It was the big Christmas party weekend and it was fun. One year I was arrested on this first weekend in December in gold hotpants, a Christmas dickie, and my hair was purple in a pompadour. Thankfully times have changed. I still have big hair though. God bless my maternal grandfather for still having hair so that I might never face life bald. My head is so big I can’t even imagine the shiny mass it would be.
So while most of the time I report here on being host, I thought I might outline some thoughts on being guest. I struggle to call myself an extrovert because if given the choice between being alone and immersed in a hobby—writing a field guide to American tomatoes, cooking, sourcing china for Thanksgiving 2025, or my never ending quest for five acres on a steep slope with prehistoric trees, and various other domestic pursuits—or going to a party, I would usually rather be alone. On the other hand, I’m never shy or nervous in groups and god knows I love to have an audience. That’s why in my very Taurian way I like to have people come to me. I don’t mind wearing a suit but I really don’t want to wear shoes.
But having friends, clients, family, and acquaintances means I often attend their functions too. Sometimes people note that I am very observant. Generally people become observant because they don’t fit in and they watch other people to assimilate. That was my intention but I never followed through. So rather than watch, learn, and mimic, my tendency is to watch, learn, and wonder what the fuck?
I’m sure you’re civilized and you don’t need these but it’s still a bit fun to discuss them.
-Some people are always late and that’s fine. Staggered arrivals are good for a party because it re-stokes the energy. I am always early, so I will wait in my car out of sight from the house (do not wait in your car in the driveway), and then pull up about two-three minutes after the party starts. A minute or two for the host(s) to catch their breath is a good thing. That first hour of a party is crucial and it helps to have loud people who will talk, introduce, mingle, and grab the door if the host is tied up.
-It never ceases to amaze me how people will stare at a door that is being knocked or rung. It’s best a host or hostess open his or her own door but sometimes that’s not possible. Open the door, introduce yourself, take their coat or tell them where it goes, and point them to both the host and the bar.
-Bring flowers or wine. Real wine, not gift basket wine. No one wants a lazy bag of snacks or chocolates that someone brought you that you didn’t want either. Don’t bring ugly flowers. Think about the décor of the home and buy flowers that will blend or complement. Flowers are democratic and good taste is just as accessible as bad, so you can easily bring a lovely bouquet for under $15. Arrange them yourself in a glass vase you don’t care if you ever see again. I keep a small collection of these on hand from Goodwill. I think I got that idea from Hotflash. Do not ever bring flowers out of water or, heaven help me, in grocery store plastic. Hostess gifts are where the phrase it’s the thought that counts really piss me off. That phrase is such lazy bullshit and self-contradictory. What that phrase means is it’s the bare minimum gesture that counts.
|the hostess gift..|
|...ended up being the centerpiece. This is cropped from a photo I was asked to take across the table. |
So, yes, I'm breaking my own rule but not really..hopefully...
-Obviously if it’s a dinner party, late arrival is unacceptable. I’m sure the squirrel whose babies you delivered while having a cold and stuck in traffic in the colossal hailstorm caused by the volcanic winter from the oil fire from the downed tanker at the intersection was so glad for your help but you’re still an ass. Time cannot be bent, so if you leave your house late, you will be late. Text when you know you’re going to be late, not when you’re already late. More than 15 minutes is late. It happens.
