Inviting people to your home is really the very best thing. Whether they are dropping in for a drink or two or coming to stay for a long weekend or a week, there can be nothing better -- except perhaps that feeling you get when you have entertained them so successfully that they are asking when they can come again before they have even left.
This chapter is about how to be around your friends in your home when you are entertaining, parts of which are really easy and parts of which are really hard. Among the latter, I would include coming out with your prerecorded "Oh, that old thing, don't even think about it, it couldn't matter less. Just let me clear away those shards of Murano glass so you don't cut yourself." This follows the smashing of your absolutely favorite piece of frightfully expensive glass by some clot in your house and you would secretly be delighted if she did cut herself on it. It is also about not panicking when the oven blows up and there are eigh-teen hungry faces looking at you and it is 10:30 at night.
It does leave you wondering why on earth you would ever want to put yourself through playing hostess. But you really do, because having your friends around your kitchen table is one of the best things in life. Try to remembe: they are not the enemy, they are your friends. By entertaining, you live in your house to the full. It creates an atmosphere the likes of which nothing else can, and it allows you to hang out with your friends in your own environment. Inviting people to eat at your table is the ultimate way to seal a friendship, as offering people food and drink when they come to your door is one of the most basic customs of hospitality. I don't offer every Jehovah's Witness and door-to-door salesman who rings my bell a glass of wine and a snack, but I do love the idea that my door is always open. If you follow this route you are rewarded in the end because somebody really interesting will cross your threshold that you would never normally have met, or two people may easily meet and fall in love in your house -- and be engaged the following week! That happened here once after someone called and asked if he could bring a friend. Your guests won't always be fabulous, though -- you will have to feed a few freeloaders before you find a cracker.
The perfect hostess (urrrrrrgh)
Okay, so she sounds like hell, but that is actually Margot from the Good Neighbors, who I love, but for her ridiculousness. She is not a perfect hostess because she is too filled with affectations through her own insecurities and so makes everyone around her feel on edge. To my mind, the perfect hostess makes everything seem like it is a total breeze (but does scream when she burns herself on the oven door), is delighted that the house is full of people, nothing is a bother, she remembers to have a laugh, remains your friend, doesn't turn into some extraordinary form of Stepford woman -- and is quite laissez-faire about her guests. There are all sorts of different occasions for practicing one's hostessly duties. Here are my favorites.
Tuesday night dinner
Tuesday night is reason enough to have people over: there is nothing on TV, you are neither at the beginning of the week nor even in the middle. It is quite simply the dullest day. Ship in the entertainment, invite friends over and don't worry too much about how many you ask -- people always flake out at the last minute.
For this sort of dinner I would probably invite one person who will set the date and from then on I will ricochet around town inviting anyone I fancy. I will also go through my e-mail list and have a good look for anyone I haven't seen for a while and would like to have over. Whacking out a few e-mails is fun, it ensures contact and means you don't have to have a conversation. Then on the Tuesday, you call the people that you mentioned it to to check they are coming. At this point I have to declare my trump card, which is that I have a wonderful Italian friend living in London who loves cooking decent pasta. I have been known to plant him in my kitchen with all the ingredients that he requested.
You can't be too haphazard without a backup plan, but even if you don't have one specifically, it will always be fine as long as the people you invite are fun. So: pasta, salad, plenty of wine and some chocolate cake and coffee for pudding. When you overinvite you have to be prepared for some people to sit at the table and others to sit on the sofa. This works best when most people know each other. It is really scary going to a house when you don't recognize many people and you have to pluck up the courage to go and sit next to someone you don't really know. You also don't necessarily have the opportunity to go and sit next to someone you have never met before unless someone organizes it, or you are very forthcoming.
More organized or formal dinners
There are times when you do want to be more Duchess of Windsor in your approach to entertaining and less Château Chaos. I keep meaning to do this but never quite get around to it. Don't ever be afraid of asking new people and keeping it to a number that fits around the table. When you want to do this, you just have to work out carefully who else you are going to ask.
I have found the most entertaining and successful groups are when you get a bunch of people where everyone knows someone but no one knows everyone; it keeps them on their toes and it is more interesting. But you can't just put totally random groups round a table and be surprised when you get hideous silences. It is also a lot of pressure to put yourself under: juggling people, conversation and food all at one time is quite something.
You will know you have got the mix right when any of your guests makes friends with another at your house. Never get jealous or annoyed -- rejoice in your genius hostessing skills.
The luxury of lunches at the weekend is that they can go on for hours and hours, because you never have to be anywhere in the afternoon, or even the next day, the way you do when you are at dinner midweek. The thing that I love about these lunches are sofas and newspapers combined with a very good Bloody Mary -- think about actually mixing Bloody Shames (no vodka!) and then adding the vodka to taste. Everyone can really hang out and relax, and it is the time that I find I do, too, much more than when I am panicking about getting dinner ready.
For lunch I think you can have things that are heavier to eat and so easier to prepare than at dinner. Shepherd's pie, lasagne or osso bucco are all delicious, but your heart sinks at the idea of eating this sort of thing at night (my heart sinks anytime I am expected to eat stew), which means that everyone is also more likely to get excited by the idea of dessert, too. Let the afternoon ramble on, and then you can either end up at the movies or go for a long walk.
