Now that spring is coming we Alaskans are beginning to crawl out into the sunlight and meet again as friends and neighbors which means parties and get-togethers. However, with all the socializing going on you'd think people would be better at following the rules of etiquette. Or not.
The thing about etiquette isn't that it's there to restrict and confine and cause issues for good people such as yourself, it's really about how to interact with your fellow men and women in a way that encourages good will. Etiquette is the art of gracefully making someone feel comfortable and at ease.
In fact, if we were all to keep that last sentence in mind we wouldn't really need books on how to properly host a party or throw a wedding. Courtesy would take care of itself if we just asked ourrselves, "How should I handle this situation to make the other person or my guests the most comfortable?"
So as a practice, I'm doing a couple of posts about party etiquette. This first is a quiz on the proper procedure for throwing a party (and it really doesn't matter if we're talking a birthday party, wedding reception or cocktail reception, if you're inviting human beings the rules are basically the same) and next week I'm going to follow up with the second half which is about how to be a proper guest.
It's designed as a quiz, once you've picked your multiple-choice selection click and drag your cursor over the blank area below the selections and you'll magically be able to see the answer. Slick huh?
I'm just trying to make y'all comfortable (like my homey use of the word "y'all"? It's a bonus.)
1. You're hosting a dinner party and want to serve the meal at 7:00 pm. Should you . . .
a) Serve things at 7:00 pm, no matter what. After all, "you snooze, you lose."
b) Hope to serve the meal at 7 but if people are late you can plan to delay to 7:30 or so.
c) Plan on h'ors d'oeuvres at 6:30, dinner at 7.
d) Tell everyone it's at 6:30 to make sure they all get there on time (you know Aunt Bessie is always late).
The answer is A. "Eat on McDuff, eat on."
As a host you really should do things when you say you'll do them otherwise you're inconveniencing your guests who have arrived on time which is the greater sin. If the invitation says dinner is served at 7 then baring a national emergency it should be served at 7. After all, what about the guests who expected their meal at 7 and planned accordingly?
You don't want anyone to go into insulin shock or something do you?? Kidding.
Perhaps an exception could be made if someone is unintentionally delayed (by "unintentionally" I don't mean "habitually") and notifies the host that they will be a few minutes late (and by "a few" I don't mean "40") then the host can gracefully delay the start of the meal by a few minutes until that guest has arrived. But this is rarely done and should be avoided.
2. You want to throw a casual party for your girlfriend and invite mutual friends but are running short on cash. Should you . . .
a) Ask the guests to contribute $10 toward the evening's food and entertainment.
b) Host a potluck to cut back on expenses.
c) Forget it, you can't afford it so don't do it.
d) See if you can get corporate sponsorship.
The answer is C. If you can't do the time don't do the crime.
That's the simple answer--tough but simple. If you can't afford to throw someone a party then you really shouldn't be throwing a party--or at least an expensive one. Find another event to celebrate your friendship. Perhaps inviting friends over for dessert rather than a full-blown meal?
I cannot emphasize enough the tactlessness of asking your guests to contribute to their own meal. You must not, under any conditions, ever ask a guest to pay for what you as a host should be providing. That's what being a host is people! If a party cannot be confined within your budget then find another option but to require your guests to contribute through money or food is so embarrassingly rude I'm surprised I have to mention it at all but oddly enough this comes up all the time.
My daughter was invited to a party just this winter where she was asked to bring money for the food leading to the question "What is the host actually doing if not providing the food?" She was also told to buy a gift to exchange as part of the evening's entertainment which made the whole thing terribly hard on her slim income and she had to turn down the invite. Tacky folks.
3. You're throwing a fancy cocktail party and want to make sure everyone is appropriately dressed. You should . . .
a) Make sure it says "semi-formal attire" on the invitation.
b) Don't mention anything about the dress because "cocktail party" says it all.
c) Offer ties at the door for guests who may have missed your subtext.
d) Make sure it says "business formal" on the invitation.
The answer is A. Ignorance is NOT bliss.
Yes there was a time when the answer would have been B but unfortunately with the trend toward the casual and informal unless you specify the standard of dress for your party you are pretty much guaranteed to see all sorts of misfires which might lead to your guests feeling inappropriately uncomfortable about how they're dressed, even if they were the ones who got it right.
A cocktail party used to mean at the very least semi-formal dress (depending on how large and whether it was a seated or standing event) and would be understood as such but nowadays if you want your guests to arrive dressed up you'd better let them know. And let them know your expectations in realistic terms--what in the world is "business formal" supposed to mean?
4. You're throwing a 25th anniversary party for your parents and don't want people to feel compelled to bring gifts. You should . . .
a) Provide a discreet "money tree" for those who'd like to contribute in other ways.
b) Say nothing, if the gifts come, they come.
c) Specify "no gifts please" on the invitations.
d) Include an insert card with the invitation, listing your parents' favorite charity in lieu of gifts.
