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Etiquette: Meeting the Parents

Around this time of year, many significant others (or as I call them “sig-o”) come to us and say those dreaded, yet inevitable words: “Honey, I want you to meet my parents.” We spend days or weeks (depending on the advance notice) fretting over what to wear, how to act, and how we can make these total strangers like us: it’s downright stressful! Never fear, I have a few pointers.

(And, as a side note, after three years of marriage, my in-laws STILL like me.)

Attire

I always run my attire by my wife before I go to any social event. You may want to do the same. Remember, it’s always better to be a little over-dressed than under-dressed, so err on the side of caution. Before getting out of the car, or knocking on the door, ask your sig-o to give you a “once over:” tie straight, hair in place, glasses clean, not lint or dirt? Good to go. Now breathe.

Greetings

First and foremost, with all these tips, do your homework! Talk to your significant other and find out what makes their parents tick: are they very casual people, or a bit heavy on the manners? Next, if it’s appropriate (again take your cues from your sig-o), bring a small gift: a bottle of wine, box of chocolates, fresh backed goods, etc. This is especially appropriate if you’re having dinner or attending a party they are hosting.

I know you may be nervous, but smile! Be positive. Offer your hand for a firm, but not over-excessive handshake. Insert pleasantries here: “it’s great to finally meet you,” “I’m so glad we could finally meet,” etc.

Conversation

You know that old saying about avoiding religion, politics and current events at social gatherings? Stick to it. Again, ask your sig-o for guidance. Do you and their parents share any common interests? Play up on that. But, whatever you do, don’t FAKE it. Just because dad is a hunter, doesn’t mean you need to pretend to hunt as well, just to garnish any favor with him. If you’re found out, it will look bad, and, even worse if he asks you along on his next deer hunt.

Be prepared for a little grilling. They will ask about your job, your education, your parents, your future plans, and everything else that will make you sweat. Once again, be honest. But, if there’s something you’re not too proud of that you think might be brought up, prepare for it. Ask your sig-o how much they know about you already, so that you’re not just shooting in the dark.

Prepare for lulls in the conversation with questions about their hobbies: “Mrs. So-and-So, I hear you’re involved in the local charity? That sounds fascinating.” Again, go to the sig-o for tips on this. You don’t need to prepare a hundred of these (at some point, the responsibility of keeping the conversation going shifts to the other parties), but one or two are helpful.

One or two faux-pas are inevitable. You mess up someone’s name, drop a butter knife, sneeze too loud, etc. Don’t stress over it. Apologize, and move on. Above all else, be positive and confident. If you’re nervous and jumpy, it may cause suspicion. If you get too nervous or freaked out, excuse yourself to the restroom and take a few deep breathes. It may be intimidating, but these parents are people too. Long before you got here, they were stressed about meeting their in laws.

Considerations for Transmen

Knowledge is the most important factor here: what do your sig-o’s parents know? Are you looking at a night of female pronouns, or total ignorance? Have a frank and honest conversation with your sig-o about this, and talk together about the best course of action. Although it feel very personal, this is more about your sig-o than you. Are they out to their parents about their sexual orientation? What is the status of their relationship and communication? You and your sig-o need to make sure you’re on the same page about this. If female pronouns are possible, and unacceptable, you need to talk to your sig-o about what they can or plan to do.

What about an awkward dinner confrontation? If your sig-o and their parents get into a heated conversation about you, stay out of it as much as possible. Although they are mentioning you, it is not solely about you: it’s not (likely) personal. Unless the parents are hurling insults at you, stay out of it. Getting involved in an argument may only make things worse. Just be there to support your sig-o, emotionally.

If your sig-o’s parents are asking invasive questions, and making you feel uncomfortable, be prepared with a kind, but firm statement expressing your boundaries: “I’m sorry Mr./Ms. So-and-So, but I don’t really feel comfortable answering that question. By the way, honey, didn’t you want to tell your parents about that recent scholastic/employment accomplishment?” Never underestimate the well timed topic switch. If possible, don’t end your statement with the denial, because that may make the parents feel defensive; use a topic switch to take the heat and confrontation out of a potentially explosive situation. If the parents aren’t taking a hint, see if your sig-o can get the point across more bluntly: “Mom/Dad that’s not appropriate, please stop.”

