The Social Creature : Manskills to learn : Social Graces

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The Social Creature

Hold a Baby

When some misguided parent shoves a newborn into your arms expecting you to show it all due adoration, manning up means putting a smile on your face and holding that little munchkin in a safe and sane way. Because babies don’t come with handles, you can choose from one of two basic positions to adequately hold and protect the tiny body.

Understand first that under no circumstance are you obligated to wrap yourself in a baby sling or any other apparatus that will make you look like a fool. You’re required to hold the tiny human only long enough to show you care. That can be done with your arms alone.

The “cradle hold” is the simplest way of cradling a baby, and allows you to admire the baby while you hold it (or at least pretend to admire it—some babies are, let’s face, just plain ugly). Holding your arm bent and close to your body, place the baby’s head inside the joint of your elbow, so that the child’s body runs down your forearm. Now place your other arm draped along the outside of the baby, to ensure the infant doesn’t pop out.

Too intimate? The more manly option is to use an upright carry, leaning the baby on your shoulder and bending the elbow to wrap your forearm under the baby’s butt. Use your free hand to stabilize the child by bracing the neck (it will probably be too weak to hold up its own head) and the back with your fingers spread.

Now coo like an idiot and say nice things to the parents about how beautiful their baby is, and hand it off at the first chance. Hold it for thirty seconds and you’ve officially done your duty. Any longer and you risk diaper duty.

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Break the Ice

The man who can smoothly break the ice in a social situation is a rare gem indeed. Be that man and you’ll always find yourself at the top of an invite list.

Start with confidence. Look at it this way: a minute of embarrassment isn’t going to kill you. You’re not risking money, health, or a job. And, in the end, most people wish they had the guts to initiate contact. Even if you fall on your face, you’ll have admirers in the crowd.

But you won’t fall on your face. Because you’ll be prepared. As spontaneous as breaking the ice may seem, it’s actually a very calculated social interaction. Approach with a purpose. Are you looking to introduce yourself to a group of women with the idea of asking a particular lucky soul to dinner? Or are you simply hoping to put people at ease and network? Know your goal, because you’ll steer the ice-breaking process toward that goal—whether it’s getting a phone number or exchanging business cards.

Prepare an opening line and a follow-up. “Hi” is not an opening line. Nor is introducing yourself (that’s part of the follow up). People want to be engaged and entertained. Stay away from controversial subjects (politics and religion—no. The latest blockbuster movie—yes). Focus on something that might have a story behind it, like a ring, or an unusual tie. People love to talk about themselves, so play on that.

Look at it journalistically. Whatever your opening line—and you should have several generic lines in the bag—they should all end in a question. And there should be a question right behind that question. Questions lead to knowledge. Which lead to conversations. And there’s the secret. Once you’re in a conversation you, sir, have officially broken the ice.

Be the Best Best Man

You might look at it like a burden, but being picked as a groom’s best man is one of the highest honors a friend can give another friend. So quit your whining, rent a tux, and get with the program. You’ve got some duties to execute.

Although the best man is responsible for the bachelor party (dude, no strippers—be a class act and throw together a poker-and-drinking party), and for holding the ring (one thing in the whole ceremony, don’t screw it up), the biggest responsibility is giving the toast. Weddings are the stuff of legends and memories, so take this responsibility seriously because you really don’t want to wind up on YouTube’s stupid toasts of all time list.

Follow the classic toast rules: Stand up (straight, to command attention); Speak up (clearly to be understood); Shut up (quickly so that the toast is memorable, not boring).

Be witty if you’re naturally witty (as expressed by other people, not that guy in the mirror). If you really have something funny and appropriate to offer, great. But be careful. Resist the temptation to recall tawdry stories of misspent youth involving antibiotics or bail (it sometimes helps in crafting your speech to imagine the bride’s father as an audience of one). Otherwise, focus on speaking from your heart about your own knowledge and experience with the lucky couple. Write down your remarks to organize your thoughts and practice the toast, but when it comes time to raise a glass, don’t read from a card. Be as natural as possible and to avoid nerves, look at your audience’s foreheads, rather than into their eyes. Try to seem as spontaneous as possible and keep your remarks brief—the night is supposed to be about those two people represented on the top of the cake.

