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On your guest behaviour

May 23, 2012

The other night we had about a dozen people round for dinner. About half the guests knew one or two of the others, but mostly they were meeting for the first time, and it turned out to be one of those glorious evenings. Within minutes of everyone arriving, avid conversations had begun, even between strangers – and as the night moved on there was much laughing, boisterous disagreement, delighted and intense seizing upon common interests, entertaining stories, thoughtful discussion, the works.

Afterwards, S and I tried to work out what it was that had made the evening work so well. We can take credit for some judicious selection – a good mix of personality types and so on, and I think the fact that lots of people were meeting for the first time gave it an edge of animation that fades into comfortable but lower-energy ease when old friends eat together.

But mostly, I reckon, it was because everyone there knew how to be a great guest. We are blessed with socially dexterous friends who know how to be entertaining, how to give and take in conversation, how to raise riveting topics, and how to make new people feel welcome. When you have people like this at your table, hosting a dinner is a breeze. All you have to do is provide a space for it.

In Love & Hunger I wrote a chapter on how to be a host – because I have seen people get so stressed out about entertaining that they can’t enjoy it – in which I asked various friends for their views on what goes into making entertaining at your house work well. And early in that chapter I hinted that there were also responsibilities as a guest, but I never really got around to that topic.

Off the top of my head, when I think about being a guest at someone else’s house there are only a few obvious essentials:

  • show up on time or phone if we’re going to be late
  • don’t arrive empty-handed
  • make an effort to dress reasonably well
  • make an effort to be conversationally energetic
  • have a good time
  • don’t refuse any offered food and try new things
  • thank the cook!
  • make sure my part in any argument is good-natured – this has been difficult at times!
What do you think? As a guest, what is your role? Do you think about it, or just show up? Do you try to fill awkward silences and draw out shy people, or do you reckon they can fend for themselves? What about dealing with jerks? I have had to bite my tongue quite severely at times. A friend’s stepfather once said some appallingly racist things and I found myself very confused as to how to behave – should I have challenged him? It wasn’t my house, he was an old man, and so I erred on the side of politeness, smiled and bumblingly demurred, then changed the subject. But I hated myself for it. Or what about being seated between someone wonderfully interesting and a crashing bore on your other side – are you allowed to turn your back on the bore? Can you take the piss out of a pompous git, or are you obliged to nod and smile?

What else is your duty? I never offer to wash the dishes, do you? I never allow people to clean up in my house and so I don’t offer in theirs – but I do clear plates or help bring plates or people to the table. I do sometimes take flowers, but some people say that’s a bad idea. We always take wine, of course. Can you start a raging argument? I love a heated discussion – more in  observation than taking part – but at what point does it get out of hand, and whose responsibility is it to hose things down? And turning up on time is easy, but what about going home? What if you’re exhausted – are you allowed to nick off straight after dinner? And how do you know if you’re outstaying your welcome?

Would love your views on these things and more – and specially your disaster stories. What makes a great dinner guest? Are there people you will never have to your house again? Why? And what about the ones you always want to be there – what makes them so welcome? Come on, spill. 

 

47 comments

  1. I love cooking for people, it’s one of the great joys. A table groaning with goodies and friends sitting around having a good time. But recently it dawned on me that the majority have never ever, not once, reciprocated. At first I laughed it off – never mind, people are so busy – but then I had to admit that it hurt. And I was puzzled. Are they all just freeloading guzzlers? Do they not want me in their houses? Am I expecting too much to be invited over say once in five? Now thinking about inviting a whole lot of new people as a control group: if none of them invite us back for lunch or dinner then I’ll know for sure that it’s us… and then what?


  2. How to be a good guest is one of an increasingly long list of things in life that I realise I’ve failed to give enough thought to.