-Get a drink. No, I don’t mean you have to drink alcohol. If someone offers you a drink, do not say I don’t drink. Yes, you do. Water is a drink, so even if someone asks you if you’d like a drink and they mean alcohol, they will likely understand what water is and be able to fulfill that request without the awkward air of so are you an alcoholic, pregnant, driving, or Mormon? No one should think these things but they kind of always do so it’s more comfortable for all parties if the question is bypassed by a specific order. Hosts want beverages in hand, and the person offering wants to deliver. My mom doesn’t drink alcohol because she doesn’t like the taste and I know often she feels judged by those who do. If someone does not drink alcohol and it makes you uncomfortable, recognize that it is your problem and not theirs. I suppose I am woefully immodest so maybe that’s why I have no qualms with this. With none of their senses dimmed, those not imbibing are certainly going to see so there’s no sense in trying to hide it like you’re 17. I have a close friend who is an alcoholic and I admire her strength in social settings. You don’t think it’s a big deal until you see it for the first time that some people really do get weird and defensive about those not drinking alcohol. On the other hand, one of the most dreadful, boring, insufferable people I have ever met who has never understood that I can’t stand her and swarms around me like a horsefly will never miss a chance to make her opinion known that she thinks alcohol is terrible and she hates being around drunk people. Roped into yet another occasion with her via mutual friends, someone said well I might get a glass of wine to which the awful one said a glass of wine before noon?! with her beady little eyes spastically focusing in ire. The would-be wine-o said oh I guess you’re right… so naturally when our server came I ordered a bottle. If you’re going to lunch with Republican women and their gay friend there’s going to be white wine, duh. People are free to not drink or drink and it’s only your concern if they shouldn’t drive. Rejoice in the modern world where even at a Midwestern suburban country club we can get an uber.
-Unless you are a doctor, keep your fucking phone on vibrate. This is not 2003 and we don’t do ringtones anymore anyway. Which is a pity because I invested a small fortune in Britney ringtones back in the day.
-If you’re going to show a photo from your cellphone to other guests, find it within five, yes five, seconds. I am so fucking tired of standing there while someone scrolls through every stupid picture they’ve ever taken and gives a little slide show on the way. Like when looking for a photo of their grandma’s bachelorette party they end up showing you a photo of a new lamp they bought, a sunset marred by powerlines, a blurry bird, a grainy video of a toddler indiscernibly doing something, and a few awkward selfies where they then try to explain that they aren’t vain. You should only show one photo. If you must, three is the absolute cap. Everyone probably already ignored them once or twice on the internet anyway.
-Oh my god the fucking picture taking. WHAT IS THIS SHIT? I take photos of so many things but I’m not stumbling around holding my phone in front of my face to continually take horrible fucking pictures anymore. I am five years clean. I used to do it and admit my guilt. Do not take photos and upload them to social media in real time! I don’t care what you’re saying! I know you’re desperate to prove you’re relevant and interesting but you’re not and no one else is either. Yes, of course, photos will be taken. But to broadcast the party onto social media in any way while it’s happening is like leaving the sink running on a boat. Also, you really ought to seek permission from the host if you’re going to upload photos of their home, décor, etc. And this should be common knowledge but we all know it’s not, you must have permission to take or share photos of the host’s children. I can’t believe how often people do this!
-If you’ve brought a dish, make sure you have every single element needed. Check ahead if you should bring a platter or if the host has a specific platter they’d like you to use. Do not show up with all the stuff and then ask uhh you got a platter or something? And then five minutes later uhh you got a few serving spoons or something? Pack your bag with all the ingredients, the platter (preferably wrapped in plastic wrap), and serving utensils. Set it up quickly and take the bag back to your car if there’s not a discrete place to tuck it. If you’re going to stay about the duration of the party, get the platter back before you go. Easier for all parties involved. If you’re leaving early, leave it and pick it up the next day.
-if your dish requires anything from the host like an electrical outlet, or a pop in the oven, clear it ahead of time. Ahead of time being three days, not seven minutes.
-If it’s a dinner party and you want to help, ask if you can help serve and clear the table. This is really the best help because it expedites what can be a slow process. It’s awkward to all be sitting there while the host pops up and clears all the dishes in multiple trips. Do not stack plates, unless told to do so by the host. That is how you end up with saucy forks falling to silk rugs. If you are remaining seated and your plate is being cleared, move your flatware to the middle of the plate. The host likely does not want every single guest filing into the kitchen to deliver their plate. It’s not summer camp. If someone else is helping clear, you can help by staying seated and keeping conversation going.
Good parties are 51% good hosts and 49% good guests, so thinking about these little things can make a huge difference. What do you think is essential to being a good guest?