Like I said before, be positive and confident. This includes statements or confrontations your identity. If you’re defensive, your sig-o’s parents will be defensive, and no one will walk away with fond memories of the meeting. Be patient, be friendly, and, if you can, be charming. As always, thanks for reading and have a wonderful winter season.

Cheers – Mason

Etiquette: The Doors

There is a lot of discourse about whether a gentleman should open a door for a lady. Some women argue that this action is condescending, and portrays the image that a woman can’t open a door for herself. Others argue it reinforces a patriarchal power. I just wanted to weigh in on a few points, and give my personal advice. As always, I welcome any responses or thoughts.

Equal Opportunity

If the opportunity presents itself, I open the door for anyone: male, female, in-between and beyond. For me, this is not just a polite gesture reserved to feminine-identified people. It is quite simply, a polite gesture. End of story. Now, there are times when opening the door for someone who presents themselves in a masculine gender, causes a bit of confusion. As if this masculine person never thought that a door could or would be opened for them by anyone (outside of a doorman). They look at me like I’m nuts, then fumble awkwardly as they try to figure out what they’re supposed to do; take the door from me, and allow me to enter, thank me, stand aside and wait for me to pass? Guys, if someone unexpectedly holds the door open for you, a simple smile and “thanks,” will suffice.

So, the point of this, is, if you’re going to hold open a door for someone, do it for everyone, so long as you have the ability.

Confrontation

I have, on occasion, been confronted about what others have called my “sexist assumption” that I should open the door for a feminine person. As a proud feminist, as well as trans-person, the first few times this happened, I was shocked. Here I was, trying to be polite, and rather than being thanked, I was getting berated by a total stranger, in public, no less. How does one respond to such allegations? Naturally, yelling back is not something I would suggest. As far as I can tell, the best response is a simple apology, as well as an explanation that you do this for anyone, regardless of a person’s presented gender. Typically looking something like this:

“I sincerely apologize for the misunderstanding. I was trying to be polite, and this is a practice I reserve for all people, regardless of gender. Again, I apologize.”

If the person refuses to accept your apology, or continues to berate you, simply apologize again, and go on your way. Of course, understand, that people come from all different perspectives and experiences; just because something seems harmless and polite to you, doesn’t mean it may not be perceived as an offense to another person. Just don’t let it ruin your day, or your opinions of gentlemanly manners.

Dating

Ask my wife, and she will tell you that 90% of the time that I am able, I will open any door for her: front door, car door, restaurant door. Any door. This began many years ago, when we first started dating, and has continued since. In my opinion, opening the door for a significant other is a public display of affection, and conveys to that person “I am thinking about you, always.”

Of course, this is my relationship, and by no means do I believe that what is true for my relationship is true for all. If you are dating someone for the first time, try opening the door for them (especially the passenger door in the car, if that applies). If this doesn’t go over well, or if they look at you questioningly, then reconsider. However, I truly believe that, to error on the side of gentlemanly manners is the best route, in these types of situations.

Mechanics

There is a fine line between polite door-opening, and awkward, out of your way door-opening. For instance: if you’re approaching a door, and someone is half a city block behind you, then holding the door and waiting for them to approach can be awkward, at best. I did this once, when a young woman was several hundred feet behind me (I honestly thought she was closer than that), and in heels. She saw me holding the door open, and began to jog to the door, so as to (kindly) not leave me hanging there. I felt bad: those heels were definitely not running shoes, and she felt pressured into hurrying. So, be wary of distance, time, and footwear: if the person is too far off, then don’t wait around and make it awkward. If this does happen to you, simply saying, “there’s no rush,” in a friendly (not condescending) way, will, hopefully, avoid too much awkwardness. And how to gauge the right distance? Honestly, there is no scientific equation to this. My thought is this: if the door closes behind me, and into the face of the on-coming person, then I should hold the door open.

And what about high traffic, when you hold the door open for one person, and a tidal wave of people start to blindly pour in behind them? Awkward, again. In these types of situations, if I’m feeling a little put out, I try to merge into the traffic and hold out the door for the next kind soul to grab. It’s a bit like passing a torch. Just remember, being polite doesn’t mean sacrificing yourself (or your time).

