Curmudgeon!

Curmudgeon! 

Such a wonderful word to roll around on your tongue.  It has a solid, satisfying sound when spoken aloud, dropping weightily into a conversation like a bag of sand thumping a wooden floor.  It is defined as somebody who is bad-tempered, disagreeable, or stubborn.

Not at all the person I believe myself to be!

Yet, according to several of those closest and dearest to me, I am becoming something of a curmudgeon.  They tell me it has to do with my rather determined efforts to hold fast to the social dicta instilled in me by my mother.

etiquette

Although it’s been seventy years since first that grand lady began educating me on the social niceties—and despite my knowing that the customs and mores of our changing society have altered since then—I cannot stop bemoaning the loss of what I consider to be simple etiquette.

Let me provide a few examples, taken from experiences we had with folks in the community where we used to spend our winters.  And, I don’t mean to give you the wrong impression of them; they were all lovely people, good-hearted, gracious, and kind.  It’s just that they didn’t necessarily subscribe to the things I learned at my mother’s knee.

When my wife and I would invite a few couples for a dinner party, for instance, and specify an arrival time of five-thirty, I didn’t appreciate when everyone would arrive, fashionably late, some twenty minutes past the expected time.  We’d be sitting anxiously alone, wondering if everyone forgot—worrying that the hot hors d’oeuvres would be cooled and soggy by the time we got to eat them.

hors d'oeuvres

“Oh, we just wanted to be sure you were ready,” our guests would say when I’d make a supposedly-offhanded comment about their lateness.

But you see, we were always ready when we said we’d be.  Always.  If we’d thought we needed more preparation time, we’d have set a later arrival target for everyone.  My mother believed it was proper to arrive when your hosts asked you to.

“There’s nothing fashionable about being late,” she would say.  “It’s just rude.”

Hospitality gifts were another example.  Although they weren’t de rigueur, it became the thing to do as we visited back and forth at each other’s homes.  A favourite gift was a bottle of wine, nicely encased in a gift bag designed for the purpose—but never of the same vintage as might have been previously received from the same couple.

“Thank you,” I would say fulsomely as I pulled the bottle from the bag and set it to one side.  “We haven’t tried this one.  I’m sure we’ll enjoy it.”

“Aren’t you going to open it?” they’d ask.

“Uhh…no,” I’d reply, “not just now.  We have wine already selected for tonight.”

Their disappointment would be palpable as I proceeded to pour them a glass from the decanted wine I’d already planned for the evening.  And I was somehow made to feel as if I were offering a second-rate product, when sometimes, it was better than what they’d brought.

“How rude is that!” I’d rail at my wife after everyone had departed.  “And you know what’s even worse?  They took home the gift bag they brought their wine in!  Can you believe it?”

wine gift bag

My wife would tell me not to get so worked up, but it just didn’t seem right.

Here’s another case in point.  The day after our dinner party, some people would phone to thank us for the evening, graciously commenting on the food, the company, or the conversation among friends.  That’s exactly what my mother told me to do.

“Always call the following day to thank your hosts once again.”

But, increasing numbers of people don’t think to do that anymore.  Or perhaps they do think of it, but can’t be bothered.  Either way, it’s a classic breach of etiquette.

“Don’t worry about it,” my wife would say when I’d rail on about it.  “They thanked us several times at the door before they left.”

“It’s not the same,” I would respond, still miffed.

Now, lest you think I’m overly critical when I have no right to be, let me assure you that I tried to practice all these niceties when we were on the other side.  I’d ensure that we arrived on time, as specified by our hosts, never more than a minute out either way.

“Oh!  You’re here!” they’d say, lifting an eyebrow in surprise as they opened the door.

“Five-thirty,” I’d reply, with an exaggerated glance at my watch.  “That’s what you said, right?”

On one occasion, our hostess was still in the shower when we got there, at the appointed hour, and her husband wasn’t sure whether or not to let us in.

Of course, we always brought along a gift, usually the ubiquitous bottle of wine.  I’d proffer it unassumingly to our host, and often, to my great surprise, he’d open it immediately to pour us each a glass.  I found that mind-boggling.  It made me wonder if he didn’t have enough of his own, and was dependent on his guests for the evening’s libations.

“What if we’d brought flowers?” I’d rage later to my wife.

flowers2

And, so many times, when my wife or I would phone the following day to thank our hosts again for their hospitality, they would always sound bemused.  As if we shouldn’t have bothered.  As if they didn’t care, one way or the other.

“Don’t these people know any better?” I’d rant, scarcely coherent.  “Doesn’t anybody have any manners?  Why can’t they just do things right?”