    I think punctuality is perhaps my biggest bug-bear. The only people I have refused to ever have for a meal again (aside from the mate of my husbands who had some major problems with bathroom aim) are a couple who were consistently late – hours late. I used to tell them we were eating an hour before I scheduled to serve and they were still so late that the evening was doomed – by a dried meal and my barely-concealed irritation at their selfishness and rudeness.
    To be fair to them, they did (and still do) it to everyone – at a significant birthday party at their own house the food was not served until just before midnight – we saw it as we were leaving to get some take away on the way home.

    When I am a guest I try to be on time, clean & tidy, sober (ish), cheerful and engaging – and not too boring.
    I have a dear friend who unfailingly arrives with a small gift and never, ever forgets to pop a thank you note in the post afterwards – a gesture I always appreciate, but am not organised enough to replicate myself.


    • I think I know those people!!

      “Don’t be a jerk” is, unfortunately, all too necessary for people who are a bit privileged and/or insensitive but have to be there because of family ties or whatever. One of our in-laws can be counted on to make provocative racist and sexist remarks on purpose. I haven’t thrown him out of a party or BBQ yet but the time will come.


  3. I admit it. A little yelp of gratitude escaped from me when I saw this post, Charlotte. 
    At last, someone had started to write down the rules! 
    Intuition is surely important on the path to Plslikeme but is only going to get you so far if you end up tramping on what you blithely see as open fields while everyone else is tsk’ing the crushed roses. Everything’s zen? I don’t think so. 
    I’m a famously bad dinner guest. I think -hopefully without being too kind to myself- that’s because I’m still a little nervously stuck at the rule learning stage, which stops me from relaxing into the sociable flow. 
    I know many of these niceties will be obvious to some but they weren’t to me. Thank you, Charlotte, for starting this conversation & I really look forward to hearing more. 
    Viva guest behaviour!


  4. I had my inlaws over for dinner recently. Sister in law promptly made an exit while I was serving up the pudding. (at 7.55pm!) She had to get the 3 year old in to bed. Very rude. I thought she could have waited until we ate the hot dessert which would have been all of 10 minutes
    As a child I can remember going out with my parents to other families houses for dinner. We would always be dressed in our PJ’s and fall asleep on the host’s sofa. We do the same with our kids (now 10 and 12)
    I am now having trouble convincing my husband why his sister and her partner and son don’t deserve a flag to another dinner.
    Not happy given that I had been at work all day and expected to cook and serve a 2 course meal within 2 hours!


  5. I have a friend who lives overseas who stayed with me on a fairly extended visit. My friends, being welcoming and gregarious, included this friend – let’s call him Pete – in all their invitations to me. Pete bought a cask of wine along to the first of these invitations, a dinner party. As we were mostly students at the time this wasn’t the faux pas one might think. However, he proceeded to drink everyone else’s wine and took the cask home with us. The cask came out again at the next party. And the next. Eventually my friends nicknamed him ‘Peter of the Cask’. When he left my house, weeks later, to go stay with some other people the cask went with him too!


  6. I used to thing my sister was tremendously annoying requiring that dinner be ready at 6 because her children needed to eat then. We tend to do a separate round of children’s dinner so the adults can relax and eat a little later, as children really are rotten when they’re hungry and tired. I know that feeling of “must get child to bed immediately or day will be shite tomorrow”.

    Actually, my sister can be multiply annoying. At Christmas lunch at her house I was serving the two year old home made pudding and home made custard, and she walked up, grabbed some and pissed off with it, I think she may even have cut a piece while I sat there with knife poised.

    My family do a thing where they all eat savagely and then clear off immediately, so no delightful sitting and picking, EVEN AT CHRISTMAS. This causes my partner huge distress, so he loads his plate up sky high and won’t let them clear it, has his own pickins.

    And almost nobody invites me to dinner, and I have lovely manners when I try 😦


    • I can attest to Zoe’s perfect manners and wonderful guest skills 🙂


      • And I can attest to Zoe’s very fine hostess gifts!!


