FAMILY MATTERS - The many etiquette pitfalls of a night out

I am not a "formal" person. I rarely go anywhere that requires me to get dressed up and talk to strangers. Recently, though, I had to do just that. I attended the "gala" to benefit the Norwalk City Schools Endowment Fund. A colleague of mine told me how she was planning to wear a beautiful, long black gown. As I prepared for the evening, I kept wondering if my one "fancy" outfit was good enough. I stopped worrying, because at that point I didn't have a choice it fit, and it was my only possible outfit.
Norwalk Reflector Staff
Jul 24, 2010

I am not a "formal" person. I rarely go anywhere that requires me to get dressed up and talk to strangers. Recently, though, I had to do just that. I attended the "gala" to benefit the Norwalk City Schools Endowment Fund.

A colleague of mine told me how she was planning to wear a beautiful, long black gown. As I prepared for the evening, I kept wondering if my one "fancy" outfit was good enough. I stopped worrying, because at that point I didn't have a choice it fit, and it was my only possible outfit.

The event itself was wonderful great food, great company, lavish decorations, wonderful entertainment. I saw a lot of people I hadn't seen for quite a while. Yet there were more than a few awkward "Emily Post" moments, when I wasn't sure about proper etiquette. She literally wrote the book "Etiquette" in 1922 and the Emily Post Institute continues to offer etiquette advice to people today. I wished Emily Post had been with me so that I could have consulted her. Because I'm a reader, I even wished I had her book with me to slyly look up what to do.

For example: There was delicious food at the gala. There was sparkling grape juice and sparkling water served in lovely champagne-type glasses. And there were small plates to load up with food such as Thai chicken and marinated steak on wooden skewers. There were wedges of pita bread with eggplant/caviar dip. And there were napkins and forks.

The problem was this. Once you have loaded up your plate with this delicious food, and you have taken a fork and a napkin and a drink, and there is no place to sit down, how do you actually eat this tantalizing food without looking like a clumsy fool? There is no way to hold the fork in one hand and the plate in the other and bring the food to your mouth while you are holding your drink. This operation would require three hands, and I have only two. Not to mention the fact that I am trying to talk to people at the same time. I have never been good at eating and talking at the same time. You can't make eye contact while trying to stab a morsel of food with your fork; you can't answer a question while food is in your mouth. I very much wanted to eat my food, but there was no place nearby to set down my drink so that I could use the fork or even grab the wooden skewer with my hand.

So what did I do? I chatted and never actually ate the food. I know there must have been a better solution.

Talking about talking, there is a fine art to making light conversation. The weather is a boring topic, but on the other hand this is not the time to get into a deep discussion about why students fail English, either.

And how do you end these polite conversations? It is always awkward, as rarely do both people want to stop talking at the same time. This can be problematic in several ways. I have wanted to stop talking to someone who keeps talking to me, yet I don't know how to end the conversation without seeming rude. It happens the other way, too. I have been deep in what I thought was an engrossing and interesting conversation with a person I haven't seen for a while, when that person, obviously squirming, says they have to go talk to someone else, leaving me feeling like a boor for monopolizing their time.

In the middle of the evening's entertainment Three Men and a Baby ... Grand, which was a wonderful 90 minutes of music I was sitting in my seat, realizing that I'd called someone by the wrong name earlier in the evening, which was why she looked at me so oddly. I am so lacking in social graces!

Emily Post, where are you when I need you? Thank goodness the gala happens only once a year. But if these are the worst of my problems, I can't complain.