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and one more thing ...
Mommy, shouldn't you begin this book by discussing how to live on your own for the first time? But then, why would I expect the conventional response from you? Okay, why do you always say, "Never pass up a party"?
Because you never know who you might meet. If you do go to a party and find that it's a bust, you can always leave, but if you don't go at all, you will spend the next week listening to friends describe the best night they ever had and maybe the next year wondering what or who might have been if you had fixed your hair and gone.
I think that the more often I go out in the evening, the thinner I become. When I stay in at night, I have dinner and then sit in front of the television with a book or magazine. I find myself going into the kitchen every ten or fifteen minutes for something to eat. When I'm out, I have dinner and don't snack away during the hours between dinner and bed. I don't share this discovery with many people because I sound like an airhead, but I think it's the truth.
Whatever. Move on.
Okay, party specifics. Let's start with the invitations. A majority of birthday party invitations I now receive include the words "No Presents
Please" or worse, "No Gifts," printed in the lower right-hand corner. (I think gift is an unattractive and somewhat cheesy word and I much prefer present.) The motives behind this unsettling directive remain obscure (unless your guest list is so extensive that you'd have to take a leave of absence from your job to write thank-you notes). When a hostess has spent days preparing for a party by scraping the mildew off the shower curtain, wrapping up little hot dogs in phyllo dough and baking them, and enlarging embarrassing high school yearbook photographs and stationing them at strategic points around the living room for guests to snicker at for years to come, she deserves a little something. Having birthday parties without presents is like taking away Christmas and replacing it with Flag Day.
Since RSVP stands for répondez s'il vous plaît, or respond if you please, it is not necessary to have "Please RSVP" printed on your invitations.
And when you call your hostess to respond to an invitation, do not say, "I'm calling to RSVP," and assume that your hostess thinks that you're accepting. You are responding, but it's up to you to tell her that you're either attending or not. You should be specific and say, "I would love to come to your cocktail party" or "I'm so sorry that I won't be able to come to your cocktail party."
There seems to be a movement afoot to put "Not entertaining and men behaving badly at dinner parties
Black Tie" on invitations. I trust you will not be a part of it. This is unnecessary, because unless the host or hostess says it is "Black Tie," it's not. Some will say, "I have no choice but to put 'Not Black Tie' on the invitation because otherwise people don't know what to wear and they call me." Let 'em call. It's their problem, not yours.
I think that's as much as I can absorb about invitations. What advice do you have about the actual event?
If you are late for dinner at someone's house, don't bring your hostess a bunch of flowers as a gesture of contrition. Believe me, at that point the last thing she wants to think about is going into the kitchen and finding a vase, filling it, and arranging some flowers. If you want to apologize for your tardiness, send her a plant or flowers, in a vase, the next day. And don't be late again.
Have music playing, especially during the cocktail hour. And turn up the volume a bit more than you would if there were only two of you present. If the volume is higher than usual, but not enough to be piercing or annoying, your guests will have to speak up, thereby making the evening seem more festive and exciting.
If the occasion is a seated lunch or dinner, and you have to rent tables, rent fewer large ones, and one more thing ...
Don't invite forty people and seat them at ten tables of four. Use four tables that seat ten guests. Otherwise, the whole notion of talking to many different people is lost. You might as well be playing Scrabble.
Don't even think of asking to sit next to your boyfriend or husband at a dinner party. This is too tiresome for your hostess. Why would you want to sit beside the person you come with? Isn't the purpose of a party to have a spirited conversation with other people, to meet someone who might tell you something that would make you look differently at life, to share a truly riveting piece of gossip with your date on the way home as you rehash the evening? If not, then the two of you should stay at home, order in burritos, and watch Friends reruns.
Once I went to a dinner party and sat beside a woman, and my date was sitting next to a man. There were six men and six women. Why did I end up with a woman when there were enough men to go around?
That happened because traditionally the hostess has to be at one head of the table and her husband at the other, but that no longer makes sense. It's not as though you are still a child with your mother and father at opposite ends of the table.
The hostess can sit at one end of the table, closest to the kitchen, and her husband can sit wherever. This way, there will be a woman at the head of the table, but who cares? The seating arrangement will be boy/girl, boy/girl.
When you give a dinner party, do consider inviting one guest who may be more outspoken and opinionated than the others. A party made up of tasteful and well-behaved people can be tedious, but someone whom you can count on to be a bit offensive can really move the evening along. I once overheard a woman say to another guest at a dinner at our house, "You know, I told my husband that you are the bravest woman I know." "Really," said the other guest, pleased and flattered. "Why is that?"
"Because you had your family Christmas card photographs taken without having your hairdresser do something about your dark roots, and I don't know when I've ever heard of a more courageous act," she said, nodding and smiling. "I've told everyone," she added.
Mommy, that was you with the dark roots! Yes, and I never invited that woman back. But it did make for a memorable evening. Unless you're giving a small dinner and all are friends anyway, sit your guests next to people they'd like to know, not those with whom they are already well acquainted. And if you're having three couples and one single woman for dinner, place the unescorted woman between two men and seat two of the other women beside each other. Don't penalize the single woman for not bringing a date and at least provide her with one for dinner.
If you are the host of a large dinner party and have several tables, do not give into temptation to put all your least-enchanting guests together and in your mind call it the Alpo table. They'll figure it out and be justifiably cross and hurt. And they will figure it out.
Sometimes it's necessary to give a dinner guest whom you really like a tiresome or annoying dinner partner on one side. This is perfectly permissible as long as you make up for it by providing that guest with a charmer on the other side.
Some of my friends say that there are subjects that you can't discuss at dinners or parties. Why do they say that and do you think they're right?