    • Crazy brave I hear you! My in laws do the shovel and shoot through routine where my family sit and savour the food and company!


      • How come kids in Italy and France aren’t sniveling bores? They don’t eat fish fingers and go to bed at 6.30 and they’re fun to have around.


        • I agree entirely with this cannot understand the total rigidity of some of the 30’ish stay at home mothers of today (and yes it is usually the stay at home ones) our kids always went everywhere and had enormous fun and varied diets and eat and try anything and everything and quite happy to fall asleep on someone elses couch and not have any issues at all the following day.

          Great blog by the way am having the fabulous looking pumpkin rissotto for sunday tea


  7. THINK, I used to think


  8. An interesting conversation. What really annoys me is when I invite guests and they INSIST on bringing something. No, I invited you. That’s what inviting means. I want to cook for you. To make matters worse, they tend to arrive with a Woolies hummus and corn chips. Punctuality, good (careful) bathroom manners and knowing when to leave are also handy. Vicious grog-fuelled political and moral arguments no longer enthrall me.


  9. I’m a slave to punctuality and totally agree with the first rule. But I’d add that turning up excessively early is almost as bad as being late. It’s fine if it’s a good friend who can help out with the preparation, but we had guests who I didn’t know well decide to turn up over an hour early to lunch – just because they felt like.

    The same offender on two occasions left early (not a huge loss in itself but rude in the I’ve-just-finished-eating-and-now-I’m-going kind of way), leaving the out of town guest that he’d bought stranded and in need of getting back to where they were staying (and in one case need to be driven to the airport). Yes he’s now banned from dinner parties but it’s difficult because he’s related to my partner.

    As a guest, when a host genuinely says “don’t bring a thing”, is it rude to turn up empty handed? It’s a serious conundrum.


  10. wow, who knew this post would turn out to provoke such a flurry of stories? Clearly we need to vent about terrible guests!

    Another outspoken female, I agree that consistent turning up early can be annoying, though it only happens to us occasionally and w very good friends so doesn’t bother me …

    I can see a theme developing here, of the unavoidable middle-distant-family jerk one can’t ban altogether. Seems a shame, though.

    Louise, I SO hear you about the ‘vicious grog-fuelled political and moral arguments’ – put so beautifully too. Is it just getting older that makes these want to dig one’s eyes out with the dessert spoon? Moral outrage, after the age of 35, can be so bloody tedious. That said, I am a bit prone to certain expressions of same when it comes to certain issues, bleurgh.

    I can see a series developing here.

    Zoe & Doubting Thomas, dining with children in other people’s houses seems to present some families with insurmountable problems. Children – or rather, the parents of children – have presented me with some of my most challenging moments as a host. Kids old enough to know better (I mean aged over eight) who spit out food, tell one how disgusting it is, turn up their noses at offered desserts and then go rummaging through the pantry (without asking) for biscuits, all blithely ignored by their adoring parents, have made me want to scream. But being childless, we tend to feel we’re not allowed to comment on this kind of stuff. Thankfully the kids nearest to us in the family are much better trained than that, though ….

    Back to the adult behaviour, much of this poor guest form seems to come from a lack of understanding that dining with people means more than just putting food into ourselves, do you think? A sort of shortsightedness about the symbolsim – like Zoe’s family scoffing and splitting the scene, how depressing.

    And as for Serje’s Peter of the Cask – very amusing, and how embarrassing for you! Sounds as if your friends were all very generous, at least they could make it into a joke… it does remind me of a house-guest we once had (distant family member from overseas) who contributed not one single carton of milk or bottle of wine or slice of bread to our household in the three weeks he stayed with us, let alone lift a finger to wash a dish or clear the table. My husband, frustrated to the point of rage as we slaved around this chap providing yet another evening meal, S setting the table in front of him as he watched telly, asked him if he could manage to fetch some glasses for the table. He got one, for himself, and sat down again.

