Tickling The Ivories Ethics, And Other Annoyances, Via “Social Q’s”

The Sunday Times has an advice column by Phillip Gallanes called “Social Q’s” in which the columnists answers questions about what are good manners. For some time it has struck me that his questioners are just plain annoying people who shouldn’t need a an expert to tell them so: anyone with basic common sense could, and should.

Here were the queries in the last installment:

1. “Mom” complained that she was sick of her college-going daughter—the folks are paying, and “sacrificing”— at an elite college writing about her rich classmates’ trips, habits, and bling. “I finally lost it when she ignored the care package I sent during exams, telling me about a friend’s new Cartier necklace instead. She texted: “I wasn’t asking for one.” I replied: “Please stop telling me about your rich friends’ luxuries! I don’t want to hear about them.” What do we do?”

Gallanes’ reasonable response in part:

“You may be creating an unfair connection between your financial sacrifice and your daughter’s behavior. She’s probably drawn to all kinds of unfamiliar people and things in her new environment (some of them 18 karat), and would be even if she were on full scholarship. You gave her free rein to choose a school. You shouldn’t resent her for the price tag now, or let it color your expectations of her behavior….What you can do is trust that you raised her well. Your daughter’s head may be turned by shiny things for a minute (or a semester), but life is long. And the values you taught her will likely count for more than secondhand tales of luxury hotels. Still, in the end, it’s her call whether to chase after bling or deeper fulfillment, right?”

My reaction: parents who want constant fealty and expressions of gratitude for their “sacrifices” need to get their own values into line. It is wrong to make children feel guilty for being parented. It is especially wrong to require children to adopt and ratify their parent’s  insecurities. It sounds to me like this has already happened:the  daughter has been raised by parents who are unduly impressed by wealth and material signs of it. I went to a college full of rich kids. I wasn’t impressed, and because I knew my parents wouldn’t be impressed either, the subject never came up.

If you done want your kid to be interested in how her rich classmates live and think, then don’t send her to a school that’s going to be full of rich kids…but that would be a really selfish and juvenile motive for sending her to State U.

2. “Barbra” asked,  Why do visitors to my home feel that they can sit down and play my piano at parties without asking my permission? Not only does the noise make conversation difficult, it really annoys me! I think it’s as rude as walking into someone’s home and turning on the television. How do I stop this without embarrassing them?

This is a pet peeve of mine: people who use pianos, harps and chess boards as living room decorations. They are pompous and in an amazing number of cases, lies: check what color square is on the right hand corners of the chess board the next time you’re in a home that has one. If it’s a black square, it means your host doesn’t know how to play, and is preening. A grand piano is an even more ostentatious prop to boast: “I’m cultured!” If nobody in the house can play it, it really says, “I’m a phony.”

Writes the columnist in part,

“Unlike your analogy to bursting in and turning on the TV, there is a long tradition of piano music at social events. But this is your home. If you prefer not to have live music, pre-empt it with a little note on the sheet-music stand: “Let’s not have piano music tonight. Thanks!” This will be less hurtful than asking people to stop playing after they’ve begun — which is good, because not one of them means any harm.”

Me: A piano at a party says “play me,” and taking it ill when an accomplished pianist accepts the invitation is obnoxious. Yes, it can hijack the party—as a longtime attendee at show-biz parties that break into aggravating sing-alongs, I sympathize—and nobody should make themselves the center of attention someone else’s party without getting permission first. Nobody should presume to play if they aren’t any good at it either.

3. “My son and his partner are in their 20s and in perfectly good health. But they run cold and crank up the thermostat to 72 degrees when they visit us during colder months. My husband and I prefer to wear layers and keep the thermostat set at 65. It’s a small attempt to save the planet for future generations. What is socially correct here?” asks “Kay.”

My admittedly visceral reaction: ARRRGH! A VERY small attempt to save the planet…indeed, virtue-signaling and grandstanding. If you want to freeze in your own home do so, but if you lecture me on my thermostat setting as my guest—or lay your hands on it— be prepared to feel the cold quickly, after I kick you to the curb. As a host, if your idea of social responsibility makes your guests uncomfortable and you act on it anyway, shame on you. A few degrees higher for a day or two won’t flood Miami in the year 2525.

Phillip’s advice: “As guests, your son and his partner probably don’t pack all the cozy accouterments that you and your husband enjoy: thick cashmere socks, fleece-lined slippers and sweaters for layering. Stock the guest room with warm supplies. Maybe your coldblooded guests will take to them.”

4. Finally, there is this, from “Stan”:

As a would-be host, how can I withdraw a dinner invitation that I made five days ago in person? The invitee has yet to respond, and the dinner is 10 days hence….The failure to respond makes me suspect that the invitee is waiting for a better invitation. Am I wrong to feel ill-used?

Stan, you’re a jerk.

The columnist: “Isn’t it more likely that your friend simply forgot about the invitation? ….How about calling or texting and asking if dinner at your place is on? No harm in a reminder…”

Me: Yes, Stan, you are. You’re lucky if anyone wants to have dinner with you.

Oh, let’s have a poll:



17 thoughts on “Tickling The Ivories Ethics, And Other Annoyances, Via “Social Q’s”

  1. Jack,

    There is a whole reem of people on the internet who want to be roasted. Perhaps you found a new calling (I jest).

