Been a while! I’m hoping to get back to a regular schedule now, though. (Also, if you have any subjects you’d like me to write about, please let me know via email or comments–I draw a blank, some weeks.) And as I’m going on vacation this weekend, and a friend said I should, I’m going to describe the Dance of WASP Non-Obligation: one I learned mostly from my dad’s people (and my mom, so either this also extends to Boston Irish Catholics or Mom acclimated really well over the years) but which was also familiar to a friend from an older generation in the actual Midwest.
See, those of my ancestry on one side of the family, perhaps in internal psychological compensation for hundreds of years of actually invading people’s land and taking their stuff on a national basis, have established the following guidelines:
1) Being a Bother *might* be the worst possible thing you can do, rivaled only by Making a Scene. You know how serial killers’ neighbors go on TV and say that Mr. Human Pancreas Casserole “kept to himself” and “never bothered anyone”? That’s kind of the ideal, except for the cannibalism–in part because that kind of thing, as the song says, is almost sure to cause a scene.
2) You, as a host, are obligated to offer refreshments.
3) You, as a guest, must assume that any offer made is only out of obligation, and actually fulfilling it would involve a level of effort, on the host’s part, somewhere between “raising a barn” and “donating a kidney.”
4) You, as a host, must assume that your guests are assuming this, and secretly are yearning in their very soul after whatever you’re offering.
This leads to the following exchange, where A is the host and B is the guest.
A: “Would you like a cup of tea?”
B: “Oh, no thank you. I’m good.”
A: “Are you sure? I was going to make one for myself…”
B: “…well, if you’re making one anyhow…”
Accepting the first offer is too close to asking, and One Never Asks For Refreshments. (One may, in desperate circumstances, ask for money or blood, but never refreshments. One of my first memories is asking one of Dad’s colleagues for gumdrops out of a bowl on her desk, and Mom reading me a mild version of the riot act, because You Wait To Be Offered.*)
The basic principle here is that, well, if a beverage is going to manifest in your general location, you can drink it. You just can’t, you know, take steps to actualize said manifestation.
This is almost entirely mandatory, every time, with the following exceptions:
1) A may pre-empt the first exchange, as follows: “I was going to make myself a cup of tea. Would you care for any?” or “While I’m up, can I get you a beer?”
2) If A and B are immediate family, the task is pretty simple, and A is already getting up. “Mom, while you’re in the kitchen, can you bring me back an orange?”
3) If the invitation to A’s house was specifically for refreshments, and then it goes into Double Secret Overtime Probation Coffee Rules, to wit:
You can’t be the first one to suggest a specific beverage. (In this day and age, if your host offers a choice of wines, you *can* opt for water, but that’s it.) You definitely can’t ask if your host *has* a specific beverage: They Are Not Running a Restaurant. If your host offers a list of choices, you can theoretically pick one nobody’s chosen yet, but in practice everyone feels weird about being the first person to ask for tea or decaf when everyone else is having coffee, so someone in the household usually needs to go for that in order to break the ice.
Q. How the hell long does it take to get a drink?
A. I have known the procurement of a cup of tea to last a good ten minutes before anyone puts the kettle on.
Q. How does this intersect with that meme about sexual consent and tea?
A. Either it demonstrates the failure of any given metaphor to account for the rich and varied tapestry of human existence, while still functioning well at making its point, or it demonstrates why Casanova was not a WASP from the Pittsburgh suburbs. Probably both.
Q. What about cocktails?
A. Oh Jesus that’s an entire book. Suffice it to say that a) one drinks what’s poured, b) mostly the host will have the shaker prepared a good fifteen minutes before anyone shows up, and c) no, you don’t get options, you drink what the season dictates you drink, lest people start drinking gin and tonics in November, which is the sort of thing that leads directly to anarchy and communism.
*This is pretty much true of any situation involving pleasure or convenience. There was a giant post about “ask” versus “guess” culture a while back, vis-a-vis someone wanting to stay with a friend while vacationing in New York, and I found both options culturally *horrifying*: if you *have* to go to New York, like for a job interview, that’s one thing, but if you’re just vacationing, the only option is to go ahead and book a hotel room, then tell your friend that you’ll be there from X to Y if they want to get lunch sometime, then go through a version of the Dance involving “Are you sure I won’t be a bother?” and “No, we’d love to have you!” If your friend has already issued a “you’re totally welcome to crash any time you’re up here” generic-invite, that’s one thing, though you still have to add “but I can totally get a hotel room if that doesn’t work for you” and so forth when you do ask.
One Does Not Drop Hints.