#WeekendRead: The Do's and Don'ts of socializing

by Wendy Long
15 Feb 2020

You’ve got mail, but unlike a Nora Ephron’s script, which was last century (literally!), in the current third decade of the third millennium, “mail” in this instance refers to a DM (or direct message, for the uninitiated aka non-millennials) sent to your Instagram inbox. It can be a note between two users or a post from another user’s account forwarded to either party.

So long as it’s on a public account, lookie-loos can forward the public post to any other user, which was what happened in this particular instance. I was told of a faux pas, when client A received a forwarded Instagram post of a well-known Instagram star that bore the caption “Thank you company X for the birthday gifts and wishes.” 

The faux pas in question was the fact that said Instagram star’s gifts were perceived to be way more and better than what client A received for her birthday, and with all due respect, client A is the bigger spender (and most likely single-handedly responsible for a chunk of this company’s recurring revenue on a regular basis), albeit the Instagram star has star power and is probably indirectly a marketing and PR tool for the company.

Herein lies the conundrum: How does or should a company define a “VIP client”? Does it all come down to revenue generated from that account?

What about a potential client that has the same (or even greater) spending power but is not spending the same amount yet (and may never will; for we all know too well, it’s not the depth of the pocket but how much the person is spending on you)? Does the company shower equal attention on both the bona fide loyalist and the potential client? 

It may seem like an innocuous matter, whether one receives personalized balloons and flowers or just flowers, but the devil is in the details, and more often than not, it’s human nature to pick up on the tiniest of details and it’s the perceived innuendos of such social rules that set the invisible boundaries of the social playground that we are all playing in, like it or not.  

The borderless, instantaneous and prying nature of social media makes navigating the social landscape akin to walking on eggshells, where one never knows if any social rules are unintentionally broken. 

In the first place, what are the rules anyway? How does one know or learn social etiquette? Can it be taught? Or is it innate? Many misunderstandings arise from a different perspective of what’s considered standard social decorum. 

For example, person A generously treated person B to an expensive dinner at the hottest and latest restaurant in town, and the only reason why the last minute reservation was even possible was due to person A’s connections and relationship with the restaurant. Needless to say, the dinner was widely publicized on person B’s social media accounts, which have a relatively healthy following. 

But to the chargin and bemusement of the person who footed the bill and made the reservation, no thank you or acknowledgement was mentioned at all, making it seem as if the dinner bill was split evenly and that person B is so in the know that they can snag a coveted reservation. So, what’s the unspoken rule here? That credit be given? Or let it go because it’s “a small matter”?  

Or how about reciprocity, a concept that is rather lacking. More often than not, I hear of friends curating guest lists based on the favors they feel obliged to return. 

When you are regularly asked to buy tables at charity galas, first and foremost as favors to friends and associates rather than supporting the underlying cause per se, you will soon reach a point where filling the tables will require its own dossier. There will be the “regulars,” your wingmen, so to speak, and a rotation of guests based on reciprocity, for example, “So-and-so invited me to that event, hence I shall repay the invitation with one to this gala dinner.”

Likewise, if a regular invitee never reciprocates, even with a regular dinner date (not necessarily a gala dinner), it can be perceived as flouting a social rule and the person may not make it onto the next guest list. It’s tricky, for on the one hand, it is not “expected,” but yet in a way, it kind of is implicitly expected. 

The same goes for something trivial, such as contributing a good bottle to a house party. Of course, it’s subjective, but for the sake of discussion, let’s say we stick to first- and second-growth labels. 

If a guest tells the host, “I brought a bottle of X,” it is safe to assume that the guest will like to be able to share the bottle during dinner, especially if it was already opened hours before for decanting purposes and if the bottle is many “ranks” better than what the host prepared. Now, will it look inappropriate if the host keeps the good bottle, which was already opened, for himself and instead serves what was originally set aside? 

Of course, it is entirely up to the host to decide what to do with the gift. But is it really a “gift” for the host, or is there an unspoken rule that it should be shared with the party guests?  

And there is also, of course, the treacherous “girls code.” For example, if a girlfriend who is part of the posse has owned a particular item for a while, can the rest buy the same item too? 

Or even worse, buy it when it’s been marked down? Or, if you’re invited to an event and the hostess allows you first dibs, being the gracious hostess she is, do you then “fight” over the one and only item that the hostess has eyes on too? Tricky!

Or what about attending events? As we all know, there is no such thing as a free lunch, let alone a free trip!

So if a brand invites you to a really exclusive event, will you take it as an unspoken understanding that you will reciprocate by buying something from that brand as a show of support? Of course it is not a written obligation, but wouldn’t you agree that it is an unspoken obligation?

Should one decline the invitation if one is not prepared to purchase anything? It is also a chicken-and-egg situation, because how does one know if there is anything worth buying if one does not attend the event to see what is being offered? Or should one just buy something, never mind whether it’s a first love or not, just because it is an unspoken obligation?

The rules of the game rarely change, be it in a real game like a sports match or the social kind. Perhaps this is a skillset that everyone should pick up, understanding the social rules.

It comes from being mindful and having a keen EQ. It is not something that can be taught; it can only be learnt (albeit with limitations) mainly through experience. Therefore, being part of the game means knowing and, more importantly, playing by the rules.