Dance Like Fred Astaire

It doesn’t matter if you were born with two left feet; a few simple dance steps will help you fool your partner no matter what the occasion. And keep in mind that just being brave enough to get out on the dance floor earns you plenty of points.

No matter what the dance, you’ll always start by putting one hand on her hip and holding the other hand out for hers. She’ll put her hand on your shoulder. Don’t get hand placement mixed up, or you really will be off on the wrong foot.

The tricky part is that you’re the Man, man, so you are expected to lead. Your hand on her hip will guide her in following you. Be firm but don’t shove.

The rhythm of the music should determine your steps, but in the worst case—where you aren’t even sure what the beat of the music is—you can simply move one foot to the other, then back out, shuffling slowly in simple circles.

But feigning dancing ability means at least knowing a simple two-step pattern. Move one foot off to the side, lightly pulling her with you, and bring the other foot to the first foot, hesitating in time to the music. Then repeat the motion with the other foot, moving slightly backward in addition to side to side. This is an easy step to master and it allows you to navigate your partner around the floor, so that you approximate the actual act of dancing. It works for almost all ballroom dance music.

If you recognize the faster 3/4 beat of waltz and feel a little more adventurous, try a basic box step. Step left foot to the left, and bring the right foot to the left foot. Then step toward your partner with the left foot (without stepping on her feet, put your foot between hers), and bring your right foot in line with the left, but shoulder width apart. Bring your feet together smoothly, in time with the music (you should be gently guiding her in the same pattern), and then step back with your right, after a pause to the beat so that the right foot is back in starting position. Smoothly move the left foot out to the side of the right foot to begin the pattern again.

A true gentleman never acknowledges the pain when a woman steps on his toes. Suck it up and just keep moving in your pattern, leading her with gentle pressure. You can always patch up your toes when you get home, but the middle of the dance floor is for showing off your grace in more ways than one.

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Leader’s part

R L

2 3

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Partner’s part image

Make a Dynamite Toast

The best toasts, like the best dental work, are short and sweet. There are basically two types you’ll be called upon to make: the personal tribute to someone on a special occasion, and the general toast known as a table toast. Either way, it pays to be prepared.

You can choose from hundreds of time-tested toasts that still hold water when given at the right moment. General classics such as the Irish “May the sun always be at your back and the road rise to greet you,” are nice sentiments on any occasion. Or you can opt to craft a more unique toast.

If you go that route, understand that the art of the toast is saying a lot in as few words as possible. More than 30 seconds is a speech. Less than 15 seconds is a good toast; the best toasts are just one or two sentences.

You also need to follow the protocol of a toast. Timing is everything—you don’t want to catch someone in the middle of a story or in the middle of unwrapping presents. Or in the middle of anything, really. Wait for a moment when the conversation is muted. Be sure everyone has a glass full of something to toast with. Then start by clinking your glass with a utensil or just stand and clear your throat.

Invite everyone to toast, but if you’re toasting one person, look him in the eye as you give the toast. If you’re making a general toast, look as many people in the eye as possible as you give the toast. Raise your glass (more traditional than clinking glasses, and more appropriate for large groups), and finish by taking a slug of whatever’s in your glass. Then sit down and bask in the subtle glory and power of well-chosen words.

Be a Great Host

Dean Martin was the king of party hosts. Dino had a way of making people open up and have fun. Partly, he never hurt for the wry comment, but mostly it was that he seemed to be having a lot of fun himself. He knew how to put people at ease, the secret of good hosting.

Your duties actually start before anyone ever arrives. Be careful who you invite. One boor is like a bad apple—he can ruin the whole damn shindig. Invite opposites and people you think will mix well. And always bring in a few point people, adroit conversationalists that will lift any dead spots.

The cardinal rule of hosting is knowing that hungry and thirsty people make for a bad party. Provide plenty of booze and non-booze, and plenty of snacks (you know that canned cheese squirted on a Ritz does not a snack make, don’t you?).