    A good friend of mine is very blunt about no one playing his piano. It’s a simple upright and is well used. I’ve never thought much of it. I can’t recall attending a house party where one was played.

  2. Most grands are simply family photo holders. Where did interior designers come up with that idea. I keep my pianos closed and under their fitted piano covers. Leaving a piano open and uncovered, or closed and filled with framed photos is like leaving a violin on the couch. When we want the piano played, we have house concerts. But if someone competent were to show up, heck yes, I’d be delighted to have them play, even if they wanted to play show tunes, which I can’t stand for the most part. And I hate sing a longs. But I get that whole piano at a party thing. I remember my mother telling me how wonderful she thought it would be to be able to walk into a party, sit down at the piano, and play. She came from an era when pianos were in every livingroom of even modest means and they were PLAYED, if only by the kids taking lessons. An Irish thing.

    • And I don’t play in front of people so I don’t sit down at a piano if I stroll into a party. I might if I’m just visiting.

    • I’ve been to lots of parties where pianos are present. I’ve never heard one played except one time at a holiday party where the host played some Christmas songs. I have a piano in my home and no one has asked to play it nor has any guest played it. I actually have a piano in my office as well, which I suppose would irritate jack. However, again, no one has played it.

    • Oy! Everyone owning/avoiding playing the things ignores why they got them in the first place.

      Interesting take on the development/acceptance of all those Home Pianos by the Father of Propaganda himself, Edward Bernays.

      Advertisers would…um…suggest (“(create) circumstances that will swing emotional currents that will build purchaser demand”) the idea of a Music Room.

      (bolds mine)
      Using those deftly planted suggestions “The music room will be accepted and people with a music room will naturally think of buying a piano, believing it comes as their own idea.

      “Instead of saying to the purchaser ‘please buy a piano’, they have caused the purchaser to say ‘please sell me a piano’.

      That said, how many will you ask me to put you down for…?

  3. I voted for the columnist being most annoying because, unlike the others, he had four opportunities to be annoying and went four for four.

    • Sigh. “Kay by far” and “… neck in neck second” don’t make any sense. Please ignore me, I’ve apparently had an attack of insufficiently awoken mental deficiency.

  4. The piano would bother me too, if I could play a piano and had one. In most people’s homes, the only place big enough to really put the piano is in the living room. Banging on a piano is bad form, tuning one is not cheap. I would think that asking permission before using someone’s expensive instrument would be simple courtesy. I don’t know anyone rich enough for a grand piano and everyone I know who has one has it because they play it.

    Again, I think it is rude to change the thermostat in someone else’s home. I woudn’t have dared to change my grandmother’s thermostat. The reason doesn’t matter, even if the reason is stupid, this is bad manners. Again, I don’t think there is anything wrong with asking the parents to increase the temperature, but to unilaterally do it against their wishes is rude.

    I really don’t know what planet Stan is from. So, he contacts people who haven’t responded to an invitation to tell them the invitation is rescinded? He made the invitation in person and the event is 10 days away. Maybe they forgot. Maybe they don’t know if they have to work that day or not (schedules often don’t go up until a few days in advance). So what if they are waiting on another invitation, what is wrong with that? If a friend of mine has invited me to a party on Saturday, but my mother-in-law’s birthday is that weekend, guess where I have to be (if I wish to remain married)? What if I am waiting to find out when the mother-in-law party is to see if I can go to my friend’s party as well? I am not sure why this is wrong.

  5. I voted for Kay… climate change religion virtue signalling annoys me. At least she is willing to make herself uncomfortable in her own home: most don’t bother, just want to preach to me what I should do in mine… but I digress.

    Phillip was my second choice, for the answers that really sound good and would never work in the real world. Yay! He gets to sound woke and smart but nothing gets solved!

    Many many years ago my mom had a problem with my grandmother changing the thermostat setting (which messed up the zone controls for the entire house) and denying she did so when confronted (yet it only changed when she visited… do the math)

    Instead of continuing the drama, my mom simply replaced her thermostats with electronic ones… that required a code to change. Never had the problem again. (How could Granny complain? She never changed the thermostats!)

    My upbringing dictated that guests don’t mess with other folk’s homes. You are invited to sit on a couch, and may ask for a drink if one is not offered: that is it. Oh, bathroom privileges are available, upon polite request, but a guest is not to touch anything a host did not specify. Golden Rule applies!


      [sorry about the disconnect]
      (1) Hide the piano bench on its side under a bed, blocked by a young child curled up in it, preferably fast asleep. If a tall guest pulls a chair up to the piano anyway, go “shhhh,” and tell them not to wake the child upstairs.
      (2) Leave bench where it is, disguised as a table for heavy indoor planters with tall cactus plants in them.
      (3) Cover baby- or mama-grand piano top with plastic or otherwise waterproofed, lined cloth draping well over the lid, held down by one long, heavy piece poised at the front edge of the piano top (a terrarium, aquarium or any other arrium will do).
      (4) Tape a long strip of paper across the keys, marked WET PAINT: DO NOT TOUCH. Close lid.
      (5) Hire an armed piano-guard.

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