Considerations for Transmen

Many of us have a unique perspective on this. I used to be in the category of people for whom doors were opened. Now, I find myself in the reverse position. However, even when I was female-identified, I opened doors for anyone that was around.

The point is, be mindful of those around you, mindful of stereotypes, and, above all, mindful of courteous, gentlemanly manners.

Cheers – Mason

(Thank you to a friendly librarian for suggesting this post and motivating me to write it!)

Wine: Introduction

Winos (those who enjoy wine, socially and culturally, and know a good deal about wine) get a bad rap these days. Suddenly, it seems apropos to make fun of those who know how to order a good bottle of wine at dinner, or host wine tasting party. When did this start happening?

I feel I should preface this post with a little background information. I come from a very wine-literate family: my father is in the wine business, my step-mom worked for a prestigious winery in Napa Valley, CA.  Suffice to say, I’ve been around wine my entire life. Now, by no means do I claim to be the be-all-end-all of wine knowledge (not even a little close), but I find I often know a little more than those in my own generation. Also, please note, I plan to make this a multi-part series. There is a vast quantity of information about wine out there, and I can’t even hope to touch it all in one post.

Why Should We Care?

In the beginning of our relationship, I took my wife (then fiancé) out for a nice Italian dinner. Naturally, I took the time to browse the wine list, and ordered two glasses of wine that I thought would best compliment our dinners. My wife looked at me, lovingly, and stated “there is something very sexy about a masculine person who knows how to order wine.” She has often reiterated this thought to me over the years. It’s both masculine and attractive when a man knows his way around a bottle of wine. If that’s not a good reason to learn something about wine, then consider this:

Wine has been around for thousands of years: Julius Caesar drank wine, Alexander the Great drank wine, and according to the Judeo-Christian traditions, wine one of the most sacred beverages available. Rumor has it, red wine is good for your heart. Wine represents one of the oldest, and most stable economies both in the US as well as worldwide. Honestly, what’s not to love?!

Find Your Wine

As I mentioned, even if I started writing today and wrote for years, I couldn’t tell you everything you needed to know about wine. On top of that, everyone is different. Just because I like a particular Merlot, doesn’t mean you will. So, that puts the ball in your court.

The best way to learn what you like is to try what’s out there. Head to your local liquor store, and pick out a mid-range bottle of wine that looks good to you (plan to spend around $20 a bottle, maybe more, maybe less). Depending on your household size and personal habits, you can do this weekly, and buy a different type of wine every week. Keep notes on what you like and why. Also, remember, pairing wine with food is a delicate art: the wrong dish with the wrong wine makes a disaster for both. So, be aware of what you’re eating with your wine, as that may affect the flavors.

Make friends with your liquor store staff. If you mention that you really enjoyed a particular Pinot, a staff member may be able to point in the right direction for a different wine with similar features. Or, on your first trip, if you’re feeling friendly and adventurous, ask the staff there for a suggestion in your price range. They may ask what you will be eating with the wine, to help them narrow down your choices, so be prepared for that question.

Here is a great resource for getting started with wine: Wine Intro

What You Will Need

If you’re just getting started, there are a few things you will need:

Wine glasses: Do note, there are particular types of glasses that are meant to be paired with particular wines. If you’re just getting started, don’t stress over this. Just head to your basic house-wares store (even Target or Walmart) and get a basic wine glass or two.

Bottle Opener: Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need some $30 space age do-hickey to open your wine. Personally, I prefer the basic sommelier corkscrew, which looks like the image to the right:

They’re cheap(er) and don’t take a whole lot of know-how to use.

Considerations for Transmen

Of course, this is alcohol we’re dealing with. I’ve heard different things from different Transmen about how alcohol affects them, particularly when you’re on T. Since I’ve heard different things, I can’t say one way or the other about how alcohol will affect transmen. Here is an interesting article about alcohol and how it affects testosterone: Alcohol and Testosterone

However, drinking wine isn’t about getting drunk (and let’s face it, getting drunk isn’t very gentlemanly). You’re drinking to enjoy the flavors, accentuate the food you eat, and enjoy a little piece of history. Don’t try to drink the entire bottle in one night, and your T levels and any adverse affects shouldn’t be an issue.

And, as always, drink responsibly. Enjoy!

Cheers – Mason

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