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I recently attended the birthday party of a neighbor held outside on their lawn. The set up was perfect; tables and chairs under a large tent that provided some much-needed shade. The meal was catered by a barbeque outfit, the kind that pulls right onto the venue with a big old cooker that looks like a huge black barrel on its side. They provided appetizers, main dishes, fixins’, and sides. Delicious! A gorgeous dessert table was set up just inside the kitchen of the 1790’s era home. I felt like I was on the set of Steel Magnolias.

The host and hostess were extremely gracious and managed to make each of the guests feel welcome and comfortable. This was quite a feat considering attendees ranged from close relatives and friends to church members to new neighbors. There was also a wide range of ages from about 18-months-old to over 80. Most of these folks were delightful and I’d like to think I’ve made some new friends. I also learned a lot about my new neighborhood. For instance, did you know there is an insurance designation called an “attractive nuisance?” This is something on your property, like…oh I don’t know…say an old mill on a stream that is no longer functional but adds to the beauty and ambiance of the neighborhood. Cool huh?

Whenever I go to an event like this, or any party or celebration, I am always left with the question, “What is the individual guest’s responsibility in terms of socializing?” Is it enough to simply show up, or is there an obligation to interact with other guests including those you don’t know?

I was trained up to be an active participant in social situations regardless of my reason for being there or my mood at the time. This includes making conversation with people and being an active listener. It was part of what a friend of mine calls “Home learning,” and is right up there with saying please and thank
you. I don’t care how old you are or why you attended, I think it’s actively impolite to sit around at a social function looking overtly bored or spending all your time communicating with people who aren’t there. I’m not saying that everyone needs to be a sparkling conversationalist all the time. Lord knows I would fall waaaay short of that goal. I’m talking about really basic stuff like introducing yourself, putting a damn smile on your face, asking appropriate questions, and at least faking interest in the answers. Here are some examples:
“How do you know our hosts?”
“Are you from out of town or local?”
“This barbeque is really good. Are you a fan of the Virginia or North Carolina variety?”
“I see you’re wearing a UVA tie, my condolences.”
It’s not that difficult. Even if you’re shy or socially awkward you can at least try to look pleasant and approachable and teach your children to do the same.

But perhaps I’ve got it all wrong? Do we owe our hosts anything more than our presence? Do we have an obligation to instill some basic social skills in our children and make sure they get some practice before we release them into the wild? Thoughts?

Thank you for visiting.


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