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Posts Tagged ‘expectations’

I’ve just finished reading about the Merry Affair, and I must say, THIS is an affair to remember, with a crucial etiquette lesson.

Snapshot of the event:  the young nation, not even 10 years old, has a new president–Thomas Jefferson, who desperately wants to make sure that this new nation doesn’t become a monarchy.  He abhors the old ways and purposefully goes out of his way to squelch anything resembling European.  He is building a capital in the middle of the swamp with designs that reflect Roman influence.  Roman influence is what Jefferson designed the country after politically anyway. 

Enter the Merry’s–a newly married couple acting as ambassadors for England.  Anthony Merry presents himself to Jefferson for a formal introduction, as was the protocol.  Jefferson receives him in his…well…his pajamas!  Next evening, Jefferson hosts a formal dinner for the introduction of Elizabeth Merry.  When the dinner bell rang, Jefferson slights Mrs. Merry by escorting another woman (despite the other woman’s protests) to dinner and seats her in Mrs. Merry’s spot.  By doing so, Jefferson disarranges the entire seating structure leaving people to “scramble for a seat.” 

Jefferson’s new etiquette begins being emulated by others in the government, much to the chagrin of all the European ambassadors who start sending reports home of the inconsistent, lacking-discipline order that reigns in the new “wilderness.”  Europe begins to count the number of months to the new country’s demise under this “pele mele” etiquette.

As pele mele etiquette continues, more and more gentlemen and, more deleterious to society, women are offended.  No one seems to know how to act and when to be offended.  Soon, under Elizabeth Merry’s advice, the foreign ladies begin declining invitations to formal social events entirely so as not to expose their husbands to continued embarrassments. 

Jefferson claims victory.  However, it soon becomes clear that these women weren’t just societal creatures disposable and unnecessary in the building of the new country.  The very nature of women’s society had political advantages.  Women, it seemed, acted as advisers to their spouses, shared or gathered information of use that might not otherwise be brought to light, smoothed out misunderstandings, led discussions…

Jefferson began specifically soliciting the Merry’s company in hopes of stopping this “etiquette war” that he had started.  The Merry’s, however, stuck to their boycott.  In a last ditch attempt to recover, Jefferson finally printed the new rules of etiquette and circulated them throughout the international society.  Receiving these “Cannons of Etiquette” almost a year after his formal introduction, Anthony Merry replied that “I certainly should have been presented with these rules when I arrived to take up this post.”

Ah…and so now to my point.  In order to avoid affairs, you must set proper expectations. 

I used to say that everything in life would work well if people knew how to negotiate properly.  I still believe that is true, but the key to negotiation, to etiquette, to success is setting expectations.

In my observation, study and research, most offenses, misunderstandings, frustrations, anger, hatred and other of the ugly emotions, stem from lack of knowing or following set expectations.  Etiquette, in fact, is simply following a generally understood and agreed upon set of expectations. 

Jefferson lost the etiquette war and the respect of Europe through this affair.  But his motives were not vicious.  He simply wanted to change the etiquette of his country.  He knew, rightfully, that society and politics were intimately entwined, and that should society be allowed to follow the example of the monarchies of Europe, so too soon would the politics.   His only misstep was not making that clear up front. 

I recommend learning more about this affair to everyone, but especially to two groups of people:  those who are curious about what our founding fathers really intended for our country (because democracy of today is NOT it), and those who think that history really means “his story.”  For the former, this affair, more than any other, shows an encapsulated snapshot of the early vision.  For the latter, this affair shows that women may not have been the ones writing about what was going on, but they were certainly influencing it immensely–in a feminine way.

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