Every party also needs a soundtrack. If you want people dancing, play a dance mix and be willing to join in the gyrating. If the music is going to be background, make sure it’s not so loud and thumping as to disrupt conversation, or so sleep-inducing that your guests are nodding off on the couch.

The harder part is creating the relationships that make for a memorable bash. It’s your responsibility to not only introduce people, but introduce topics of interest and commonality that will kick-start conversations. Circulate around and spend just enough time in one place to get conversation rolling on safe and interesting topics like recent movies. Your guests should be able to take it from there.

Measure success by the difficulty you have in getting people to leave. If they’re still there long after you want to be in your jammies, pat yourself on the back: Dino’s smiling down on you.

Navigate a Formal Dinner Table

You only have to sit down for one truly formal meal to understand just how much time the upper crust of society has on their hands. Not only are they going to take forever to work through dinner, they had to set up a nearly indecipherable mix of implements for different courses.

Well, not indecipherable. There actually is a basic logic to which utensil or setting you should use when. There may be up to four utensils on either side of your plate, and they are generally placed in order of use, from outside to in. Forks go on the left. So, if you’re having salad as a first course (if it’s a European-style dinner, it may come last), the fork you should use is the one farthest outside. Next in will be the appetizer fork, and then the entree fork.

Same organization applies on the right. The entree knife will be closest to the plate, with the appetizer knife outside of that and, possibly, a soup spoon on the very outside.

But none of those knives are used to butter your bread, unless you’re intent on showing how much of a commoner you are. A butter knife will be placed crossing the bread plate, which will be to your left (dude, do not steal any of your neighbor’s stuff—that is really bad form).

A dessert spoon—or other utensil, depending on the dessert—will be placed horizontal to the table edge, at the top of the plate. You may also notice a small bowl of water with a lemon slice floating in it. Don’t sip it you yokel. That’s a finger bowl for cleaning your fingers. Daintily. Since you don’t know how to clean your fingers daintily, wash up in the bathroom before dinner, eat carefully, and just leave the bowl alone.

The glassware may be a bit of a mystery as well. So here’s the lowdown. Small stemware is for white wine. Larger stemware is for red. A tumbler is for water. Turn your wine glasses upside down if you’re not drinking at the meal. Leave your water glass alone until you need a sip of water.

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Bread plate

Butter knife

Salad fork.

lvfain course

Main course

Fish or appetizer

Soup spoon

When in doubt, surreptitiously watch your host or hostess. Do what they do and you’ll never be found out for the bumpkin you are. Work your way through courses and don’t worry if you can’t figure out how to eat something or which utensils to use; it’s perfectly acceptable to leave food uneaten. Much more acceptable than it is to eat at the wrong time or with the wrong instrument. And don’t worry, if you leave hungry, you can always stop at White Castle on your way home.

Change a Diaper

Look, sooner or later you’ll be a dad. You meet that perfect gal, you’re smitten, and before you know it, down the aisle you go. A couple years later, a mini-you is on the way. So you might as well practice now, chum. And look, suffer a little poop and bottom wiping now, and be a superhero to your friends or family as a truly selfless man.

Start by getting everything together: new diaper, wipes, lotion or powder, and respirator if need be. Place the baby on a towel or large cloth, set out on a level, stable surface. Fight the urge to duct tape the little rascal down. Open the new diaper and slide it under the baby, then unlatch the old diaper. Prepare yourself. No, really. Pull the front of the old diaper down and, grabbing both the baby’s ankles with one hand, lift the legs so that the undercarriage is exposed. Start wiping. Wipe like your life depended on it. It’s going to take more than one wipe. Wipe from the front of the baby to the back to prevent infection. Suppress your gag reflex. Drop the used wipes in the exposed pocket of the old diaper.

Once the whole area is shiny clean, slide out the old diaper, folding it up as you go, and drop it in the garbage next to the changing table. Lower the little pooper’s bottom into the new diaper, apply lotion or powder, and fold the front of the diaper in place over the nether regions. Cross the adhesive tabs to secure the diaper tightly enough to prevent leakage, but loose enough that the baby is still comfortable. You’re duty is now done. Or at least until that last jar of creamed peas kicks in.

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