– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at Rediff.com)
“Where’s the party tonight?”
It’s a good question, particularly since the party season is now in full swing.
Some of us may be absolute party animals, while others prefer to be occasional guests. Irrespective of what our party quotient is, however, our etiquette quotient needs to be up to the mark.
Even the most innocuous slip-ups on the party circuit tend to be talked about, and laughed about. Here are a few tips you need to keep in mind if you plan to let your hair down.
Always know what the party is all about. If you are not very close to the host(ess), (s)he may avoid telling you it is a birthday or an anniversary, simply to save you the bother of getting a gift. However, it can be embarrassing to enter a hall with a huge birthday cake and a pile of gifts brought by more well-informed guests.
Do carry some gift to any party – be it a formal sit-down dinner, a buffet or a luncheon. It could be some flowers or chocolates, or wine for more formal occasions. If you travel often, you could buy trinkets from various places that could be presented as thoughtful gifts. Remember, a gift is not meant to proclaim your status or identity – it is simply a gesture to say ‘Thanks, I had a lovely time!’
If you have certain preferences for food due to medical or other reasons, please inform the hosts in advance when you accept the invitation.
If you are talking to a group of friends or acquaintances, make sure everyone in the group knows each other. If not, go ahead and give an interesting introduction. For example, “Hey Mark, meet Neena. Neena was my classmate in college and she’s a fabulous painter! Neena, Mark’s my colleague and he’s an avid trekker.” Always introduce the junior (in terms of age/ status/ fame) to the senior.
If you do not understand how to pronounce a person’s name, it is perfectly fine to ask them. Saying “I’m not sure if I got your name right. Is it …?” is better than mispronouncing someone’s name all evening.
On the other hand, if you have a name that is slightly long and could be difficult for others to pronounce, you could save them from awkwardness by offering alternatives.
Party enthusiast PN Thailambal, an academic specialist with a reputed educational institution in Mumbai, says, “People often fumble with my name since it is rather unusual. So, during introductions, I tell them they can call me Thai. It makes conversations a lot easier.”
If it’s a theme party, do stick to the dress code. You could ask the host for help in understanding the theme better, if need be.
At a sit down dinner, wait for the hostess to indicate where you should sit. It is likely she has arranged the seating so that there is a good mix of people at each table.
Talking of seating, Thailambal recalls, “Once, at a party, there was this middle-aged lady in a saree trying to park on a bar stool. It was quite a sight – it was too high for her to comfortably climb onto. While the onlookers tried hard to turn away with bemused smiles, I must say it was rather embarrassing for the lady.”
Do not venture onto an uncomfortable seat that does not go with your physique and dress.
If you are getting up for another helping of dessert, coffee or wine, do ask the people around you if you could get something for them as well.
It would be wise to stick to few glasses/ pegs of alcohol, instead of going overboard and getting sick. Not only do you make the situation uncomfortable for your hosts, you also risk being talked for a long time because of behaviour you probably don’t even remember.
Accept compliments graciously with a simple ‘Thank you!’. You can return the compliment if you find a genuine reason for it.
If you need to leave early for some reason, inform the hosts and leave as unobtrusively as possible so that you do not disturb the mood of the party.
Do call/ SMS/ email the hosts later to tell them you had a wonderful time. Thank them for their hospitality.
While little gifts are always appreciated, make sure they are not personal in nature. Avoid items of clothing, deodorants, etc, especially if you do not know the hosts well.
Of course, this rule does not apply for birthday parties.
For a house-warming party, you could ask the hostess (if you know her well) casually while you accept the invitation, “I’d love to get something for you that you really need. Would you prefer something for the kitchen or the hall?” The hostess would appreciate your gesture rather than end up with five table lamps and seven wall clocks.
Never heap your plate at a buffet. You can always go in for a second helping if need be. Take small bites of food; do not stuff your mouth with it.
You would do well to have some fruit or a light sandwich before a party so that you are not ravenous before the meal.
Also, if you are not comfortable with a fork, chopsticks or tongs, ask the servers for alternatives.
Anita D’souza, assistant manager – training, with a leading company, says, “I can recall quite a few instances where pieces of food have flown off plates and landed on someone else. If one is not used to the given cutlery, it is perfectly fine to ask for a spoon or even eat neatly with your fingers rather than embarrass yourself and those around you.”
Conversations at a party should be light and casual. Avoid personal questions about relationships, money, salary, etc. Questions about handicaps and injuries are a big no-no. Even if the scars are from a much talked about accident, the person may not want to stir unpleasant memories by telling you an oft-repeated tale.
Never ask about the price or designer label of a dress or accessory. At the same time, do not brag about your own labels even if you are complimented about it.
Never leave a party without informing the hosts. They may have certain plans for which your presence may be important.
If you are the host/ hostess…
- Ensure you are at the door to greet and welcome everyone. It lends a personal touch to the party and you can make a mental note of who’s arrived and who has not.
- Right from the time the first guest walks in, make sure there is some food to nibble on and some drinks to sip. Some people may be walking in after a long working day and would really appreciate something to snack on as they wait for your elaborate main course.
- Provide for enough serviettes, paper napkins and toothpicks. They should be kept at an accessible place, visible to everyone.
- If it is a buffet or a cocktail party, clear the used plates and glasses regularly so that you always have ample supply of cutlery. It’ll avoid clutter at the tables and ensure you have less washing to do at the end of the day.
- The entrance area and the restrooms should be lighted well. If any of your guests require special seating or other arrangements, do arrange for it beforehand. The guests would appreciate your sensitivity.
- Any children’s party should have ample lighting, clear, open space and toys. Keep a first aid box handy.
So there, all set to party?