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The greatest show on earth: Election night etiquette

Posted by Robin Abrahams  November 5, 2012 03:12 PM

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Tips on election-night get-togethers. A revival from 2008!

Returns-watching parties are not the place for bipartisanship. The time to reach across the aisle is Wednesday morning, not Tuesday night. Stick with your own kind, those with whom you can mourn or celebrate as the results demand. If you're having people over, it's perfectly acceptable not to invite folks--even folks you're really close to--who don't share your politics. Otherwise, everyone's going to have to be ridiculously stiff and proper, stifling either their joy or their rage and sorrow. Who wants that? This ain't no Coke-or-Pepsi taste test; people are engaged at their deepest levels in this election. An important part of etiquette is knowing when propriety should be put aside. Tuesday night is one of those times.

That said, some self-management is in order. If you really think you're going to spend the night in the bathroom crying if your guy loses, you're not in shape to go to a party. Watch with family or have a few, equally emotionally invested friends over.

If you are hosting an election party, plan it the same way you would a Superbowl party. Either you invite exclusively hard-core followers who will watch the game with total concentration, or you invite more moderate fans who think that conversation is acceptable even when the field is in play, or you invite both and have televisions in separate rooms so that the intent & obsessive crowd can get their game on in peace and the more socially minded can mingle without either group annoying each other. (Put the "social" television in the kitchen, since that's where that crowd will end up anyway.)

Even in an all-blue or all-red room, disagreements can still break out. It's up to the host of a party to make sure that arguments stay civil. If someone does become verbally abusive, shut it down fast and hard.

If you're hosting, keep the party's alcohol content low. Booze and emotionally charged situations aren't a good combination. Do have lots of munchables on hand, as nervous people eat a lot. And maybe a few boxes of Kleenex strategically scattered around, for tears of joy or sorrow.

Whatever the results, keep your emotions out of the workplace Wednesday morning, unless you work in a place where everyone shares the same point of view. It wouldn't be a half-bad idea to ask your boss, if you're not the boss, to issue an official edict about this. If you're in a politically mixed work environment and your guy wins, don't be gratingly cheerful. If he loses, don't be spiteful. Look, the most immediate thing we're all afraid of if the wrong guy wins is that the economy will tank and we'll lose our jobs, right? Well, if you're a big schmuck to your co-workers, you're making a job-loss scenario a lot more likely.

Regarding that "unless you work in a place where everyone shares the same point of view"--don't assume. If you don't know for a fact what someone's politics are, don't take it for granted that you do. Either talk politics openly or don't talk politics at all, but comments that assume everyone is on the same side are highly offensive to political minorities who don't make a fuss about their contrarian beliefs. And rightly so. Being disagreed with is one thing; being treated as though you don't exist is another.

When I first started working in Harvard's central HR office, I read We Can't Eat Prestige, about the struggle to unionize Harvard's clerical employees. One thing I'll always remember is that on the night of the final vote, the organizers for unionization laid in plenty of champagne in case they won, and whiskey in case they lost. Whether Tuesday night brings you champagne or whiskey, you'll still have your family, your friends, your community, your calling, and whatever brings meaning to your life--art, science, religion, nature. Hold those things close, and let the results of the election--champagne or whiskey--draw you even closer to them.

"The world is a very narrow bridge. The main thing is not to be afraid."
--Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at missconduct@globe.com.
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Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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Curious if you should say "bless you" to a sneezing atheist? How to host a dinner party for carbophobes, vegans, and Atkins disciples—all at the same time? The finer points of regifting? Ask it here, or email missconduct@globe.com.

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