    James, as I said on Twitter I do not believe for one second that you are as ungainly a guest as you claim. You should feel better reading the rest of these comments – if you’re not drunk, racist, aggressive, selfish to the point of insanity, you’re an ace guest!

    Hatarimouse – re the reciprocation. Most of our regular guests do reciprocate, but I have had this conversation with more than one good cook. I think it’s another blog post – it’s very layered, this issue, because it brings out all one’s deep feelings about why we cook for others (another thing I have discussed at length in L&H). Is it to get love and praise? Is it to control our surroundings? Is it to have people cook for us in return? And if so, what does that mean about the purity of our motives or our feelings of generosity? On a panel at the Sydney Writers’ Festival Alex Herbert, the chef from former restaurant Bird Cow Fish, said she is never, ever invited to other people’s houses for dinner – something many chefs say. I wonder if something of the same intimidation factor is at work when you are a good cook as you clearly are – people are just too frightened of not coming up to the mark? Much to ponder there, and I can see why you feel hurt.

    Another outspoken female – when someone genuinely says ‘don’t bring a thing’ I still would – a tiny something maybe like a jar of chutney or some herbs from the garden or something. I just can’t turn up emptyhanded, it feels like something against nature. What do others think though? This is different from bringing something as part of the meal though – as Louise says, inviting means I cook for you. But Louise, if they brought something for you that wasn’t to be eaten at dinner, would you be offended? Like a jar of jam they’d made or something?

    Fascinating stuff.


    • Charlotte, I love gifts like jam, spiced nuts, etc. Something nicely packaged and homemade is a treat. It’s when they insist on contributing a course of the meal, making dessert, etc that I get bent out of shape. You’ve probably hit the nail on the head in that I could have control issues 🙂 But I had someone turn up once with a freezer quiche and another with the aforesaid woolies hummus and corn chips. Let’s just say there’s not much love in that kind of food. A bit depressing really.


      • I totally agree that insisting on bringing part of the meal is not polite. A friend had a guest who ALWAYS insisted on bringing a particular dessert – her speciality, which my friend detested. Eventually she put her foot down and said no, she wasn’t allowed to bring it.

        That sort of insistence is a control issue of its own, don’t you think? An inability to accept hospitality / generosity is a sort of meanness in itself.


      • and also – frozen supermarket food brought as a contribution to a homemade meal when not asked for is Just. Not. Right.


    • HI Charlotte – agree re the control thing, and also why do we cook for people? Christine Manfield says she loves being cooked for and doesn’t really mind what it is as long as she knows it’s done with care and love. Care and love does mean, I think, that you don’t chuck just any old thing on the table or off the Woollies shelf (a jar of salsa and bag of corn chips doesn’t count and I just won’t eat that kind of crap).
      I think the reason I brought up the topic of rarely being invited back is that I’m so stupid I hadn’t even realised. I think I’ve just got used to feeding people and that’s my role in the group – maybe I’m turning into my mother after all.
      In a way I don’t even mind that much (well, yes I do otherwise I wouldn’t be feeling hurt) except it means I never get to have a peek in other people’s bathroom cabinets or try their handcream.
      And I forgot this comes up as Hatarimouse (which is dangermouse in Swahili by the way) because you know me better as Diana Simmonds, so you know I’m not really pathetic, or scary. Ask Caro.


      • Oh I knew exactly who you were Diana! just following convention in using yr display name … and look in the past I have SO shared your startled realisation (“shit! nobody has invited me to dinner for seven months! maybe they actually hate us!”) which does make one feel a bit of a fool. But after discussion with cooky friends who have had the same experience I decided it wasn’t some coded message from our friends saying they didn’t like us, but rather had developed as you say – we are just the ones who entertain because we like it. And then I forgot all about it and now I think we eat at others’ houses just as much as they at ours, or at least I’ve stopped counting ……

        And yes, I agree – care and love doesn’t have to equal expensive so our mutual feelings with Louise about the Woolies dip has nothing to do with snobbery. It’s about giving a moment’s thought. This is leading me to another blog post idea – stuff to take to people’s houses that isn’t about cost or even a high level of skill, but is an expression of thoughtfulnss and gratitude. Hmmm, I feel another book chapter coming on ………..


        • Hahaha! I should have realised … I’m lucky enough to have a dementedly prolific Seville orange tree and another rather more sulky but delicious Kumquat, so home made marmalade is the gift to get around turning up with nothing…


  11. The guests who arrive late aren’t as annoying as the ones who arrive early; when I’m in the shower or giving the loo a final quick scrub. As a guest it’s important to read the mood of the night: is this dinner a quick catch up and out the door – little kids, work the next day, or is it it the Big Night Out? Don’t skoot out early if its the latter and don’t overstay if the host is yawning. Flowers…nup: where’s the vase? Who can trim the stems and find a spot to plonk them while the cook’s finishing off the sauce? I have a friend who brings a plant in a pot: beautifullly extravagant but so thoughtful. And the sweet guests who want to help, but don’t know where anything’s kept and so keep asking where’s this, where’s that…better to sit, pass the plates around and help clear the table, I reckon. Much in all as I like cooking, I’m rapidly getting to the point my parents reached: who’s going to make the booking? Though I do love a girlie night around the table: the chicks just seem to know what’s required, or not. We can read each other like a book!


    • Julie – you’ve hit the nail on the head about reading the mood of the dinner. Exactly right – I feel fine about turning up to a very close friend’s early weeknight dinner in jeans with a cheapy bottle of wine, but if I know they have gone to lots of effort, so should I.


  12. So many issues! We had a dickhead to dinner 20 years ago (because he was married to a lovely friend) who set his laptop up at the table and played with it all through dinner. Haven’t seen him since!

    I reckon you should always bring something. Among our friends you’d never arrive without wine and if I want to bring baba ganoush or somesuch I always check with the hostess first. If she knows you’re going to bring something it takes some pressure off her and there’s no doubling up.

    And Louise Reynolds, what’s with Woollies houmos? That’s just offensive!

    Turning up early to our house is a mortal sin because we’re untidy and we’re never ready. It depends a bit on who it is but it’s a massively mortal sin if it’s my mother or any other tidy person.

    Charlotte you’re a saint with brats. I’d be a bitch if I had to deal with them or I’d only invite their parents to dinner, making it clear it’s adults only.

    Good topic!!


    • NO WAY about the laptop. You LIE.


      • No lie, baby. OFF the list!


        • As bad s the laptop… tweeting and txting like a maniac throughout dinner. Taking pix of the dishes and sending them off to other tweeters. Soooooooooo boring. Sooooooo rude.


    • Don’t start me on kids at dinners, Stephanie. When people come in and plonk their toddler, or more accurately their toddler’s nappied bottom, on my benchtop while I’m cooking I want to throw up.


      • Louise that is horrible! Yuk! Routines are good for kids but as a parent I think the best thing you can do is raise flexible / adaptable kids. Kids need to know that the world doesn’t evolve around them and that parents are entilted to a social life. Kids also need to learn how to behave as guests at others houses and how to dine out at restuarants.


  13. I think that the most important thing for guests who bring their children is to be realistic about how much other people like their kids as well as take responsibility for their behaviour/entertainment.

    I love children and am always happy to play with the little cousins after birthday/christmas lunch etc. However, after an hour of hide and go seek I get annoyed when parents do not intervene with, ‘Nadia might need a break sweetie, how about you play with this colouring book I brought you’. It is so important for parents to bring stuff for young children to do so that they don’t get bored, ie a video, colouring books, relatively quiet toys, etc, but it never seems to happen sadly.

    I once had children running all over my couches (crappy ones, but not really the point) while the parents looked on with bemusement. At most there was a slight acknowledgement that this might be unacceptable, and it was so slight I did not feel like I could make a point of the issue. This couple is notorious for taking their kids out without books and other things to entertain them while the adults are talking.

