We can receive no greater compliment from a friend than to be invited to his home to share his hospitality. It follows that, as a guest, we should be more than usually careful to observe all that courtesy and etiquette lay down. Liberties that we take in our own homes may be very much out of place when we are the guest of another. The guest is in the subordinate role, and must conform in every way to what his host desires. He must accept things just as they are, realizing that the slightest whisper of complaint on his part would be in the worst possible taste.
The guest will, no doubt, be urged “to make himself at home”, but he will be wise not to interpret this invitation too literally. The surest way to be put on the social black-list is to bounce your way into another person’s home as though you owned the place.
The mother of a ten-year-old boy who warned him, as he was setting out for a friend’s birthday party, “And before you leave, make sure you apologize to Susan’s mother”, may have been speaking from practical knowledge of her son’s usual form on such occasions, or she may simply have been taking the fatalistic view that someone is sure to do the wrong thing at a party. In any case, we need to follow strictly the code of politeness and etiquette when we visit another person’s home, whether for a party or any other purpose.
Christ The Model Guest
It is no surprise to read in the Gospel story that Our Lord was an honoured guest in many households. He was always willing to accept an invitation, even when, in the house of Simon the Leper, he foresaw that he would be subjected to calculated rudeness. Martha and Mary, the family of Jairus, the newly-weds of Cana, and tiny Zacchaeus almost tumbling out of his tree in his eagerness to open his doors—these are just some of the many who had the thrilling experience of entertaining under their own roof the courteous Christ. All must have felt that they had received from their Guest much more than they could ever hope to give.
Herein lies an important lesson which we should realize in practice when we visit the homes of our friends. We should understand that it is our duty to give as well as to receive. There will be occasions when we call on our friends to offer them sympathy in their sorrows or help in their difficulties. Even when we are invited purely for entertainment it is our duty to contribute to the pleasure of all by a cheerful disposition and a readiness to put all at their ease.
When To Make A Call
It would be impossible to list all the occasions when charity, friendship or courtesy urge us to visit our relatives and friends. We must in most cases depend on our tact and sense of propriety in this matter. However, there are a number of occasions for making private calls that are considered obligatory, or at least traditional. There is for example, the call that is made in response to an invitation to an entertainment of some kind, such as a birthday party, a dinner party, an anniversary celebration, a wedding reception or simply a get-together of friends who like to enjoy one another’s company from time to time. We shall discuss visits of this type in more detail later in this chapter.
When a relative or friend has suffered a bereavement, charity, as well as courtesy, suggests that we should call as soon as possible to offer sympathy. Normally such visits should be of short duration, unless our host makes it quite clear that he would welcome our company for a longer time. Usually a visit of fifteen to twenty minutes would be considered adequate.
If you live in a country district it is a courteous, and generally a much appreciated act to call on a family that has recently moved in. However, give them sufficient time to settle down before you call. In the meantime it is just as well to make discreet inquiries about the newcomers so that you can be sure they are desirable acquaintances. There is nothing improper about this course of action. Anyway, they will probably be checking up on you at the same time. It is also a kind and gracious gesture to call on neighbours who may be leaving the district.
When a relative or friend has received an important promotion or a special honour we should be generous in offering congratulations. A well-timed call is a more satisfying way of fulfilling this duty than the rather impersonal letter or telegram.
Boys who have been away at boarding-school for some time should, after returning home, call on their former teachers and their parish priest. If this is not done at the end of every school term, an occasion should be sought at least once in the year for making such courtesy calls.
Making The Call
When calling at a person’s private home, whether for business or social reasons, we should time the call with due consideration for our host’s convenience. Of course, we are not concerned with this aspect when our call is in response to a precise invitation. On less formal occasions it would be unreasonable to expect a friend to receive and entertain us when, for example, a meal is being prepared or is in progress. Also, visits made very early in the morning or late at night are rightly regarded as ill-timed. Much discretion is called for in timing the kind of informal visit which we call “just dropping in”.
Knock on the door (normally the front one) or ring the bell distinctly enough to be heard. Avoid the loud open-up-or-else knock which could make the whole family fear they are about to be arrested. It is important to give the person inside ample time to come from the farthest parts of the house before you knock or ring a second time. When the lady of the house opens the door, greet her by raising your hat and wishing her the time of the day. In response to your inquiry she may say, “I’m sorry, my husband’s not in.” You may, in fact, have seen his heels disappearing around the end of the corridor, but that fact gives you no reason for doubting the honesty of his ever-watchful wife. It is taken for granted that “Sorry, not at home” can mean one of two things: either that the person requested is actually away at the time, or that, although present, he does not wish to see the caller.
If you are invited to come inside be sure to remove your hat on entering. Also see that you wipe your shoes on the mat if there is any possibility of soiling your hostess’s floor. If your call was expected and is of a social nature your hostess will probably want to take your hat, overcoat and umbrella from you before conducting you into the sitting-room. Surrender these articles without demur and, once seated, come quickly to the purpose of your visit. Casual visits should not be unduly prolonged. Ten to fifteen minutes should be sufficient, unless your hostess shows a genuine desire that you stay longer. You may, however, have to be sharp enough to interpret her “Oh, don’t go yet” as a rather coy substitute for offering you your hat and coat.
When visiting another person’s home, do not show bad manners by gazing intently at the furniture or ornaments in the room as though you were appraising their value. But if you think you can trust your own taste in these matters, a comment on the pleasing interior decoration is quite in order and will please your hostess. It would show very bad taste to be inquisitive about what you see in the home. Even our closest friends are entitled to their private cupboards, with or without skeletons.
There is an elaborate set of rules regarding the small white visiting-cards that are used in some social circles and commonly by business representatives. It is outside the scope of this book to go into these details here. In later life you may find it useful to consult a reliable guide to etiquette so that you may know the correct procedure for visiting-cards.