The answer is C. How many ways can I say this?
While technically guests at a 25th anniversary party are not expected to bring gifts at all, this will not be generally known. Most people will likely think that a gift is expected (not unless it's at least a 50th anniversary and the party is very large is a gift expected) and plan on bringing one. While it's not rude for people to show up with a gift you run the risk of making those who didn't bring one feel embarrassed as if they've done something wrong (ironically enough). Again, the whole purpose of etiquette is to gracefully make people feel comfortable so answer B is out.
And once again, if you missed my rant before, it is rude under any conditions to require your guests to contribute
Asking for food, asking for money, asking for a gift, asking for a donation--all of these things are wrong so answers A and D are out--though it's maddening to see how creatively people milk their guests for cash and gifts. Life isn't about gifts and "stuff."
*UPDATED* Apparently I was wrong on this one, that it is considered tacky to even say "no gifts please" because any mention of a gift on the invitation is in poor taste.
5. You're hosting a dinner party and want to properly seat guests. You must remember:
a) To never sit husbands and wives together.
b) To alternate men and women in seating order.
c) To seat guests according to interests and personality.
d) All of the above.
The answer is D. Was this one too easy?
This one is a little different because while there's nothing inherently wrong with men sitting next to men or husbands sitting next to wives (if I'm hosting a small party I usually seat spouses next to each other) the thinking is that if you sit someone next to another person that they are too comfortable with then they'll only speak with that person. A husband will end up talking with his wife and ignore the person on his other side.
There is some truth to this. I've sat at plenty of formal dinners where Andrew and I have been seated next to each other and it's much easier to lean toward him and talk with my best buddy rather than working at drawing out the stranger next to me in conversation. Don't seat twins together (and by that I mean people with the same backgrounds and interests) but look for ways to mix things up and draw out your guests.
So I'd add to this that the rule of thumb is probably that the more casual your party and the more acquainted your guests are with each other the more this rule can be fudged but if you're hosting a formal event you really should break up those cliques so people can get to know each other and have fun.
6. Your child is getting married and you're sending out wedding invitations. Which of the following is acceptable for including in the invitation?
a) A card mentioning where the couple is registered for gifts.
b) A card asking the guest to "save the date."
c) A card asking the guest to "RSVP."
d) Any of the above.
The answer is C. AND ONLY C.
I should write a book on wedding invitations. So many are sent, so few are polite.
What have I said numerous times? Thou shalt never ask thy guests for money or gifts. NEVER.
If you send a card showing all the places the happy couple is registered that is asking for a gift. It's saying--in effect--"You'd better show up with a present. And not just any present. We will only be happy if your present is from a place we deem worthy, see below. "
I know I'll get comments from people raving about how convenient this is as a guest, to have a notice showing where and how to shop, effectively taking pressure and stress out of the process. Ah, that's where you're wrong. Yes it may take pressure off--the pressure of putting any thought into a gift that shows your congratulations of the wonderful event.
Gifts are about thoughtfulness.
So what if you have to actually call up the mother of the bride and ask for suggestions for gifts? So what if you have to spend a little more time online hunting down the perfect present? That's what people who care do.
And don't stick in those stupid "save the date" cards. They're ridiculous. Where does it end? Sending them out a year in advance? That's how long many engagements take.
7. You've just hosted a large dinner party and the guests have adjourned for drinks in the next room. You should . . .
a) Tidy up in the kitchen quietly then go to attend your guests.
b) Ask your husband to clear the table and help while you join your guests.
c) Ask a few of your closest friends to lend a hand before joining guests.
d) None of the above.
The answer is D. This is the time to forget the dishes.
A host or hostess' first duty is to his or her guests. You're looking after their comfort, remember? So leaving them alone is not good. Ignoring some guests in favor of others is not good. Spending time in the kitchen will either leave them to fend for themselves or make them feel guilty they're not helping you out (which they shouldn't be doing). Ditto for your spouse who--presumably--is co-hosting the party with you and is not hired as the servant for the evening. Let the dishes sit and enjoy the evening.
Maybe, just maybe, if you've got a family event where you don't want the burden of clean up or providing the meal to fall on one person you can divide up the work and guests can help, but that's family. You have to be pretty close to someone to expect them to do their own dishes.
8. You're hosting a dinner party but are concerned about the guests approving the menu. Should you . . .
a) Check with your guests to see if there are dietary restrictions.
b) Serve three main dishes from which guests may choose.
c) Serve what you will because there will always be someone with a food allergy.
d) Go with chicken. Everyone will eat chicken.
The best answer is A. Yes, I'm tricky.
If there aren't a mob of guests and it's feasible to do so the best thing is to find out if they have food restrictions--it's the most polite. However, if this isn't a possibility (say you have too many guests such as at a wedding reception) then it's better to serve things as a buffet so guests can select their own food.
