preparation is involved, seems like selfishness at its most suck-worthy.
William: Indeed, there is a 10-minutes-late rule. If I invite you for supper at 7.30pm we probably won’t eat until 8 or 8.30, but I’d still like to see you within 10 minutes of 7.30.
3) Not bringing something with you to a dinner party
Kathryn: Some people think turning up with a bottle is totally naff, but unless your mates are professional sommeliers it’s usually very welcome, as are flowers.
William: Yes, you always want to turn up with something, although cut flowers create a job for the host/hostess, so either bring a bouquet or send flowers in advance. Wine is becoming more acceptable (it didn’t used to be) and is much better than nothing. But champagne is always better.
4) Overstaying your welcome, drunkenly
Kathryn: Nobody over 30 should ever wake up hungover on somebody else’s sofa, much less in their bedroom, without prior arrangement. (Ditto, not staying long enough, soberly.)
William: Yes, I agree – a happy medium is what’s required. And getting drunk at somebody’s house means you’ve probably hogged the wine, too.
5) Failing to send thank you notes
Kathryn: I’m totally guilty of this. I’ve sent them in my head but not often enough in real life, mostly because I no longer have people’s physical addresses and an email seems cursory, so the moment passes.
William: Email and text are better than nothing… but I’ve just spent two nights away and have two letters waiting to be sent. They’ve got to be handwritten, too – typed is strictly for business. Nobody is ever going to think less of you for saying thank you.