How an Introvert May Party, Vol. 13, Issue 24

February 24th, 2014 . by Etiquetteer

Dear Etiquetteer:

What’s you best advice for introverts at parties?

Dear Introvert:

First of all, don’t stay away from the party! This is doubly true when your host is a close friend or relative, who may well understand that large gatherings make you uncomfortable at times. If the invitation is for something small, like a dinner party for eight people, the degree of comfort might be greater.

Before the party, there are a couple things you can do to make yourself feel more prepared. Usually it isn’t Perfectly Proper to ask who the other guests are going to be; this is because the pleasure of the host’s company is supposed to be a sufficient reason to accept the invitation. But under these circumstances, Etiquetteer will allow you to ask, at the time you accept the invitation, if mutual friends will also be there. Knowing that there will be at least one or two people there that you already know can help a lot.

You may also catch up on the news of the day before the party by reading that day’s newspaper or one of the news websites. This will give you a knowledge base to contribute to the conversation. If you and the hosts share a common interest, it’s likely that others at the party will, too.

If you’re really feeling anxious, ask how you can help. Passing hors d’oeuvres, for instance, still requires you to move throughout the room, but doesn’t really require a lot of small talk. But even helping to gather dirty glasses or discarded paper napkins gives you something to do and helps out the host. But do ask first; hosts can be fussy about how they like things done.

For large parties, roaming does help relieve the pressure of introversion. Tour the public rooms of the house. Etiquetteer, who occasionally suffers spasms of Party Overwhelm, particularly enjoys being entertained by friends who have a library to which retreat is possible during open houses. This is such a relief when the well of small talk has run dry, or when it just isn’t possible to stand up one more moment.

Do NOT bring a good book or spend all night on your smartphone texting (or pretending to text) people who aren’t there. That’s insulting to the host.

Finally, another introvert might also be there who needs reassurance that they aren’t the Only Introvert at the Ball. Here you have a common bond for conversation!

Now go forth and party, and be sure to send a Lovely Note the next day.


Possibly Contradictory Issues About Dieting and Hospitality, Vol. 13, Issue 9

January 28th, 2014 . by Etiquetteer

When is one’s Diet more important than Offered Hospitality? When is Hospitality more important than Diet? Sometimes the issues are clear, and sometimes they are not. Religious Diets and Fatal Allergies usually trump Hospitality, Personal Preference usually shouldn’t, with just about everything else, including Weight Loss and Doctor’s Directive, wandering in the middle ground.

Etiquetteer didn’t get very far in this article about the dangers of artificial sweetener because of the story that began it. A grandmother, who just happens to be a researcher of food sweeteners, told a hostess not to serve her little granddaughter any birthday cake at a birthday party because it was made with an artificial sweetener. Let’s leave aside the food safety issues for a moment and consider the etiquette of the situation. You’ve been invited into someone’s home for a party, which automatically means that some trouble has been taken to entertain you, and questioning the trouble your hostess has taken for you enough to suggest that it’s unsafe to eat. And on top of that, you’re telling a hostess not to serve a little girl a slice of birthday cake at a birthday party when everyone else is going to have cake?! This is where Etiquetteer would like to serve up a heaping helping of Shut Up and Eat! Only that wouldn’t be very Perfectly Proper, now would it?

A private home is not a restaurant, and it is not realistic for 21st-century hosts and hostesses (the overwhelming majority of whom haven’t hired a cook) to cater as specifically as some guests require. You can eat what you want at home. Adhere as closely as you can to your diet when you’re dining out, but please keep from overemphasizing it. Very many hosts make a point of accommodating vegetarians, which is a generous and gracious thing for them to do, by soliciting that information from their guests in advance.

Some related stories: the late Letitia Baldrige, in her diamonds-and-bruises memoir A Lady, First, told the story of one Kennedy White House state dinner when President Kennedy noticed a couple sitting near him weren’t eating anything? “Is the dinner all right?” he asked, to be greeted cheerfully by the reply “We’re Mormons, so we can’t take alcohol.” It turned out that every dish on the menu had alcohol in it! But this Mormon couple were clearly going to make the best of it with rolls and mints, and wouldn’t have said anything if the President hadn’t asked.

The late Gloria Swanson, famous in her later years as a vegetarian, would bring her own sandwich to dinner parties when invited out (whether to a home or a restaurant). Of course this works best on occasions when there’s a staff to slip it to on arrival with the instructions “When you bring the entree, just slip this on a plate for me. I’m on a diet.” The point is that Gloria knew enough not to inconvenience her hosts with her dietary needs and came prepared. She also didn’t make a big fuss about it.

And then there’s the late Ethel Merman, who brought a ham sandwich to Jule Styne’s Passover Seder, as recounted in Arthur Laurents’s wonderful memoir Original Story By Arthur Laurents. Jule Styne threw it on the floor and said “Ethel, you’re offending the waiters!” Which just goes to show that there are limits. Indeed, Etiquetteer has written before about how it’s not a good idea, even with a spirit of compassion and multiculturalism, to invite Orthodox Jews to Easter dinner and serve them a ham.