I was chatting away at a dinner party one evening and suddenly my hostess said, "Oh, please, we don't talk about politics or religion at our dinners." I shouldn't have been surprised by her words or her frozen smile. There is a prohibition on discussing sex, politics, and religion on social entertaining and men behaving badly at dinner parties occasions, ostensibly because these subjects that are so near to people's hearts are also too upsetting, particularly if the guests argue about them. I disagree and have never understood the rationale behind this edict. Even though I am an atheist, among my most enjoyable and memorable dinner partners have been a Catholic priest, an Episcopalian bishop, and a university chaplain. I am also a liberal Democrat who spends many evenings with Republicans. A former cabinet member in a Republican administration once sat on my right at a dinner table and at one point informed me that I was "the liberal backwash of our dismal past." But it wasn't said with anger, and once I determined that backwash didn't necessarily apply to my hair, I found the description almost beguiling. Almost.
Personally, I think there's nothing more fun to talk about and debate than sex, politics, and religion. Since there is more often than not a sex scandal going on in Washington or Hollywood, it's hard to avoid it and really, who'd want to? As for politics, life is politics; it's what we are, and one of the benefits of living in a democracy is being able to discuss our elected officials, how they're voting, and with whom they are sleeping.
Why can't we discuss issues that are close to our hearts? What is it that intelligent, thinking adults should talk about? Moisturizing creams and whose child is showing signs of projectile vomiting? It is possible to discuss potentially controversial issues without attacking people or ignoring their feelings.
If you feel strongly about a political or social issue and it stirs your soul, then talk about it. Argue about it. Maybe you'll change someone's mind or maybe someone will change yours. But don't be afraid to speak up.
And what if I sit next to someone who doesn't want to discuss anything?
Occasionally, you will find yourself at a dinner party, haplessly trying to make conversation with a man who thinks you exist only to draw him out. Aman who-after you have inquired about his job, where his children go to school, what he thinks about the latest political scandal, and his favorite vacation spots-asks you nothing about yourself. If you're not asking, they're not talking. A man who, if you had a sudden heart attack and slid off your chair and onto the floor, would never notice. A man who will finally turn to you at the end of the evening and pose the thought-provoking question: "Are you sure this coffee is decaf ?" If you just heard the hostess mention to another guest that she ran out of decaf that morning, you have my permission to smile and say, "Oh, yes, it's decaf."
When I was younger, I thought there was no worse fate than sitting next to a woman at dinner, but after the decaf guy and some of the other men I've encountered, give me a woman any time. They will nod sympathetically when I explain that I remove my contact lenses and my nail polish before I weigh myself. Women are also more likely to initiate a conversation by asking, "Do you know what I hate?" And that's a much more intriguing conversation starter than coffee.
I once sat between two men at a dinner party and began a political discussion with the person on my right. His views were quite extreme, not to say wacko and hateful. He was not the best listener in the world and insisted upon repeating his opinions several times, at a deliberately slow pace, as if I were too slow to comprehend anything said quickly. After twenty minutes of this, I turned to the attractive man on my left, whom I had met just an hour before, and said, "I'm going to shoot myself if I have to talk to my other dinner partner much longer." He answered, "I'd love to help you out but I'm having a few problems myself with the woman on my other side. Sorry." I reluctantly returned to my first partner, attempting to remember the relaxation exercises I had learned years before in a yoga class. Just as I was trying to figure out how to breathe in through my left nostril and out through my right without anyone thinking I was very odd, the man on my left tapped my arm and said, as I turned to him, "Okay, since the woman on my left is no longer speaking to me, I'm all yours." The man on my left more than made up for his counterpart on my right. No matter how unpromising a situation seems at the beginning, it's possible to have a happy and gratifying ending.
My husband is always quick to remind me that not every woman at a dinner party is a combination of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Katie Couric. He once sat beside a beautiful, bright, and chatty woman who informed him during the soup course that she had just completed a course in martial arts that she had taken after being mugged. She then offered that if any man ever so much as touched her again, he'd better take his best shot because she'd kill him in a flash with her newfound skills. Unfortunately, during the course of this exchange, my husband developed a cramp in his leg, which was wedged beneath a rather crowded table. In his attempt to straighten it out and ease the pain, he grew most apprehensive about inadvertently touching his dinner partner's foot. He was certain he'd be dead by dessert. In spite of the possibility of landing just such a loser for a dinner partner, switching place cards at dinner parties, without your hostess's approval, is tantamount to, if not worse than, grand-theft her guests. If you don't like your dinner partners, get over it. Eleven o'clock eventually comes around.
What do you think of a hostess who invites you for dinner and then orders takeout?
If you are giving a big cocktail party, or having more than eight guests for dinner, I would recommend takeout. You don't want to spend all your time in the kitchen, away from your guests, if you can avoid it. Nobody notices or cares where the food originated. The guests and conversation are what people take away and remember from a party, not the food.
I have also learned, from years of parties that I have given and those that I've attended, that the food that people enjoy is straightforward and uncomplicated, like chicken pot pie or meat loaf and mashed potatoes. If you can't afford to order out, give the party with a friend and split the expenses.
The difficult part of being a hostess is folding the napkins, making sure that each guest-even the one you don't particularly like but had to invite anyway-is involved in conversation, and washing the dishes. The gratifying part is that the hostess is in charge and makes all the decisions, including what she serves. If she wants to order take-out food and serve it on her grandmother's china and pretend she made everything from scratch, it's her choice. Dinner parties are not about the honor system.
Excerpted from And One More Thing by Joan Caraganis Jakobson Copyright © 2005 by Joan Jakobson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted August 22, 2005
Very enjoyable and easy to read. I believe I started this book one evening and completed it the following afternoon. I could certainly hear my mom giving some of the very advice I read. This would really make a neat, fun gift for mom, grandmother, or the mother to be. Makes you think back to those days with a smile!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.