I had a conversation with a friend recently, who blames mobile phones for a serious decline in social etiquette. At times, it is hard to disagree
She recently organised a dinner party, and had invited eight people, a mix of companies and singles. She planned the table arrangements and how to meet everybody’s dietary preferences quite carefully – she’s a wonderful cook, and takes entertaining very seriously.
Planning and cooking a meal for nine is a serious enterprise. Of course, my friend loves to cook, and look after her guests, she wouldn’t have offered if this were not the case. But naturally this exercise involved shopping ahead of time, rearranging her life and living room, to create a sociable and fun evening for everybody.
But by lunchtime on the day, she furiously cancelled the remaining three guests. It was easier to shove prepared food in the freezer, and get a takeaway instead, because by that time her heart just wasn’t in it. “I expect my messages to my friends who hadn’t blown me out were somewhat short, and they were very sympathetic and understanding, offering to come round anyway. But I had planned a dinner party for 10 people, and whilst it would’ve been fun to spend the evening with the last few guests, I suspect it would have ended up being a fairly negative conversation.”
The reason for this is that five people had, within the preceding 24 hours, said they weren’t coming. And four of those had done so in response to her reminders.
“It wasn’t about the chicken or even the ******* trifle!” She explained sadly. “I just felt incredibly let down, and snubbed in fact, it was simply rude. Does nobody make arrangements and commit to them any more? Few of them even felt they had to offer any kind of reasonable excuse, they just said they weren’t going to make it after all, sorry…”
My friend placed the blame for this behaviour squarely in the lap of the mobile lifestyle, and present-day casual instant messaging communications culture.
“At risk of sounding like my own maiden aunt, it wasn’t like that a couple of decades ago! People made plans and stuck to them. If you were going to meet at a specific time or place you showed up, because there was no way to let people know if you changed your mind. We depended more on personal reliability and commitment. And if you did need to let people down over something you mainly had to speak to them and do it, not hide behind a Whatsapp and a sad-face emoji”
Of course some social arrangements have always been more casual than others, but she has a point. I think of times I have gone out locally with the intention of hooking up with friends at some stage, but sometimes missing one another completely – trading messages all evening about which bar we just left. “Maybe catch you later”. And not being specially bothered by that. But feeling more irritated when something similar occurred whilst visiting London and trying to catch up with old friends, because – duh! – I only had that night, and I was on my own. So, I wanted more commitment back… But they were on their fluid home turf and preferred to play the evening by ear.
Dinner parties are surely different though? If someone is taking the trouble to plan, shop, cook and beautifully present a meal for you, I reckon you need to show up. Unless there’s an issue of hospitalisation or a death in the family, last minute cancellation is not an acceptable option – you get there on time, with a suitable hostess gift, offer to help clear up after, and say thank you too. I am not saying you have to go as far as a handwritten note, but how special would that be nowadays?
Assuming my cross friend ever decides to try and reschedule the planned evening, I wonder could she do anything differently? Not that she should have to of course. But maybe a group message a day or two before would remind everyone that there are other people to think about rather than just their own preferences… “Going to the butchers today, apart from Maya is there anyone not OK with chicken?” “Whew, just seen the weather forecast for Thursday, I am planning to have everything on the table for 8 in case anyone is worried about getting home late!” “Does anybody need directions, here’s a screenshot from Google Earth, you can see our car outside number 20!”
Send it via something which shows when read, call anyone who doesn’t check in.
This sounds horribly like the confirmation process we go through when recruiting focus groups for Saros Research in the UK… Rather than what should be a cheerfully-attended social occasion. I am going to stop short of recommending scheduling reminder messages or offering cash incentives to guests, because it’s really quite bad enough to be suggesting any of this is necessary just to get friends round for dinner and a chat.
Meanwhile if YOU are coming over tonight, I am attaching a scan of the local curry house menu. Text me back your preferences and confirm what time you are leaving your house, I will phone it in – and not bother setting the table till I hear your car outside. If the delivery guy shows up before you do I will invite him in to share the meal he’s just turned up with instead.
Costa Connected, for Costa Blanca News, March 13th 2015
©Maya Middlemiss, Casslar Consulting SL