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(Mary Mitchell has written several books on the subject of etiquette, including "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Etiquette" and "Class Acts." She is also the founder of executive training consultancy The Mitchell Organization with the website www.themitchell.org. The opinions expressed are her own.)
By Mary Mitchell
SEATTLE (Reuters Life!) -I am far too polite to mention names yet I ask you: what is wrong with this picture?
Two party-crashers finagle their way into a State dinner at the White House. They shake the President's hand and get hugged by the Vice President, with worldwide photo documentation of this outrageous social travesty.
The White House social secretary responsible for the event loses her job. One of the crashers ends up starring in a television series.
Am I crazy, or have we devolved into a society that rewards rudeness, arrogance, and hubris?
Let's stop this madness before it becomes contagious.
Reflect if you will, on the nature of a business dinner.
Every business/social event has an agenda which is established by the host.
As members of a global marketplace, we need to remember that other cultures are far more formal than the United States, and the result of crashing a business social event could seriously decimate a person's - and thus his or her company's - credibility.
Letitia Baldrige, former White House social secretary and, not incidentally, author of the first book dedicated entirely to business etiquette among the 24 titles to her credit, weighed in on this matter.
"Going to a party uninvited always has been a negative action. It never has been acceptable. At the very least, it upsets kitchen preparations, parking arrangements, and even details such as space for hanging coats and depositing dripping umbrellas.
Crashing could not be more inconsiderate to a host. It is a negative act, because hosts likely have a particular plan for the event, an intention to move guests' attitudes in a certain direction.
The party reels off course, and it is entirely the fault of the uninvited guests. The custom of going to a party only when we have been invited is a necessary, attractive, decent way for a party to evolve."
Nonetheless, premeditated crashing continues, almost as if it were a treasure hunt.
How do we handle the dreaded uninvited guest at our dinner party? Baldrige says: "I have always gone on the attack, taking the person gently aside, so others cannot hear me say 'I don't believe you are on tonight's list. I am sure you must be on the list for another night.' I use the word 'tonight' over and over because a guest should learn what the word means.
"Eventually word gets around that so-and-so was asked to leave the party. That's how a nation's manners are going to be taught - from watching others' behavior and learning from the effects of that behavior," she continued.
What disturbs this columnist about the gate-crashers is their consummate self-absorption. Guests have a role which is equally as important as the host's to ensure the success of the occasion.
In other words, guests should "sing for their supper," the results of which frequently are repeat invitations and valuable business contacts.
Here are some guidelines:
1. Respond as soon as your invitation arrives.
2. Make sure you know what kind of party it is - holiday celebration, retirement, opening of new office, introducing new member of a company? That kind of information provides important clues as to the nature of the party and how to make the most of it.
3. Do not arrive even one minute early. Arrive no later than 30 minutes after the scheduled arrival time.
4. Dress for the occasion. If you are not sure what the dress code is, call the host and ask.
5. Avoid those drippy, messy, greasy hors d'oeuvres. They make for unpleasant handshakes, as do wet, cold hands from glasses with ice. (Carry drinks in left hand so the right hand is free to shake.)
6. Drink alcohol in extreme moderation -- possibly, not at all. (No apologies necessary for not drinking alcohol.)
7. Be genuinely interested in the other guests, introduce yourself, and make an effort to draw out loners.
8. Make sure you greet your host when you arrive and thank your host when you leave.
9. Don't monopolize hosts' time.
10. Write your host a thank-you note after the event. So few people take the time to hand write correspondence that this simple act can set you, and your organization, apart as a class act.
A party is only as good as its guests -- specifically, its invited guests -- invited guests who are savvy enough to get out of their own egos to contribute to a successful, constructive occasion.
And why, you might ask, do we bother to pay attention to these things?
I maintain that we bother because good manners create good relationships. Good relationships create good business. It's not the other way around. If only party crashers could understand this.
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith