A friend of mine shared with me about a dinner party she attended a few months ago. The party was thrown by a couple, and the guests included the husband’s sister and her husband. My friend thought they were perfectly nice, but when she popped into the kitchen to help with the dishes, the hostess began griping about how irritating her in-laws were (he’d had too much wine, she hadn’t offered to help, etc.). Another guest came into the kitchen to lend a hand and the hostess continued her rant about the in-laws. My friend did not think it was appropriate to criticize someone who was sitting just a few feet away, and tried to defuse the situation by changing the subject.
Another couple had to leave the party right after dessert because they had small children. As the remaining guests lingered over coffee, the hosts then started gossiping about how the couple raises their children. Soon they were sniping about petty things that had annoyed them during the meal. It made my friend very uncomfortable and she thought it best to call it a night. After all, if the hosts had no qualms about complaining about other guests—including their own family members!—in front of everyone, it would be just a matter of time before she became their target.
Gossiping or criticizing others in the presence of others is in bad taste. It makes you look petty and negative, and makes others wonder what you are saying about them when their back is turned. And in a social gathering, it makes everyone feel awkward and tense.
Of course it’s natural to need to vent to someone, like a spouse or best friend. After all, we’re not going to like every person we meet. But to air your dirty laundry in public, or invite someone into your home and then gripe about them the whole time, shows a real lack of civility. Bite your tongue—and instead of obsessing about the negatives, think about the positive things that happened. Did you sister-in-law drive you crazy? Maybe. But if the meal was incredible and the conversation engaging, isn’t it better to focus on that?