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When Guests Commandeer The TV

Three months after the death of my father, my mother under some pressure from friends and family, hosted memorial/get together/party/wake. My dad was an atheist, was cremated and did not believe in an afterlife. However he was well known and liked, and it seemed disrespectful not to do “something”. It was held at my mother’s house and close friends and family were invited.

It was informal and towards the end people got up and told their favorite story. It was actually a pretty nice event and my mom and I are glad we did it.

However, the day and time of the event corresponded with this year’s AFC Championship. After the party, I noticed that the TV had been turned on to the game and there were several glasses and plates in the room. My mom and I had a chuckle, since my dad was a terrible host and would often leave halfway though a party my parents were hosting if there was something on TV that he wanted to watch. Had he been alive, we have no doubt, he would have watched the game himself abandoning my mom and the guests.

My question is, what is the etiquette about watching TV when at another person’s house during a planned event?  0126-13

Regardless of how informal the party, or how relationally close the guests are or how Dad would have done it, for the guests to presume to turn on the host’s television without the host’s consent or knowledge is rude.   The purpose of the party was to honor a deceased friend and family member, not an excuse to have a game viewing party.    I cannot wrap my brain around people who live as though missing a sports game on TV is the greatest tragedy of their lives and will go to exceptionally rude lengths to make sure they are not deprived.   I had only one incidence of this type of rude presumption upon the ownership of my TV and usurping of my planned hospitality during an event I was hosting at my house.  I quietly went over to the remote, turned the TV off and closed the entertainment unit doors again which had been closed prior to the young adult taking it upon himself to open them and turn on my TV.   Had he had the audacity to complain, I would have calmly told him that he was free to continue viewing the game at his own home…may I get your coat?


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  • owsin February 6, 2013, 10:43 pm

    I have the bad luck of having a birthday in late January, which means every few years (usually every six or so) the stars align and my birthday lands on the Superbowl. My mother had such a hard time getting my dad and uncles to step away from the TV during my childhood birthday parties when the two days coincided!

  • The Elf February 7, 2013, 11:45 am

    Nina, when I set up the TV for the sports fans at a gathering, there’s three important points:

    1) There’s a lot of sports fans among my friends! Not too many opera fans. But if there were, and it was an important live event equivalent to the AFC championship, I’d probably put it on too. It’s just not that big a deal to me, for informal gatherings. I must admit, I’d hestitate for a wake or memorial.
    2) My TV is both out of the way and not too far out of the way. It’s a split level house, so “party space” tends to be the main floor and the TV is down a short flight of steps to the basement. This allows for easy movement between the two spaces, and for the TV not to be a distraction to people in the other rooms. If the TV were in the center of the gathering, or in a completely out-of-the-way corner, it wouldn’t work as well.
    3) Sports, by nature, allows for easy in-and-out viewing (unless you are a diehard fan and it is your team), meaning that it’s easy for guests to drift in and out of the rest of the party.

  • Enna February 7, 2013, 11:53 am

    @ Alllie I do think it is rude what the guests had done, in the context of it being a memorial service too. But at the same time worse things have happened. But I also think that watching the TV round someone’s house during a socail event is rude, without consideration to the owner or the host or other guests.

  • Elizabeth February 8, 2013, 2:11 pm

    My husband’s family watches a LOT of TV – the TV is never not on in my MIL’s house. Yes, throughout the Thankgiving gathering, Christmas, any time, any day. TV is not on in my house when guests are present. And yes, I tolerated (ignored) my FIL disappearing into our den to watch baseball during a brunch one time, In our current home, there is a large TV in the family great room; I actually hide the remote when guests are invited, lest they be tempted to help themselves. I actually put in into a drawer before anyone arrives.

    Last summer we invited both families, and some friends, for a visit. It was a beautiful day, not too warm, perfect for gathering on the outside deck. My husband’s family huddled in the house alone (DH was out on the deck) – I felt compelled to split my time between inside and outside. They all sat staring at the not-turned-on TV making a small degree of conversation. My husband and I had a good laugh afterwards about it – it was as if they couldn’t quite function without that TV on.

  • Elizabeth February 8, 2013, 2:14 pm

    An invited guest turning on the TV might as well say, “I am bored and need some entertainment.” If this is the case, please excuse yourself and leave.

  • Anonymous February 10, 2013, 12:38 am

    What about guests who ask first? In the right context, in the right kind of gathering, I’d put a guest suggesting, “Hey, who wants to watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?”; on the same level as a guest saying, for example, “Who’s up for a round of charades?” If it was an informal gathering, and someone sensed a bit of a lag in the festivities, and suggested a fun and accessible activity to mitigate that, then I don’t think it’d be rude, even if said activity involved a screen. However, a wake isn’t an informal gathering, and sequestering oneself off in the TV room with a small “clique” of others to watch a football game, doesn’t fall into the “mitigating a lag in the festivities” category, it’s just selfish. Also, even if you’re legitimately trying to liven things up, there’s a right and a wrong way to do it–you don’t say “This is boring,” or act like you’re bored in any way; you use the Northrop Frye approach–i.e., “X is good, and if you like X, you’ll probably like Y too.” So, “Oh, it’s so great to get everyone together. Hey, who’s up for some Jenga?” Also, you have to make it clear that you’re not pushing for an affirmative answer.

  • kingsrings February 10, 2013, 10:30 pm

    I think it’s terribly rude for guests to disappear from the social gathering to somewhere else in the house to watch TV, whether it be a sports game or something else. I can’t believe how rude some people can get over sports. Even when I was a die-hard sports fan, I would never assume it was okay to watch the game at a host’s house. That’s what recording devices are for. If you can’t miss the game, then stay home and watch it there.