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Surreal Party Etiquette
by Bob Blumer
Magazine Issue: Internet Only

For many guests, dinner parties are daunting affairs. Common party phobias include fear of arriving too early -- or too late -- being dressed inappropriately, forgetting names and drinking too much. It’s courteous to anticipate these potential scenarios and preempt any dramas du soir.

introductions . .Some people dream of inventing a word that is added to Webster’s dictionary. My dream is to eliminate the following form of introductions: "Do you two know each other?" As you might guess, the other person invariably says yes just as I’m saying no. "Do you know me?" and "Do you remember my name?" should also be outlawed. Instead of embarrassing your guests, risk being redundant by introducing them to one another as though for the first time. Before ducking out, help to establish a conversational flow. Break the ice by incorporating common ground into your introduction, i.e., children, work, places they’ve lived, etc.

It’s a fact: Martians have stolen our short-term memories. Help save face for your intergalactic victims by continuously weaving guest’s names into the conversation.

the art of seating . .Who is seated next to whom can stimulate conversation and enrich the natural energy of the evening. A little policing is usually required. Keep the silent types out of the far corners and away from the ringer (to avoid their being trampled). Split up couples and good friends who may get too insular, and pair those who have the potential to complement -- and hopefully to compliment -- one another. If you have a seating plan in mind and don’t want your guests to deviate, put a place card at each setting. If place cards seem too formal, spell out the names or initials with alphabet cereal or letters clipped from a newspaper. If you want to avoid place cards altogether, do it subtlely ("Quincy, why don’t you sit here..."). For a change of pace, ignore the conventional boy/girl, boy/girl tradition.

the smoking issue . .Decide in advance where you would like smokers to smoke, i.e., anywhere, in just one room or only outside. Placing ashtrays in the designated areas is a subtle signal that most smokers are accustomed to looking for. If the only suitable option is outside, make your guests feel comfortable, not ostracized. The longer they are out in the cold (figuratively, if not literally) the more time they will have to do that smoker’s bonding thing -- which invariably leads to dredging up stories about your checkered past.

jobs that make guests feel useful

  • greeter/coat hanger
  • mingler/introducer
  • car key DWI czar
  • tour guide
  • bartender
  • dj
  • finger food server
  • sous-chef
  • grillmeister
  • photographer/videographer

    the drinking issue . .There are two types of people who require extra attention at a party: those who don’t drink and those who drink too much. Nondrinkers usually fall into three categories: teetotalers who have never fancied drinking, pregnant women, and "reformed" drinkers who used to drink too much and now don’t drink at all. For some members of the latter group, abstinence is no picnic. Being surrounded by a group of revelers who get collectively looser and more boisterous can compound the abstainer’s discomfort and turn a seemingly fun time into an unpleasant experience. Some of this is inevitable, but you can reduce the discomfort level by: a) not drawing attention to nondrinkers; b) stocking a full complement of nonalcoholic beverages; c) serving these in the same glasses you are using for cocktails and wine; and d) offering to brew a fresh pot of coffee or tea at any time without making it seem like a bother.

    the drug issue . .If you think President Clinton only took one puff and didn’t inhale, I have two words for you: spin control. The reality is that many responsible, otherwise law-abiding adults are forced into the closet by the laws and stigmas attached to smoking marijuana. As with the cigarette smoking issue, decide in advance what your response will be. If it’s yes, designate an appropriate area -- you’ll be amazed at who participates, once the ice is broken. If you feel uncomfortable, for whatever reason, don’t succumb to peer pressure. Just say no.

    Treat smokers with the same care as drinkers and do not let anyone drive away under the influence.

    the great escape . .Here’s a nifty trick for the next time you find yourself held captive at your own party in an extended one-on-one conversation with no polite avenue of escape. It was taught to me by a savvy band tour manager who claims it’s used by the Queen of England. As is the case for most escape artist tricks, an accomplice is required.

    Before the party, establish a distress signal with your accomplice. It should be something very simple, i.e., tugging your right earlobe, but not something you do unconsciously. If you find yourself cornered during the party, catch your accomplice’s eye and tug your earlobe, signaling an immediate need to be called away due to "an impending culinary disaster." My advice is, keep it subtle -- or you will look like a third base coach giving the bunt signal.

    party games

  • twister (do not play immediately after a full meal)
  • charades
  • pictionary
  • trivial pursuit I, II or III
  • karaoke
  • scruples
  • balderdash
  • the dictionary game
  • guess who
  • write the opening to a short story and have each guest add a paragraph
  • E-Mail a Friend


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