Party Manners
By Kamal Sunavala

Last week I had the rare opportunity to attend two parties in the space of one evening. It was dead interesting because of the similarities in two very different settings. Someone like Freud might have had a hell of a time explaining and then discarding theories of coded and encoded sexual manners.

The first party was a formal do. It was plush with bare backs and rhinestone belts and we even walked up to the entrance upon a red carpet. Once inside, we were enveloped in the two predatory smells of hunting and perfume. The latter was to cover up the former. The cream and condensed milk of Czech society was here and everyone was brushing the air with kisses. The beautiful people of this city sadly lost out to their older counterparts in one essential way. Manners. I may sound like a dinosaur here but what I saw at that party were a lot of young and beautiful people with a lot of ugly manners. And this included the President of the Czech Republic. If there is no article that appears after this one, you'll know that someone has found me and killed me. There were the usual lines for food and drink and every single time, without fail, men were cutting into lines and serving themselves before the ladies upon their arms. That alone was enough to make me want to run back to my country and gulp in deep breaths of manners. If this is still Europe, the last Knights have certainly vanished from this city. And yet, contrarily enough, when one man was in the company of another man whose shoes he aspired to walk in, he would be the epitome of social graces and manners, waving his arms gracefully forward for the other person to pass through first or handing the lady the first glass of wine or offering to pass the cheese. It was amusing to see this interplay of convenient social graces which were born more out of deception and the avarice that was leaping off their skins like a bad odour than out of real class.

The president of the Czech Republic passed us by while we were in line. He wished us good evening. I was amused at how polite and almost avuncular he sounded, considering the reputation he carries around. But as he passed through to the far end, someone helped him with his coat and left the lady with him struggling into her own. That's the finishing school he went to.

We moved on to another party. It was the Bar and Restaurant at the Square at Malostranske Namesti. There was an anniversary bash with the most amazing father-daughter chanteuse combinations I have witnessed on the vocal jazz scene in a long time. That was a party that was not only raging, it was boiling. Every single person there was trapped into an invisible chamber of adrenalin and energy. It was the serious business of having fun. I walked up to the bar to bring back a couple of glasses to the dance floor and I saw two Dutch girls who were politely waiting in line for their wine being rudely shoved aside by two Czech boys who were so drunk they could barely stand up. So I excused it thinking that inebriation can make the most genteel man act like a daft mule. But what surprised me was the bartender's reaction. Instead of handing the two ladies their drinks first, he went on to serve the mannerless brutes. When I asked him why he did that, he didn't reply and handed me the glasses and turned away. Amid the beautiful sounds of Louis Armstrong and Gloria Gaynor, there were the occasional loud shrieks of girls whose behinds were being indiscriminately grabbed. Apparently all in good humour. And what was even worse was the fact that their boyfriends were unperturbed and would not do a thing to deal with the situation. Such chivalry. But those same boyfriends, particularly an Irish boy and a Czech boy, when standing at the bar waiting for their drinks, ever so politely handed the first drink to the scantily clad stranger in front of them. I'm glad to know that the tits and ass syndrome is alive, well and consistent in every corner of the world.

I came home thinking that despite the good time I had at both places, it was sad that on the continent which stands for all things graceful and historic, we are no better than our North American counterparts whom we rebuke for the same things.

It's time to see My Fair Lady again so that we can remind ourselves of Henry Higgins' immortal words to Eliza Doolittle - The great secret, Eliza, is not having bad manners or good manners but having the same manner for all human souls.