I was at a social gathering in a bar with people I hadn’t seen in a long time—50 years! It was a reunion of my elementary school. We were a big enough group I could go unnoticed for a bit, and small enough that I had a chance to speak with everyone, share a few memories, and catch up on what we were doing.
I enjoyed seeing my old classmates. Most of them I could still recognize. I also enjoyed my cocktail—Tanqueray and tonic—and now my glass was empty. I couldn’t have another because I had to meet my family and had a long drive ahead of me. I had known beforehand I’d only be able to stay for an hour, and now that hour was approaching.
So there I was standing among a group of four people, listening to a story but my attention beginning to waver. I was also getting tired from the social stimulation, even though there were a few people I wished I could visit with more. But then the tipping point arrived and it was time for me to go. I took out my phone and looked at the screen, muttered an “excuse me one sec” as if I had an important message that needed my attention, and walked out the door.
I’d just executed the famous Irish goodbye. Also called the French exit or the Dutch leave. By any name, it’s the surreptitious tactic of leaving a party or gathering without saying goodbye to anyone, including the host. I’m an expert at it.
Taking leave in such a manner isn’t always appropriate. You wouldn’t do it at a small dinner party, for example. Or if the party happened to be in your honor. But for a larger social gathering in which you are one of many, the Irish/French/Dutch goodbye makes a lot of sense. First, you don’t have to interrupt the host who might be engaged in other conversations or busy doing hosting stuff. And by not announcing that you’re leaving, you’re also not planting the seed in anyone else’s mind that it might be time for them to leave, thus blowing up the party.
You also don’t have to get into a series of endless and repetitive goodbye conversations, which often launch entirely new conversational topics and might include thin assurances to keep in touch or get together real soon, all while you’re fidgeting and eyeing the exit.
What about your host? Isn’t it rude not to thank them? Yes, that is rude. Which is why I always call or text afterward to express my appreciation.
A couple of other do’s and don’ts: Don’t strand anyone you came with unless they know beforehand about your potential exit plans. Do remember that no one really cares if you leave—the party will survive without you.
Later, I contacted the host who had arranged the reunion. I thanked her and said I was so pleased to have seen everyone and wished I could have stayed longer. Maybe next time.