Etiquette. It has always cramped my style. Etiquette, and its fascistic Field Manual of Behavior,
When I was a kid, my mother was always hocking me at dinner about my habit of using the Mr. “Peter Pointer” finger of my left hand to guide the peas onto my fork. I anarchically thought, “What difference does it make?” The circumstances gave me no choice.
(A position I continue to maintain today.) Without that corralling forefinger, I’d be pursuing those elusive little buggers all over the plate.
As a person who has always chafed mightily on the etiquette bit, my antennae are continually on the alert for likeminded co-conspirators. One, most certainly, is Larry David, his bristling against “the rules” being a central theme on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Why do you have to tip the “Captain” in a restaurant? (What exactly do they do?) And what’s the deal about the “one-year cut-off”, such that a gift is deemed unacceptable if it’s delivered to the couple more than a year after the wedding?
Sometimes, David turns the tables, instituting mandates of his own, concerning issues such as the time of night after which it is no longer appropriate for people to call you on the phone, (Larry says it’s after 10 P.M.), and the “pop in”, involving visitors arriving unannounced at your doorstep. Though in these cases, Larry demands adherence to the rules rather than decrying them, either way, comedically, he’s still mocking the entire etiquette arena.
Overall, especially after the “formality housecleaning” of the 1960’s, I thought the whole etiquette racket was out the window, with its “Children should be seen and not heard” and its “You cannot wear white after Yom Kipper.” But that appears to have been wishful thinking. My update on this matter, gleaned from recent experience, suggests that, while certain rules have gone away, new issues of etiquette have stepped in to take their place.
The most recently minted Rule of Etiquette?
“You cannot invite someone over to watch the Super Bowl on a television that is qualitatively inferior to the television they have in their own house.”
Here’s how that was revealed to me.
Dr. M and I are lunching at a local restaurant. Our longtime friend Cliff suddenly appears. We hug. I’m excited to see him. In a moment of exuberance, I inform Cliff that I’m having a few people over on Sunday to watch the Super Bowl, and I enthusiastically invite him to join us.
And then I remember something.
A year or so ago, Cliff had invited me to his house to watch some important basketball game, so important, I can’t remember what it was anymore.
It was then that Cliff introduced me to his new, top-of-the-line, flat screen television. It was big and bright and, literally, picture perfect. I mean, you could see their souls. I can imagine somebody on the screen checking themselves out on Cliff’s TV and saying, “I didn’t look that good in real life.”
I know my TV. It’s a “big screener” – even bigger than Cliff’s – but it’s got tubes. Rear projection, or something, I don’t know, but it’s definitely not one of those mammoth computer screens that now passes for a television. It was unquestionable that from the pixel perspective, not to mention the “black-to-white” contrast ratio, I was seriously outgunned.
The truth is, it wasn’t just a Super Bowl gathering – it was an extension of my birthday, which had occurred on the previous Friday. And therein lay the dilemma. By inviting him over, I was putting my good buddy Cliff uncomfortably on the spot. I was asking him to weigh his friendship for me against his ability to stay home and watch the Super Bowl, with a considerably clearer picture.
It was up to me to be “the man” in this situation. I told Cliff that he didn’t have to come.
Cliff’s response to my magnanimity was to say nothing.
The protocol had been entirely on his side. He’d had no intention of coming.
Apparently, etiquette still lives.
It has simply changed its address.