Have you ever noticed that etiquette books are all written by women? It’s true. We of the fairer sex are forever instructing our male counterparts on which fork to use for the shrimp salad, and how to properly introduce Mrs. Upton Smythe-Winstead to Lord Graeford Bellefew, but the honest truth is that men couldn’t care less.
We long for decorum – they make bodily noises. We yearn for sophistication – they leave the toilet seat up. Yes, it’s a fact of life, ladies, and we might as well face it: When it comes to proper behavior, we’re making up rules to a game the other team isn’t even interested in playing.
Efforts to raise our sons according to impeccable standards of correctness can be a hugely frustrating experience and I can prove it. How? Simply by taking a revered copy of The Book of Manners and turning to the chapter on hospitality, where the very principles which women find to be so clearly defined and simple to follow are completely annihilated in the hands of a teenage boy. To illustrate my point, let me present a few of the basic rules of entertaining and show you how a typical 16-year-old male applies them:
The rule: "Written invitations to informal gatherings should be hand-delivered or sent through the mail, arriving one week before the occasion.”
The application: Nothing is ever written by a high school boy unless mandated by an English teacher. Most "invitations” to social gatherings occur between two vehicles at a stop sign.
The rule: "In preparing the home for guests, make sure the entertainment area is orderly, well lit, and appealing. Provide finger-towels and soap in the guest bath. Refreshments should be easily accessible and attractively served.”
The application: The host may or may not kick his dirty underwear under the dresser before entertaining. The clothes and books on his bed are pushed aside by the guests themselves. Hopefully, the commode has recently been flushed. The phone number for pizza delivery is easily accessible. The pizza will not be attractively served.
The rule: "When guests arrive, the host greets them at the door, and takes their coat and hat. A guest should remove the glove from his right hand before shaking hands.”
The application: The host never greets his guests at the door – they just sort of wander in and dump their stuff on the floor. The issue of removing gloves from their right hand poses no problem, as most boys wear their baseball gloves on their left hand.
The rule: "When greeting a group of people, greet those standing nearest you first, then, in a clockwise direction greet all others in the circle with equal warmth and enthusiasm.”
The application: The host frogs the arm of the guy standing nearest him. He knocks the next guy’s baseball cap off his head and then greets the others, saying, "Hey, Dorkface”, with equal warmth and enthusiasm. (He has no clue which direction is clockwise.)
The rule: "When entering a room already occupied by someone, the person who first makes eye contact begins the conversation.”
The application: This explains the total lack of conversation among teenage boys. No one ever makes eye contact.
The rule: "Provide an atmosphere conducive to festive entertaining. Soft music and creative decorations will promote friendly conversation. Plan activities for your guests such as playing lively games, baking cookies or doing ‘make-overs’. Remember, the key to a successful party is fun!”
The application: The home is creatively decorated with empty popcorn bowls and cola cans. The volume of the CD player will preclude any attempts at conversation. Activities for the evening include mindlessly bouncing a baseball off the glass coffee table, and making sixteen phone calls to see who else is coming over. Occasionally, they hold someone down in the backyard and shave his head. (I’m sure that qualifies as a "make-over” somehow.)
The rule: "At the time of departure, the host walks each guest to the door, gives him a warm handshake, and says sincerely, ‘Thanks for coming.’”
The application: At the time of departure, the host gives his guest a warm wedgie on his way out the door and says sincerely "Later, Dude.”
You know, it has just occurred to me that there may be a book in here somewhere. I think I’ll call it "The Teenaged Boy’s Guide to Ill-Manners, Bad Etiquette and Social Misusage.” True, it’ll set proper behavior back a few hundred years, but hey, if it turns out to be a bestseller, I can live with that. Later, Dude.