One is more delightful for being told one is delightful. – Katharine Gerould, American writer
Ladies and Gentlemen, please put down your smart phones. Better yet, silence them. I need your full attention: Americans and their homes are having a charm crisis.
Our collective attachment to electronics — whether to our high-definition televisions, laptops or mobile devices — are turning us into rude, detached, self-absorbed, technology addicts who use our homes simply as charging docks. It’s making us less human.
See, back in the old days, before friend was a verb, humans got together. In person. They invited other humans to their homes for tea, cocktails, dinners, parties and (gasp!) conversation.
If we’re ever going to be human again, we need to get less attached to our devices and more connected to each other, says lifestyle expert Christie Matheson, whose new book, “Simply Charming” (Skyhorse Publishing, June 2012), reminds us how.
More than a charm-school primer, Matheson’s book reinforces why we practice etiquette at all. “It makes others feel more comfortable.” The book underscores the importance — make that the necessity — of being nice, of giving genuine compliments, of having face time with others and of entertaining at home with, yes, charm.
“While Facebook and other social media have brought us closer in some ways, they have distanced us in others,” Matheson said when I called her to find out how I could brush up my own languishing charm skills.
“I so get that,” I said. “Why have people over when you already know from their status updates and tweets every time they get a latté?”
“People can post comments on your wall, but none of the really good stuff happens unless you’re face to face,” she said.
“Furthermore,” I said, and she had me going, “besides hiding behind their assorted screens, they also put off entertaining until after they finish some home improvement. They want to fix the driveway first or paint.”
“They don’t realize that people don’t care if your sofa needs replacing,” she said. “They want welcoming and inviting, not perfect and austere.”
By now we’re in such violent agreement, we burst out in unison:
“They’re missing the point!!”
Matheson is lobbying for a return to etiquette because she believes there’s more to life than having a meaningful relationship with your handheld. I support the cause because I want to see people use their homes for more than a convenient place to plug in.
After all, home is the backdrop for your relationships, which are, finally, when you tally the score, what life is all about. And you won’t have many unless you have company.
Matheson summed it up like this: “Invite people over. Be charming. It’s fun.” Then she offered these tips on how to host charming parties and be, well, simply more charming:
Give guests something to do. When guests arrive to a party, no matter how confident they are, they have a sense of trepidation, said Matheson. Give them a task. Point them to the self-serve bar or the appetizers. “Handing someone a drink as they walk in deprives them of the opportunity to walk through the room, and get a drink and their bearings.”
Make introductions times three. Many of us don’t catch someone’s name the first time because we’re too worried about whether we have spinach in our teeth. So, as a host, when introducing guests, repeat each person’s name a few times as naturally as possible: Anne, this is Jim. Jim meet Anne. Anne works as a bartender at the Cherry Grill. Jim has three young boys and just climbed Mt. Everest.
Draw out common interests. Jim is planning a trip to Italy. Anne, weren’t you in Florence last year? Common ground helps guests connect and converse.
Offer artful compliments. Don’t gush, but do kindly comment on a person’s appearance or recent accomplishment: Joan just had her art featured in a gallery downtown. Peter just passed his bar exam.
Be sincere. Paying compliments is one of the nicest ways to make others feel good. However, Matheson notes the two kinds of compliments you should never give: False and backhanded. “You must look for something honest, kind and sincere to say. Avoid gratuitous remarks; people can smell a phony. And no compliment should carry any tinge of insult. Instead of saying, “Boy, you sure knocked that baby weight off!” Try, “Wow! You’d never know you just had a baby!”
Use people’s names. That alone is a compliment.
Don’t gossip. If it’s cruel, catty or you wouldn’t want it to get back to someone, don’t say it.
Toast with class. Toasts are not roasts and should never be insulting.
Let others talk. Don’t try to dazzle company with your wit. The best way to make someone comfortable is to listen closely to what they have to say, and to care. “Charm happens when people don’t think too much about how they’re coming across,” she said.
Above all, don’t check your phone. “That’s the opposite of charming,” said Matheson. Mobile devices have no place at a party, or any time you’re face to face with people you care about.
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through marnijameson.com.