Before I left the house to embark on my day when I was growing up, my parents would always remind me to be “polite and respectful.” To me, that meant valuing a set of moral and social expectations enough to carry them out even in trying situations that leave me to scream internally. It’s not necessarily about being “nice,” it’s about treating the people around you with the courtesy you would appreciate yourself. Part of the appeal of one of my favorite movies, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is the charming and melancholy treatment of the merits and trials of maintaining civility in an uncivil world. And after hearing of and observing some questionable antics in recent memory, I found myself further pondering this brilliant Wes Anderson movie to take solace in the state of current social affairs.
Besides the aesthetic sophistication The Grand Budapest Hotel developed through its crisp costume design and artful camera angles, one of the thematic components of the film centers around civility. With much of the story set in a world torn by war, fear, and a grotesquely comical family dispute, the concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), consistently champions the maintenance of a personable demeanor and adhering to respectable behaviors. There’s something comforting about the fact that the lobby boys at hotels across Europe can be counted on to “take over” for their concierge at a moment’s notice. And after M. Gustave partook in a prison fight with a “sniveling little runt” to prove he wasn’t a pushover, he became “dear friends” with the man by falling back on his congenial disposition. Notably, the tension between upholding the embellishments of society and throwing them out the window is palpable. M. Gustave’s love of decorum falters on a number of occasions, but even at the bitter, tragic end of the movie, the man returned to his civil inclinations.
Outside the world of film, we find that, like M. Gustave with his hotel, people take pride in making their humble dorms or apartments into their home away from home. So when people choose to entertain their friends, they shouldn’t have to live in fear of their social outreach leading to their demise.
I know plenty of social gatherings are ragers that people attend and host with the tacit agreement that things are going to get crazy. That dynamic has secured its place in the hearts of many, and I’m certainly not out to judge that or ruin anyone’s fun. The point of this rant is not to stand on a soapbox and screech irrelevant or stuffy opinions, it’s about reminding ourselves why anyone thought up these pesky rules of social decorum in the first place: to manifest our respect for each other.
When I was a small child, I was told the respectable thing to do when invited to a party was to bring your invitation to the door. And it has to be an original invitation, not a copy to be redistributed among friends-of-friends that constitutes thinly veiled party crashing, like a real-life version of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. When the party ends, one must offer to help clean up and restore the order to the home of whomever graciously invited you over. And rumor has it you’re supposed to thank the hosts personally before leaving. Gift reception requires thank you notes to be drafted, trash should never be left on tables … does any of this sound like a decree that crashed to the earth on a rogue spaceship from Mars? When I’m met with looks of confusion and inquiries about whether my throwing away a few plastic cups and plates indicates that I have OCD, I begin to wonder if I am a martian about my expectations for social decorum.
The good news is that most of us aren’t being pursued by a deranged, finger-slicing, motorcycle-driving hitman. We don’t have to wear a pungent amount of L’Air de Panache cologne or listen to meandering poetry readings before eating our meals. I’ve seen plenty of people on this beautiful campus act in a manner that is consistent with the attainable decorum that shows our attention to those around us. But I’ve also heard horror stories of unconscionable events that are simply appalling. If we’re not careful, we could end up becoming the dwarves that traipsed into Bilbo Baggin’s house one day and ransacked the place with their uncultured and imposing actions, as in The Hobbit franchise. And that would be a real nightmare indeed.
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