    Having said that, you don’t want children to be TOO well behaved. I was always well behaved when I was out because I knew the world would end when I got home if it didn’t . But having some respect for the hosts from kids would be nice.

    I I will admit that I am childless, though likely to start having kids in the not too distant future. I love kids but cannot understand parents who cannot see that their children’s behaviour is subpar.


  14. Also, once had a friend for dinner who announced, mid dinner in front of everyone that she didn’t like tuna. This friend is an unbelievably generous person and saint like in many other ways, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget her saying that.


    • Nadia reminds me of another important bit of guest etiquette: if you are violently allergic to something, you really should let your host/ess know in advance. Turning up to a paella lunch and announcing that you’re allergic to shellfish is bad manners. You throw your hard working cook into a tizz when it could easily be avoided. And it’s not good enough to say “I don’t want to make a fuss”, that’s just silly.
      In the same way, if you don’t know your invitees, it’s a good idea to ask if anyone has allergies or real dislikes…


      • I totally agree with you about letting the host know about allergies, etc. In hindsight, I probably wouldn’t have served tuna, because its not necessarily something everyone likes. But it seems to me that complaining about it points out the mistake that I made in choosing a ‘controversial’ option


        • Hey Nadia – I’d call your guest’s attitude “graceless.” Only kids announce in the middle of lunch/dinner that they don’t like something. And if tuna is considered “unusual” or “controversial” these days…I’m not sure about that!


          • Thanks for the back-up 🙂 well, controversial in that not everyone may like it in a regional area – less culinary diversity accepted I’m afraid


  15. My people! This thread is making me feel much more sane. I love to entertain, and fortunately most of our guests are good ones, though I almost brained a friend with a saucepan when he turned up to a dinner party over an hour early (the third time he’s done it) and said, “You should be more organised; you’re always in the shower when I arrive.” FFS.

    Some dear friends often have us over, but they insist on us arriving at 6 pm “so you can catch up with the kids” (who are 3 and 5, and don’t go to bed until 8.30 pm anyway) and then don’t feed us until after 9.30 pm. I’m talking nothing. No snacks. Not a whisper of celery. Nary a cracker. They also get offended if we offer to bring pre-dinner nibbles. In desperation (I’m a cranky hungry person) I have been known to stash snacks in my handbag and stuff my face in the bathroom. Desperate times!


  16. On a slightly different slant, I’d say that tuna is (or should be) rapidly becoming a controversial choice, as it’s an endangered species. It won’t be long, I think, before eating tuna in ANY form will be about as acceptable as eating tiger steaks. The analogy holds because tuna is a rapidly disappearing top predator and the quotas are unsustainable. See, I’m being the painful guest who raises a politically uncomfortable topic. I’ll go away now.


    • No, you do make a point, hadn’t thought of it from that angle


      • Oh lord. I suppose I’ll have to revert to the old Patagonian Tooth Fish. Sigh.


  17. Having said that, can I say I love this topic? I can’t help thinking about disastrous reading group dinner parties. I’d include my ‘friend’ claiming that I’d told my husband what to think about a book as really bad dinner guest behaviour.


  18. Ooh so much to talk about … Claire you are of course right about the tuna, though if someone raised that point when I had just served tuna at the table I’d find it as graceless as the whiny ‘I don’t like’ remark I reckon. Time and place and all that … and Dianahatarimouse you raise a v good point too about the allergy thing or vegetarianism etc – hosts should ask new people about that stuff but if they forget, I agree it’s the guest’s responsibility to raise it in advance. Or is that asking too much? I dunno.

