The rules of etiquette come and go, changing to fit the times but what remains forever timeless is the art of being polite.
My dear Singularians: I recently found an old psychobabble book describing how married people get fat and sloppy – which should mean that single people are slim and trim. Yet every conversation I have with my “Sex in the City” pals isn’t about our latest pair of Jimmy Choos, it’s about quivering in lust for a slice of strawberry cheesecake. But maybe that’s just me — back to Carrie. The diva and her troupe went out to elegant restaurants nearly every night so yes, many of us may be more elegantly fed than our married counterparts whose idea of a tasty treat has devolved into ordering double crust pizza and a gallon of coke. But is there a downside? Can one be “singularly sophisticated” but still lapse into tacky tasteless? Let’s look.
DEAR MARNIE: I’m a divorced woman who’s planning to stay with a gay male friend, “Jerry,” for a week. Jerry is 1500 miles away and lives about 30 miles from the nearest big city. We met at a networking event three years ago and became fast friends. I’d say we earn a similar salary which is quite good, but neither of us are what you’d call rich. My question is, I have specific tastes in foods and drink that I doubt he’d normally have on hand. In fact, I’m a bit of an epicurean. My question, do I tell him in advance? Or do I live (unhappily) without my usual Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee and Vosges chocolates? Or if I buy these things when I’m there, who pays? I always thought the host generally supplies the “necessities.” – Finicky in Culver City
MARNIE SAYS: As well the host should – if we’re talking a Dove Bar (the soap – and, without question, the ice cream). Basic “necessities” are his contribution. But by the sound of it, your pickiness is a little more than a penchant for vanilla Pepsi. If you’re expecting him to trot out turtle truffles, you’re a HMS for “High Maintenance Sister.” Which, frankly, Toots, is your problem, not his.
Getting It! Your Personal Strategy:
* If he asks, admit to only the more useful, relatively inexpensive items you’d prefer. (Read: Tamari, 37 grain bread, Chunky Monkey.) Leave out “if you’re passing a Lebanese food market, would you mind picking up some shawarma?”
* When you’re there, invite him on a strange and wonderful shopping expedition. Scour markets. Buy Pasta-Poi. Un-confuse the world of fusion. Purchase your goodies, rent “Shirley Valentine,” and together, unlock the joy of handmade somosas, chorizo, Vienna Bread, kolachi cookies, marble Halvah … covered in chocolate … Where were we? … oh yes. You pay.
Turn your picky problem into a party op. Then, as you board the plane home, tell him to freeze those Korean meat buns! For you shall return before ’ere long for more exotic fun and fare (and chances are he’ll let you).
DELETE THE “ELITE”
DEAR MARNIE: I’m in my late fifties, widowed for decades, and involved in the arts for years. I consider myself quite selective. Recently, an old male acquaintance called to renew our friendship. I thought he might be a kindred soul. He was a successful theatrical producer who lost his wife after a long illness. He asked me to join him for an evening of dinner and theater. He arrived with one carnation, proceeded to take me to a restaurant frequented by tourists, then, ordered the house wine. I was appalled! He’s a nice man, but don’t you think someone of his background should have made more of an effort? — Insulted!
MARNIE SAYS: Absolutely. He should have been “original” enough to have picked a better companion for his social re-entry, instead of crashing on impact with a high maintenance queen. To be clear, I’m a sucker for originality. I applaud any safe attempt to rouse the world from its collective complacency. But smashing the poor guy with your scepter because he committed the onerous crime of presenting “m’lady” with the wrong posy is a false indictment.
Getting It! Your Personal Strategy:
* Choose all that apply. No. 1: You have an expectation problem. No. 2: You have attitude problem.
* You chose No. 1. What were you expecting, a Shenzhen Nongke Orchid and Veuve Clicquot “La Grande Dame”? Even if his choices weren’t overly inspired, could it possible that he barely knows you? Or, his “creativity” was still on the back-burner because he was recently shlepping bedpans for his beloved. Or … who cares? Think, princess.
* You chose No. 2. It’s your attitude. Which means, you’ll probably pretend it’s him and not you to justify your asinine stew. You wrote, so I won’t let you get away with it.
Answer Yes or No:
— I often make friends, but I also lose many of them fairly quickly.
— Friends, even old ones, have called me “difficult” or judgmental.
— I feel and behave differently with those who come with all the artistic, intellectual or financial “trimmings.”
— I feel I was meant for a better life, and am often bitter, disappointed, angry and/or defensive.
Do the “yeses” have it?
If so, I’d bet my curling iron, even if Picasso hand-painted you an invite, you’d find something wrong with the stamp. The most original thing I can advise is re-crook that finger and point it toward you.
DEAR MARNIE: My brother-in-law thinks he’s an expert at everything, including wine. When our family goes to an upscale restaurant, he reduces the sommelier to tears with his smelling, swishing, twirling, rolling, and talking “fruity,” “earthy,” “floral.” Marnie, the man took a two-week course online, acts like Gordon Ramsey and doesn’t ever shut up. How do we put him in his place? – Enough Already
MARNIE SAYS: What a terribly ignoble yet delicious question. If I were any sort of typical advice maven, I’d tell you to have compassion for this man with a hole in his goblet. Thank God you wrote to me. The next time you go out …
Getting It! Your Personal Strategy
* You do the honors. You test the wine. You got these special tips from one of Gordon Ramsey’s top sommeliers.
* With the fervor of a contestant in “Hell’s Kitchen,” ask the sommelier to uncork the bottle.
* Take the cork, put it between your hands and roll it for a full minute. The heat from your hands should turn the cork dark if the wine is excellent.
* Fill a quarter of the glass with the wine. Hold a mirror to the glass, as the mirror is a far superior way of judging color.
* Stick a fancy long spoon you’ve brought and swish to test for just the right amount of sediment.
* Strike a match or lighter under the bulb of the glass. If it bubbles in less than 30 seconds, it’s inferior.
* Turn to the sommelier and blithely say: “This will barely do, but we’ll grin and bear it.”
The shocked faces around you will be in awe of your prowess (maybe they missed a lesson?) No one will question it, but if they do, who are they to argue with one of Ramsey’s sommeliers?
Then go home with your anecdote, open a bottle of Apple juice and be “amused.”
Advice guru Marnie Winston-Macauley — therapist, author, speaker — has been a radio, TV, and syndicated advice columnist and counselor for over 20 years. Witty, wise and totally irreverent with a self-professed loathing for psychobabble, she’s written over 20 books and calendars, along with hundreds of relationship columns and features for prominent publications. She has her MS degree from the Columbia University School of Social Work. In media, her work has garnered her Emmy and Writer’s Guild Best Writing nominations. She is widowed and now living single. For personal advice, you can also find Marnie Macauley all over the Google and on Thumbtack/Las Vegas. She invites you to join her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.