So . . . back to the children’s birthday party with the Artificially Sweetened Cake. In this case, Etiquetteer thinks Hospitality trumps Diet. At a children’s party Etiquetteer is most concerned about the children, and children, especially young ones, are eager to fit in. What needs to be saved in this situation? Three things: the little girl’s experience as a guest, the dignity of the hostess, and the responsibilities of the little girl’s grandmother, who, although Etiquetteer can’t really approve of what was reported, is doing her job as a Protective Grandparent. Rather than say anything to the hostess, Etiquetteer could almost wish that the grandmother had simply told her granddaughter that she couldn’t have any cake, even if it was served to her, and to make do with other refreshments. That way the little girl is still included as an equal with the other children, the hostess’s feelings have been spared, and the grandmother’s role as guardian is maintained. And if the grandmother is committed to eradicating Artificially Sweetened Cakes, she can always reciprocate with an invitation to her own home and serve a cake made with the Sweetener of Her Choice and nonchalantly raise the issue of what her research is uncovering about artificial sweeteners.

Etiquetteer feels sure you’ve encountered such an issue before, and would love to hear about it at queries <at> etiquetteer dot com.


More on Hostess Gifts, Vol. 13, Issue 3

January 20th, 2014 . by Etiquetteer

Readers over at Etiquetteer’s Facebook page have more questions about hostess gifts:

Dear Etiquetteer:

Is the gift to the hostess given to the hostess for her use only, or is it usually to be shared with the entire party? I’ve heard that gifts of food and/or wine are quietly given to the hostess with the idea being that the food or wine may not suit the evening’s menu but enjoyed later after the guests have left. What do you think?

Dear Gifting:

Etiquetteer thinks discerning guests give hostess gifts as actual gifts, to be used at the discretion of the host or hostess. Reasons abound for this:

  • The guest may actually have chosen the gift for the private enjoyment of the host or hostess.
  • The gift might not actually fit in with the refreshments already planned.
  • The host or hostess might want to spare the feelings of other guests who did not bring a gift.

If the hosts included in the invitation “Please bring a bottle of wine,” however, Etiquetteer will bet they intend to serve it at the party.

Etiquetteer would suggest one exception. Should a child appear with a gift of food or drink to your party, be sure to share it and exclaim over it, no matter what it is. It’s not always easy for children at a party of (perhaps) mostly grownups, and your attention and gratitude to them will make them feel more at ease. Which is really what Perfectly Proper hosts and hostesses do for guests of all ages.

Dear Etiquetteer:

And I would further suggest that if you’re bringing flowers, bring a flowering plant, an arrangement, or cut flowers already in some kind of vase. The last thing I as a host want to be doing is searching out an appropriate vase, cutting the stems, arranging the flowers, and so on, when I want to be greeting guests and/or putting the finishing touches on the meal. (Or quietly having a nervous breakdown in the next room.)

Dear Flora:
The great Miss Manners herself, Judith Martin, covered this exact issue in her marvelous Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, and recommended keeping a vase full of water in the pantry just in case. But Etiquetteer will confess to loving a Floral Tribute, even if it does create some additional hustle-bustle at a party. The hustle-bustle that gets Etiquetteer is the guests who call (or even worse, text message) at exactly the time the party is supposed to begin with requests for directions or an update on why they aren’t there yet.


Hostess Gifts, Vol. 13, Issue 2

January 19th, 2014 . by Etiquetteer

Dear Etiquetteer:

What is the proper etiquette for what to bring to a dinner party?  Does one always simply ask what to bring or perhaps just a nice bottle of wine? Does one ask what one can bring if it is not mentioned in the invitation?

Dear Invited:

Call Etiquetteer old-fashioned, but Etiquetteer prefers to maintain that a Lovely Note of Thanks after a dinner party is much more essential, and Perfectly Proper, than a hostess gift. That said, flowers are the safest choice for a gift, with wine running a close second. Etiquetteer ranks them in this order because the number of people who are allergic to flowers is less than the number of people who don’t drink wine.

As you point out, sometimes hosts will specify what they would like to guests to bring; honor that as closely as possible. If hosts don’t include a preference in their invitation, by all means ask if you’re so inclined. But be warned: you might get more of an assignment than you bargained for. Etiquetteer vividly remembers asking one hostess “What may I bring?” to be given the reply “Oh, the dessert!” This was more work than Etiquetteer wanted to do, but having asked in the first place, Etiquetteer gritted his teeth and baked a cake. Etiquetteer still thinks of this as a bait-and-switch invitation; having been invited to a dinner party, it actually turned out to be a potluck.

Hosts should also be prepared for this question, and Etiquetteer encourages general instructions rather than specifics, e.g. “Oh, just a bottle of red you like that will go with roast” rather than “a couple bottles of Chateau de la Tour de Bleah 2008.” This gives the guests the opportunity to stay within whatever budget they have.

But Etiquetteer really thinks the best response to that query is “Please bring a smile and a couple good stories!” A dinner guests “sings for his supper” best with a contribution not of a bottle, but of one’s camaraderie and good humor.


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