Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Uncomfortable Party Situations

I haven't done an etiquette post in forever, but I was put in a difficult situation last weekend and thought I'd share the story. I drove down to Long Island last Friday to attend my boyfriend's grandfather's 90th birthday party (my first and perhaps last 90th birthday party). There aren't really any older people in my family (my grandparents have all passed away and my oldest relative is in his early 60's) and it was a little strange to be in a room where the average age was about 72. Between listening to stories about a woman's cat who is addicted to Animal Planet, answering awkward questions about my relationship with my boyfriend and watching two men argue over whose WWII service was more important, I definitely gained a greater appreciation for people who spend a lot of time with older folks.

After we finished dinner and the birthday boy blew out his candles (luckily there weren't 90), a strange thing occurred. One of the women sitting near us (who looked to be in her 80's) began to sweat and breathe heavily, and appeared to go in and out of consciousness. Andrew's grandmother was trying to comfort her and his mother worked to ascertain the situation, and ended up calling 911. Because everyone was sitting at different tables, and because the woman wasn't screaming or bleeding or passing out, most of the party guests had no idea that anything had happened. The party was ending and people were beginning to get up and leave, but soon the EMT's came in to help her, and by now most of us knew something was wrong.

What happened at that point was interesting because it illustrates a situation that occurs anytime a crisis occurs at an event or public place. About 20% of the remaining guests had no idea that anything had happened and continued what they were doing. 40% of the group acted like nothing was happening but snuck glances at the ill woman and hung around until they could find out how the situation would end. 30% realized what an uncomfortable situation this was for the hosts and left the party, while the remaining 10% scurried around asking questions and spreading rumors about what had happened.

Even though I knew there was nothing I could do to help, I asked anyway, and then asked if it would be best if we left. The hostess said that it would, and we got out of there.

You don't have to be at a party of elderly people for an uncomfortable situation like this to occur. I've gone to enough college parties where someone drank too much and ended up embarrassing his or herself while everyone stood around and watched. Other times, two people will get into a fight (not a fist fight, just a screaming match between a couple, usually fueled by alcohol). It's always an awkward moment- do you stay with the hope that whatever happened will go away and the party will continue or should you leave so that the hostess can deal with the problem?

I think that it's always best to ask the hostess (assuming she isn't the one who got into the fight or is dancing naked on a table) what they'd like you to do, but when in doubt, don't stay around and gawk as the situation deteriorates. The greater number of people who stick around, the more pressure is put on the host or hostess to correct the situation.

And of course, if you or your friend is the one who's sick or has had too much to drink or is getting in a fight, the considerate thing is to alert the hostess (if you can), thank her for the party and explain why you have to leave. I've had to drag friends who've had too much to drink kicking and screaming out of parties, but they've always thanked me the following day for saving them from publicly embarrassing themselves, or doing something they regretted.

But if you decide to stay, it's best to ignore whatever situation is going on and try to keep the gossip and whispering to a minimum, as it only makes things worse.

The woman who fell sick at the party checked out of the hospital that day and ended up being fine, but I learned a good lesson about how people react during an uncomfortable party situation, and hopefully I'll never again be one of the people gawking over or spreading rumors about the event.


Anonymous said...

Hi Meg, I read through that and have to tell you that you are a pillar of decorum and class. It is true that in most party situations for the young or old, when something goes out of whack, the guests are left a little ill at ease or dumbfounded. You are right on the mark with your etiquette suggestion...always offer a hand to the host/hostess and follow their cues. I've been to parties where alcohol has created lampshade routines and near disasters for the hosts...but the only decent thing to do in those situations is support the host by showing compassion in the situation and not instigating a gossip stir.

Meg said...

Hey windwhisperer: Thanks so much for your sweet comment! I certainly wish I was a pillar of class, but I definitely have my flaws (gossip is a major weakness of mine, but I'm workin on it!). But yeah, I don't think you can get through college (or heck, high school) without witnessing at least one terribly embarrassing/uncomfortable party situation. Luckily people are a lot more forgiving when you're 19 and this stuff happens at basically every party, every weekend.