While I wouldn’t say that I am highly skilled in all forms of social etiquette, I feel like I at least cover the basics pretty well.
I hand write all of my thank-you notes, making sure to mention by name the item I received, as well as specifically discuss how I am using it in my life. When I am invited to dinner, I ask the hosts what I can bring. When we have company I make sure there are clean sheets and towels, as well as lots of toilet paper in the guest bathroom.
So I usually navigate the waters of social interaction with fairly minimal turbulence. But this weekend I found myself in a situation that pushed my abilities in the social graces to the edge.
My husband and I were invited to be the first dinner guests at the new home of some friends. After presenting them with a housewarming mum and taking a tour of their new place, we sat down to dinner. Once again, I thought I was doing pretty well. Napkin in the lap? Check. Elbows off the table? Check. Not talking with my mouth full? Check.
Apparently I need to pay a lot less attention to these pesky minor details, and a lot more attention to what is going on around me. Because when I finally returned from my little self-congratulatory tour and tuned back in, I realized that the entire table was caught up in a heated discussion involving chimpanzee sex, and its’ biological and ethical implications for all of humankind. And I had no idea what to do.
I felt exactly the same way I did when I was conducting one of my first coaching sessions, and the client mentioned a situation with which I was completely unfamiliar. I was mentally rifling through all of my various manuals in a frantic search for help thinking, “That’s not in here!”
Just to double check I went to the bookstore today and consulted with some of the authorities on etiquette to see what they might have to say about this situation. While I did not find anything that specifically addressed the topic of chimpanzee sex, I did find these helpful conversational-related tidbits.
From Letitia Baldridge: Bad Conversational Moves
Discussing how our society is going to hell. (Good to know).
“So, is it true that your child has________ (fill in the blank with a disease or condition that is life-threatening, and/or has a giant stigma attached to it)?” (Um, are we really at the point where we need a book to tell us that this comment is inappropriate?)
From Miss Manners: Conversation Starters
Dear Miss Manners: What do you consider a good conversational opener?
Gentle Reader: Almost anything except, “I’ve been on a wonderful journey of self-discovery lately, and I’d like to share it with you.”
So now, of course, I totally want to use that in my next conversation. Who’s up for a chat? Anyone…Anyone…?