Sign up for the weekly Parenting & Relationships newsletter for news and advice to help you be a better parent, partner, friend, family member or colleague.
When invited to a gathering of friends or family I’m regularly accused of bringing an overabundance of bags with food and drink hopefully appropriate to the occasion and tastes. I joke that I am, indeed, a “bag lady.” The items I bring are usually consumed. I hear a chorus of “Oh you shouldn’t have!” “You always bring too much!” “Next time just bring yourself!” I live in a small space and can’t accommodate a crowd so my offerings are, in my mind, in lieu of hosting. I always try to bring items the host/hostess would not offer. I always ask “What can I bring!?” and follow the request. Dave, where am I on the slippery scale of social acceptability in this instance?
Before I get into the meat of my answer, I want to say watch out for this “bag lady” stuff. Keep an eye on it. Put a pin in it. It could work against you in the long run.
This might seem hypocritical coming from a guy like me. I’ve always been a maestro of self-deprecation (if that’s not too oxymoronic a thing to say). Obeying some inscrutable impulse, I don’t “one-up” people; I always “one-down” them.
Someone: “Oh, why did I wear this shirt today? This is a really dumb shirt!”
Me: “Your shirt? Your shirt is Einstein compared to how dumb my shirt is.”
Why do I have this reflex? Go ask it on the mountain. I began my first book, Chump Change, basically a 230-page farrago/fandango of self-deprecation, with the words: “I am a failure.”
An editor I knew pondered this line, and the rest of the book, and finally said words to the effect of: “You should be more careful what you say about yourself, Dave. Don’t forget: People are bored and lazy and busy and gossipy. They don’t have time or energy to peer through your smokescreen of self-deprecation to determine if what you’re saying is true. They’ll just take you at your word and next thing you know everyone will be saying: ‘Dave is a failure.’”
So I pass that thought along to you. It might stick, which could hurt you. People peeking through curtains: “Oh, look who’s coming: ‘Bag Lady.’ Wonder what sort of crap she’s gonna foist on us this time.” “Next thing you know she’ll be pushing a shopping cart full of junk up to our houses.” Snarky snickers.
As to your central question, “Where do I stand on the slippery scale of social acceptability?” I have to say: right at the top.
Now, I’m not traditionally an etiquette-based advice columnist. The word “etiquette” to me has always conjured images of finger bowls and antimacassars. But I’ve had to rethink that stance a bit, lately. Suddenly so much of our health and so many lives and livelihoods – even whole countries – could topple depending on what might once have been dismissed as mere etiquette.
For example, how we greet one another. Am I the only one who cringes a bit these days when watching an old movie or TV show and people are hugging, kissing or shaking hands? It’s weird, I know, but I feel kind of grossed out.
I’m hoping in future we will forget all the awkward elbow- and fist-bumps and air-hugs everyone’s experimenting with now and land on simply bowing to one another.
You don’t mention post-COVID-19 protocols, but as far as pre-COVID-19 ones go I’d say you’re top shelf.
Not only do you not show-up empty-handed, but you have the thoughtfulness/decency/courtesy to call in advance to inquire what might be helpful/useful for you to bring. Fuhgedaboudit, you’re part of very mature fraternity, an ultra-thoughtful minority.
Bottom line: Let the naysayers neigh, and the squawkers chirp. You should hold your head, and your bags high, as you approach any house to which you come bearing gifts.
Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.