Correcting Your Behavior Since 2017

Goodbye, Already

Generally speaking, the Curmudgeon is an advocate of good manners. I don't mean the knowing-which-one-is-the-shrimp-fork kind, just the what-used-to-be-common variety. I’m certainly no Emily Post (your grandparents will explain the reference). But I maintain that attention to everyday manners shows an interest in how others experience their time with us (how’s that for an archaic consideration?). Unfortunately, manners are like a slowly dimming light in our current culture, and we are the poorer for their decline.

That said, there is one situation in which I am decidedly against what would be considered proper manners. That is when it comes to saying goodbye to large groups.

I specify the group size intentionally; if you’re at a gathering of say, eight people, it’s simply not acceptable to walk out the door without a word to anyone whenever you make up your mind to leave. Common courtesy dictates that you must stay until the gathering seems to be winding down, then bid goodbye to each guest. But when there are say, forty-seven or so in attendance, I find it a great relief to put efficacy before etiquette and make use of what’s known as “the Irish goodbye” (or sometimes “the Irish exit”). That is to say, I simply leave.

Saying goodbye to each of those guests is both tedious and impractical, and there is a high risk of reaching the last person only to begin re-encountering those to whom you’ve already bidden farewell, triggering a secondary round of parting words and delaying your exit until some time the next morning. And tracking down the host or hostess of a party of that size just to report your impending egress does little for either of you beyond creating an awkward obligation for some kind of artificial closure.

The Irish goodbye, conversely, has no downside. With such a large crowd, it’s almost certain that no one will notice the exit or even remember that goodbyes weren’t exchanged. If anyone does, he or she will likely assume you simply missed each other as you were leaving.

By the way—and I know you'll want to know this—not everyone attributes this brilliant practice to the same nation. The Irish goodbye has also been called (albeit less commonly) “taking French leave.” It's also known as making a “Dutch exit.” Meanwhile, the Germans blame the Poles for ducking out without a peep (polnischer Abgang — “Polish goodbye”). And the French and the English blame each other. A line in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time reads «Je vous suis, me dit-il, mais nous ne pouvons pas partir à l’anglaise. Allons dire au revoir à Mme Verdurin,» which translates properly as "'I'll follow you,' he told me, 'But we can’t leave in the English way. Let’s say goodbye to Madame Verdurin'." But, when the novel was translated for the English, that line was changed to read, "'I’m coming with you,' he told me, 'but we can’t take French leave. Come and say goodbye to Madame Verdurin.'"

Clearly, the Irish aren’t the only ones who’ve embraced the merits of the farewell-less departure. (There is also a “Greek goodbye,” but that's the exact opposite of its multinational cousin. It involves long, lingering, meaningful final moments with each remaining guest, during which there is much weeping and hugging. It takes a minimum of three hours—five if there are theatre people present.)

But what if you’re moving away, leaving your city, your state, or even your country? Even in such an instance, one might do well to consider applying a similar methodology if one ever hopes to get out of town.

Years ago, shortly before moving to a new state, I hosted a huge goodbye party to get it all done at once. Fool that I was, I hadn’t foreseen what was to come. As each guest left they did so with an emphatic demand: “We have to get together before you leave!” But we already had, you see? We had gotten together before I left. In fact, we’d only just done that very thing. Did we really need a post-goodbye goodbye as well? Indeed, the awful truth was that no matter how many final get-togethers I had with these people, they always ended with “We have to get together before you leave.”

Since then I’ve learned that, whether leaving a dinner party or leaving a country, it’s best to get out before the goodbyes start.

I have also learned this: When parting ways with close friends, there is no version of "goodbye" that will ever feel fully satisfactory. (At no point will you think, "All right. That did it. I'm now fine not seeing Hyacinth again.") And when parting ways with mere acquaintances, there is no version of "goodbye" that will ever make you feel as if you'd been closer.

Now, none of this is to say that the Curmudgeon is changing locations in a big way. I’m only saying that if I were to make such a move . . . chances are I’ve already left.