    I once made a huge dinner for 16 and only noticed halfway through that one woman (lovely, lovely woman) was only eating lettuce and potato – the previous time she’s been we’d happened to have seafood and all was fine, but she didn’t mention not eating meat. She insisted it was perfectly fine but I felt like an idiot, and people kept loudly sorry for her – I felt terrible and slightly irritated, cos I could easily have done something for all that would have suited her too …

    Claire, reading groups are a Whole Other Topic of riveting disaster stories – have never been in one but have heard deliciously horrific stories of tantrums and bullyings and weird behaviour of many many kinds.

    Lia, I spat water over my keyboard laughing when I read your comment earlier today about nibbling nuts from your pockets in the bathroom. And I too have had the ‘come at 6’ invitation and thought ‘fantastic, early weeknight dinner’, only to eat at 10 having almost starved to death…. I am quite militant on the idea that dinner should be on the table within an hour and a half of guests’ arrival, with or without nibbles first. Am I just a greedy freak? I hate hours of waiting for food.

    Over on Facebook my friend Geraldine added ‘say thankyou afterwards!’ as a non-negotiable Good Guest behaviour and quite right too. I usually do the text or email the following day, but my husband has quite delightfully sometimes, if it’s been a special thing that the host has gone to a lot of effort over, taken to writing a card when we get home and running it to the postbox over the road before bed (the handwriting may leave something to be desired at that stage of the game, but still).

    Nadia – you sound very nice about children. I LOVE kids, esp the teenyweeny variety, but children ‘running over’ your couches uninvited is bad. Irrelevant how crappy they are, they’re still your couches. I once had a parent watch fondly on as a kid tore a favourite plant of mine to smithereens in our teeny fledgling garden. I looked at the parent, then when they did nothing I walked over to the child and physically removed her. Parent unbotthered. Another time I had to take a small child by the shoulders and give her a calm but firm talking to as she tore through my freezer in search of ice cream – there was none, but the poor child could not believe this. Parent unconcerned as frozen goods went everywhere and child screamed hysterically & mercilessly. When I think about this I can’t quite fathom what was going on in parent’s head. Maybe they were so sleep deprived they just had to pretend it wasn’t happening. W.e.i.r.d. Not the most relaxing evening I’ve ever spent….


  19. Laptop … off my list is a brainless little sweetie who tweeted and texted throughout dinner; took pix of the dishes and sent them off. Drove me demented. Sooooo boring. Sooooo rude.


  20. Charlotte, a great review for Love and Hunger in today’s Age although I take issue with the assertion “Hers (i.e. yours) is not an intense and interesting life like (Elizabeth) David’s…” WTF?


  21. A good dinner guest will always offer to help the cook. They may very well get knocked back, but the cook (as accomplished as s/he is) may also be stumbling at the final hurdle – and they’ll never forget the guest that rolls up their sleeves to help.
    I remember a time i was drowning in last minute “things to do” when my guests started arriving. A friend – who i didn’t know as well as some others – offered to help. I said i was fine. She offered again, a few minutes later and i nearly took her arm off i dragged her into the kitchen so quickly. So don’t just offer – and not mean it! Make your offer with meaning … they may really need your help!


  22. I only include kids in the invitation to casual, early dinners. Their needs are not compatible with a long, leisurely evening at the table. My three peeves are early arrival – I’m always running a little bit late; the insistent helper – I don’t want people clearing, scraping, or loading; and the smokers who go outside and become engrossed in a conversation! I once had to confiscate an iPad from a dinner guest, but generally they are lovely and beautifully behaved. (Also, I have no problem these days with saying to people – it’s been a great night but I think I’m going to have to go to bed.)


  23. This is a hot topic and a top thread, Charlotte! Surely there’s a short story or a non-fiction magazine feature in all this…? It’s such great material!

    We had one “friend” who always dramatically smashed a wine glass full of red wine every single time she was at our place… the last straw was when – “Oops!” – she did it all over our newly recovered couch. Just. Go. Now. She also loved directing copious clouds of cigarette smoke from the courtyard into our apartment. I think she actually hated our guts.



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