Revisiting the etiquette of the 70s and 80s is something we all may want to do these days in the haste of Insta moments and fleeting social media personas, according to our international etiquette expert, Jay Remer.
We are living in extraordinary times where our fast-paced lives place unexpected stresses on us as individuals, on our communities, and on society as a whole. Fortunately, traditions and social mores help us find peace and a sense of safety. They ground us within our comfort zone by guiding us with a flexible set of principles and rules that ensure respect in our interactions with others and avoid rudeness – intended or unintended.
Although this dynamic is still in place, the world has changed in a number of significant ways that requires us, in order to maintain a civil society, to make adjustments to some of the old guidelines and to create new ones as our lifestyles evolve.
How we entertain has changed. How we communicate has changed even more. Diversity and inclusivity are becoming desirable goals for organizations, communities, and even entire countries. Equality in the workplace, government and every other segment of society have been appropriately and significantly boosted by the MeToo movement, echoing the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s.
When we entertain, many of the old formal rules have been relaxed. We no longer have the staff once required to allow for elaborate dinner parties. Private debutante parties have been replaced by cotillions and assemblies that are shared by several young ladies. Large society weddings have been replaced by smaller affairs, often planned and paid for by the bride and groom.
Handwritten invitations, thank you notes, and RSVP’s have been replaced with emails and text messages. Coupled with the fact that face-to-face communication is no longer the preferred way to exchange ideas, I would caution that this slide towards less personal connections is dangerous. Just as a lack of gratitude can give way to entitlement, a lack of personal contact leads to isolation–a worrisome epidemic today. Because connecting with one another is critical to our very survival, protecting these pathways is important. Giving thanks should never grow old. How we give thanks may change, but the requirement doesn’t.
Practically speaking, the guideline I recommend for responding to an invitation is when you receive an invitation by email, send your RSVP via email. If you receive one via the postal system, you should reply likewise unless otherwise indicated. RSVPs are important; and people who ignore them risk being removed from future invitation lists. After all, hosts must know how many people are attending their event.
Giving thanks will never grow old. How we give thanks may change, but the requirement doesn’t. As a guideline, if you receive an invitation by email, send your RSVP via email. If you receive one via the postal system, you should respond likewise unless otherwise indicated. RSVPs will never grow old either, although many people have not been taught about this—people who don’t respond risk being removed from invitation lists. Hosts must know how many people are attending their event for the same obvious reasons they always have.
With a more relaxed and egalitarian lifestyle, the transition from old rules to retooled flexible guidelines can be confusing, annoying, and even overwhelming. We need to remember that one of the original needs for etiquette was to keep representatives from different cultures from offending one another inadvertently. We, as human beings, have an inherent desire to be respected. If we commit to following The Golden Rule and engaging our common sense, we will avoid most of the pitfalls along the way.
However, there will always be rules that need to be taught. This is the responsibility of parents. Setting a good example is important. Bad habits are formed in exactly the same way as good habits. For parents who realize that they are clueless about these rules, then they must take the time to learn them. Etiquette need not be elusive or elitist. After all, etiquette is essentially how we interact with the world. If we want to be accepted (and who doesn’t), we need to keep abreast of current acceptable behavior trends. Respect never goes out of style.