“You mean your way?” my wife would reply sweetly.

“Yeah,” I’d say forcefully.  “The way my mother used to.”

But it would fall to my wife to have the last word in these discussions, and it’s a word that would always shut me up—at least temporarily.

“Curmudgeon!” she’d say.

curmudgeon

 

 

 

The Unwelcome Guest

For many years, my wife and I lived in a beautiful home on a lake.  We enjoyed having friends visit us, and always bent every effort to make them feel welcome and appreciated.  It seemed only right, given our previous experiences.

welcome

You see, during the years before we owned our place, we had become perpetual guests, enjoying the vacation cottages owned by many of those very same friends.  We reveled in extended visits during the summer—always by invitation, of course.  But strangely, we were never invited to holiday at the same place twice.

And that was ever a mystery to me.  All our friends absolutely adore my wife, and appreciated that she brought food, drinks, bed-linen and towels, and an appropriate hospitality gift to thank our hosts for their graciousness.  As a person of some sensitivity and breeding, equally eager to be welcomed, I always tried to conduct myself as a valued guest, too.

That wasn’t as easy as it sounds, though, because it’s difficult to define what makes one welcome.  I tended to rely upon the timeworn standards; namely, go only when invited, make suitable noises of appreciation while there, and leave before being asked to.

On one visit, my host confided in me that, “Remember, guests are like fish.  After three days, they stink!”  On another occasion, a friend (out of earshot of his wife and mine) handed me a roll of toilet tissue, saying, “This is yours.  When it’s gone, so are you!”  I laughed heartily, sure he was being funny.  He wasn’t.

So over time, I came to realize that the things one host might require of me were not the same as that expected by another.  Consequently, my relief was immense when I came across a list of ‘do’s and don’ts’ for people planning to visit friends at their cottage.  Some twenty-odd items long, the list was chock-full of wonderful suggestions.  I spent a good deal of time studying these, and made plans for putting them into practice.  My wife merely shook her head; she is prescient, that woman.

Tragically, I came to learn I had wasted my endeavours.  On most of our visits, nothing worked as it was supposed to.  And because I put forth my utmost efforts, I can only conclude that the list of suggestions was faulty.

Take, for instance, the one that said, “Don’t ask if you can bring some friends.”  That made sense to me, so I didn’t ask.  I just invited a few people on my own, figuring they’d all get along once they got to know each other.  Not so much, as it turned out.

Another suggestion advised, “If there is one bathroom, limit your time in it.”  I did.  I made a point of rising each morning before anyone else, so I’d be in and out of the bathroom in under half an hour.

One recommendation puzzled me at first, until I realized the limitations of septic tanks.  It said, “Do not flush the toilet after every use.”  Since everyone seemed comfortable with that, despite the obvious (and odious) disadvantages, I went along with it.  I found it necessary, ‘though, to flush each time before I used it.

I was very good, too, about offering to “help with a few of the never-ending chores around the cottage.”  I was quick to clean up the wood-stain I spilled; I helped to re-install the screen door I accidentally walked through (the new netting had to be back-ordered); I accompanied my host in his boat to fetch a canoe that drifted away after I forgot to tie it to the dock.  The rocky shore it had washed up on scratched its painted finish, but it still floated (thankfully, since I was tasked with paddling it back).

canoe

My most heroic effort was when I dove down a number of times, unsuccessfully, trying to retrieve the small outboard motor I inadvertently dropped into the lake.  (Damn thing was heavy!)  I only stopped because I didn’t like swimming in the gasoline slick that appeared on the surface of the water—although I thought the colours were amazing!  The last I heard, the motor was finally located, recovered, and junked.

Ever determined to pointedly follow the advice from my list of ‘do’s and don’ts’, I was hurt when my hosts would decline my offer to “help with barbecuing and barbecuing duties.”  I was stunned when they would tell me not to bother to “fill the gas tanks after boating.”  And I was positively shocked when they would literally scream at me to “exercise caution when using power tools.”   They actually relieved me of the chainsaw I had fired up to cut kindling for the campfire I was planning.

The most hurtful moment came after lunch, on what turned out to be the final day of one such visit.  My hosts showed me a piece of cottage etiquette not covered by my list.  It said, “If we get to drinking on Sunday afternoon, and start insisting that you stay over until Tuesday, please remember that we don’t mean it!”

unwelcome2

Being a person of some sensitivity, as I have said, I eventually came to realize that my efforts to please my hosts were neither understood nor appreciated.  Which explains why my wife is still invited to these cottage-getaways—but for what are called girls’ weekends now—while I languish at home.

I really believe someone should revise that misbegotten list!