Gifts are neighborly

Emily Post writes on bringing gifts as a guest:

A gift for your host or hostess is a lovely way to thank them for their hospitality and is always appreciated. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive; simply consider the nature of the occasion and local custom when making your choice. In some parts of the country, a hostess gift is considered obligatory, while in other places a gift is brought only on special occasions. If it’s the first time you’re visiting someone’s home, then it’s a very nice gesture to bring a small gift. If you have a few extra minutes to wrap it, even if you only use tissue or a decorative bag, it adds to the gesture.

Wine, flowers, specialty food items, and small items for the house all make good hostess gifts. Flowers are terrific too, but if you want to go beyond Etiquette 101, bring them in a simple vase (a Mason jar is fine). You could also offer to put them in water yourself when you arrive so your host doesn’t have to arrange them. If you bring wine, don’t expect your host to serve it that evening – the wines may have already been chosen for the meal. And don’t bring food for the meal unless you’ve been asked to. Otherwise you risk putting your host on the spot and upsetting the menu.

I grew up without any serious sense of social propriety for this sort of stuff. I never attended fancy events as a child, and wasn’t naturally exposed to it in high school or college. Other than the basics of a (simple dinnertime) place setting, I was lost. What changed was meeting Ben Novak, and catching a glimpse of a way of life more ordered, yet just as accessible for a person of any social class. Indeed, a way for lower status people like me to demonstrate competency among higher status people. Jeffrey Tucker asks:

How do manners like this come to be lost in the course of time? Negligence, probably. Forces outside of our control coarsen life (politics comes to mind) and reduce the connection we feel with others. We are more inclined to take without giving, extract value rather than provide value, partake in others’ benevolence while not offering our own. Forgetting manners and disregarding etiquette makes the world a less beautiful place than it otherwise would be. Nor is it in our personal interest.

Holiday season is now upon us. Why not take the occasion to try this out?Holiday season is now upon us. Why not take the occasion to try this out? Bring a gift to a party. Do it with a good heart and loving intentions. Watch what happens. See how the smallest gestures can improve our relationships.

The timing could not be better. We’ve lived through a grim and ghastly political season that has divided friendships, families, and whole communities. We’ve gotten used to the idea that life is a zero-sum game of winners and losers. Etiquette represents an opposite style of thinking and behavior. It’s a great way to fight back against the way politics coarsens life and ruins relationships.

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