I've seen several parties where pretty little labels are stood next to each dish, describing what the dish is, i.e. "Sausage and crab stuffed mushrooms" which has the double benefit of allowing guests to see what the ingredients are and further tempting them with a savory description of what their mouths can expect.
9. You want to throw your husband a surprise birthday party. You should . . .
a) Invite guests but don't tell them it's a birthday party, that way it will really be a surprise.
b) Invite guests but don't tell your husband.
c) Invite guests but don't tell your landlord.
d) Invite guests but don't tell them how old he will be.
The best answer is A. Oddly enough.
You may not be aware but just as it is considered rude for a person to throw himself or herself a party it is also rude for one's spouse to throw their husband or wife a party. The thinking is that a husband and wife are a pair and share everything so just as it's wrong to throw yourself a party, expecting people to bring you presents, it's impolite for a wife to do the same so people will bring her husband presents.
Now I know plenty of people who have done this and I've hardly condemned it as a faux pas but the whole point is that whenever you throw a birthday party it is expected of your guests to bring a present, it's the equivalent of asking for gifts. Throwing your kids a birthday party every year can not only be a burden on their friends but teach your kids that it's all about them. Nearly every one of my children's friends have a birthday party every year which not only wears out my pocketbook but it makes me roll my eyes that parents feel compelled to teach their children that they're the center of everyone's universe for that two or three hour period.
If you really want to celebrate your husband's birthday go ahead and invite friends but don't make it into an event where guests are expected to bring something. Alternately, be happy with letting another year go by without throwing a party at all--adult birthday parties get true etiquette experts riled up, they tend to look at it as a very juvenile activity. (Sorry, if that irritates. Don't blame me, I'm just the messenger).
10. You're hosting a birthday party for your mother at her favorite restaurant but want to be able to tactfully inform guests that they will be responsible for their own alcoholic drinks. You should . . .
a) Request a separate bill for the alcohol which you will split among the guests who drink.
b) Discreetly inform individual guests that they will be responsible for their own drinks.
c) Suck it up and pay for it anyway.
d) Request from your guests that no alcohol be consumed. After all, your mother doesn't drink anyway and it will make her uncomfortable.
The answer is C. If they suck down the liquor you should suck it up and pay.
Your mother may not approve of drinking but if it offends her that much don't invite people who drink. Likewise, if you can't afford to host this meal don't invite guests who eat (or drink). I don't know how many other ways there are to say that it is rude, no matter what the circumstance, to ask your guest to pay for their meal or their alcohol. If you absolutely cannot control yourself and simply must throw a party you can't afford have the decency to declare so on the invitation by telling guests ahead of time what they can expect so they can politely turn down your invitation if they wish.
11. Your sister is expecting her fourth child and you want to throw her a baby shower. Would you:
a) Ask her for a list of friends to invite.
b) Do nothing. Wait for her best friend to throw the shower.
c) Ask her to help host the party with you.
d) Forget it. Take over a nice gift when the baby arrives and call it good.
The answer is D. Yup, that's all.
Once again the trend in society is to throw people parties right and left. It has always been customary to host a baby shower for a new mother (whether a mother by birth or through adoption) and perhaps--at a stretch--for a mother who is expecting her second child IF the child is of a different gender than the first or possibly if the mother is now living in an area different from where her first shower was given.
However, you just don't give showers to women who have had a couple of children already. The whole purpose is to "shower" the mothers with gifts and attention and I'm afraid that once you've been supplied with onesies and diapers and bottles that's all the etiquette experts will allow you. Sorry, you'll have to find happiness elsewhere I guess.
It is also considered rude for a sister to throw the bridal or baby shower, that task falls to a close friend or co-worker (see the explanation for question 9 for details) but the whole fourth-child faux pas trumps the second smaller faux pas which is commonly ignored anyway.
But I see no reason why this should bother anyone, after all if you have a friend or a sister who is having her seventeenth child I see no reason why it's not perfectly acceptable to take over a gift on your own. Who need s a party for that kind of thing?
12. You're having a party and someone brings a hostess gift of a bottle of wine (or a loaf of fancy bread if you don't drink). You should:
a) Thank them and serve it up with the meal.
b) Thank them and congratulate yourself on having such polite friends.
c) Thank them and save it in the kitchen for later.
d) All of the above are correct.
The answer is D. You're safe.
If the gift is something that complements the meal then it's fine to serve it up. If it's something that is best saved for later, that's acceptable too. It just doesn't matter so long as you're gracious and let your guest know you appreciate their thoughtfulness.
So how did you do? Here's the highly scientific breakdown for your score:
10-12 correct. You deserve a party--only you're too polite to throw yourself one.
7-9 correct. You aren't a total clod and are probably a very nice person.
4-6 correct. Well, you're probably a better guest than a host, right? I hope?
1-3 correct. You're lucky to get anyone to come to your parties if you treat them like that.
Sponsored by Pink and Blue for unique baby gifts to make them "ooh" and "ahh."