My 83-year-old father and I are going to visit some friends of his in NYC for the weekend. They are also in their 80’s. They are kind and unpretentious but formal about manners and etiquette. For example, when I saw them earlier this year, I noticed that every time the wife enters the room or gets up from the dining room table, her husband stands up until she sits down. I feel compelled to stand up too. It’s old fashioned and polite, but I find it awkward. Do my father and I have to stand up every time too?
–ES, Chicago, IL
Whenever you’re in someone else’s house, follow their customs, meaning their manners and etiquette. For instance, if everyone held hands around the table and said grace, wouldn’t you take the hand of the person to your left and the person to your right and say grace, too? Of course you would.
This weekend, whenever your hostess walks into the room or stands up from the dinner table, follow suit. Watch her husband. He is well trained.
Who knows, she may have learned to expect that kind of gesture of respect from her husband and his mother, or he learned it at one time by watching her father. Perhaps both.
If she is essentially putting the courses on the table and clearing, then you would make a halfhearted gesture to stand that looks like a slight bow. Certainly your father could manage a semblance of a bow.
At the end of his life when my father was in a wheelchair he would automatically try to stand when I entered the room or rejoined the dining table. Resting his hands on the sides of the chair he pushed himself up to a half stand.
At first I tried to persuade dad that he didn’t have to stand. My pleas fell on temporary deaf ears. I gave up when I came to understand that standing was an automatic natural response for some men when a woman entered their space.
Even for me, his daughter, who still appreciates it when a man stands for me when I enter the room or stand up from the table.
You probably don’t want to look around the room to find that you are the last man sitting while the rest are standing.
When in doubt, stand.
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