A few years ago my husband Jonathan and I had a party. One of our guests, an acquaintance from the local playground (this is how you meet people when you’re a young parent in NYC), had a little too much to drink and wound up passed out on the floor, her 3-year-old son patting her face with one little hand and sobbing “Mama! Wake up!” Then she vomited all over the rug. Good times. My brother-in-law, a doctor, tried to revive her by running an ice cube across the back of her neck; she didn’t even react. He told the woman’s husband to take her to the emergency room. The husband laughed, “Are you kidding? This is just an ordinary Saturday night at our house!” Two other guests helped load her into a cab.
A few days later I got an apologetic email from the woman. I paraphrase:
I’m told I behaved badly at your house. I’m so sorry! Jonathan’s divine margaritas really packed a punch. I invite you to come to our house at any time and throw up on my furniture.
Amusing. But not a great apology, what with the not-so-subtle blaming of the beverages instead of the self and the flippancy about a situation that was really quite upsetting for everyone in attendance. Of course, to not treat it flippantly might mean having to address a serious problem with alcohol, which was not on the agenda, so the writer/puker had to glamorously and fabulously shrug it off. I accepted the apology, of course. But that was the last time we invited this family over.
It is perhaps reassuring to note that the need to apologize for alcohol-induced bad behavior is nothing new. Here, from the indispensable web site Letters of Note (which reprints all kinds of wondrous letters from all periods of human history and from various persons of celebrity) is a 9th century apology-letter template from the Dunhuang Bureau of Etiquette in China that one was supposed to send to one’s hosts after over-imbibing at their party:
“Yesterday, having drunk too much, I was intoxicated as to pass all bounds; but none of the rude and coarse language I used was uttered in a conscious state. The next morning, after hearing others speak on the subject, I realised what had happened, whereupon I was overwhelmed with confusion and ready to sink into the earth with shame.”
Hm. I think if you sent flowers along with that, it would do. (It acknowledges wrongness and regret, though it fails to indicate that the writer is taking steps for the offense never to be repeated, or how.) What do you think?