I feel it is very important that walkers are met with a good tea when they get back. Inevitably they will have been rained on and are likely to return home soaked to the bone. So they want to walk in the house and be met with a very large teapot and hot buttered crumpets, which means that somebody has to forfeit the walk to provide this essential end-of-the-day ritual. I usually find myself sacrificing the walk to do this. It is hard at first, but as the first drops of rain start beating against the window, I generally get over it. It is worth remembering just how good it is walking back into the house for tea in order to get you out of the house and on that walk in the first place. I hate the idea of going for a walk until I am on one, and then it is lovely -- as long as it is on the flat it is the perfect time to catch up on the gossip with a friend, uninterrupted by the whining of a mobile telephone or the chattering of a small child.
The perfect week
SUNDAY: Cinema or cozy plate of spaghetti with a friend. Some people hate doing things on a Sunday night and like to stay home and psych themselves up for the week. Personally, I still have a going-back-to-school hangover about Sunday nights and can't understand why you would want to add to the horror of it by doing that.
MONDAY: TV supper. This can either be alone or with someone else. If you are alone, this is made a lot better by preparing something delicious for yourself. I find it very easy to slump on the sofa and not move again until I crawl into bed (very unsatisfactory). If you get something delicious for supper, you suddenly find you have a structure to your evening. Come home, have a lovely hot bath, get into your nightie, light some scented candles and a fire (if you have one), work out what the television has in store for you (which will be depressing, so get a video), cook your dinner and these evenings become a joy rather than totally scary -- which is how I always viewed them before.
TUESDAY: Definitely time to get some people over. Tuesday is really the dreariest of nights. Why is it that anything you might like to watch on TV is always on a good going-out night? Wednesday, Thursday, Friday is when they broadcast all their best shows. Don't they know this is when there is other stuff going on and we don't have to rely on the television for entertainment? Keep this easy, just a couple of friends.
WEDNESDAY: If you are a half-full (as opposed to half-empty) sort of person, this is definitely the eve of the weekend. It is when people start to get out of their batten-down-the-hatches mode and poke their noses out for some action. This is an excellent night to entertain. Whereas on a Tuesday night you would probably want to keep it slightly lower key, on a Wednesday you can be slightly more relaxed about numbers and have more people. If you invite people on this night, you will find they think of it much more as a dinner party than coming around for supper.
THURSDAY: This is the night to have a party if you are thinking of having one. People are pretty relaxed about staying up late and still being able to scrape themselves through Friday in the office. It is better than a Friday because you lose quite a few who might be going away for the weekend.
FRIDAY: Friday night is most definitely the going-out night. Don't do anything at home, get your glad rags on, go and celebrate the end of the week with a couple of martinis in a glamorous hotel bar with friends, and see what happens.
SATURDAY: Well, you want to be out this night, so give yourself a rest! But Saturday lunch is a real treat as you can spend all afternoon sitting around gossiping with a girlfriend or boyfriend. Saturday lunch does not have the group mentality that a Sunday lunch has, although lunch parties are lovely on a Saturday as they seem to make the weekend last longer.
SUNDAY: Sunday lunch with a whole pile of friends, newspapers and Bloody Marys has got to be the best thing ever, hasn't it?
HAVING THE HOSTESS BLUES
There are three moments when you get the hostess blues: before, during or after a dinner, lunch or party. Generally, I get them after a party and before a dinner. The predinner ones aren't so much blues as chucking pans at the wall in fury. I have begun to realize that people are extraordinarily unreliable. I have often joked that one should always overinvite so you are left with the right number of people once half of them have blown you off and that you should never go to buy the food until 7 P.M. To call at 7 P.M. to decline an invitation is just laziness on the part of the guest, and I am now issuing cancellation times with my invitations: please blow off before 11 A.M. on the day you are expected. I also have a list on the fridge of those people who have canceled on me at the last minute and why. Obviously, this happens only among a rather spoiled group who have far too many lovely things to do. For most people, it is a treat to be invited to eat at a friend's house, and as a hostess it is important to create an air of excitement around your invitations to prevent this from happening.
When it all goes wrong in the middle of a dinner party, DO NOT cry. I do believe in declaring disasters but always with a smile. I had some people to dinner in the summer and I was at a loss for what to cook. Frankly, I was getting sick of roast chicken and I don't know how to cook anything else. So, while I was having a nervous breakdown in the middle of the largest supermarket in London (where I couldn't find anything), I had this brainstorm. I would just make a delicious huge salad. Perfect -- at least until my friend Toby (who has an awful lot in common with Homer Simpson when it comes to both food and morals) arrived, looked at it and asked where dinner was. I told him that was it. "But where is the meat?" "In the salad," I told him. "And what about the potatoes?" "They are in there, Toby."
A much nicer friend, Abe, saved the evening by going out to get a pizza once the salad had been inhaled and there were still a lot of hungry faces around the table. But the weird thing about people, particularly the English, is that they love disasters. I think that is why we are really so good at home during a war. Bunker spirit and all that is something that we do well, so try your best not to worry when it all goes slightly off track. But it is imperative that you do do something about it, as it is only a real disaster when you think that if you ignore the problem, no one else will notice it either.
Sometimes it is a good idea just to take some time out. Get into the kitchen and start doing something therapeutic, like the dishes. I often find myself doing this at dinners (only my own), sometimes because there are no more chairs around the table, but often because I find that I cannot cope with the level of noise any longer and am just in need of a breather.
If you do this, you sometimes find that somebody will follow you, someone who may also need time out. It is really the perfect thing, as you have a chance to chat one-on-one with one of your friends and prepare the next course quite calmly. If you are about to go on to coffee, having a chat in the kitchen first enables you to be completely relaxed in the way you deal with those people who would like to go back to sitting on a sofa and to leave those who would like to stay sitting in the dining room. You don't have to suddenly stand up and tell everyone to move. I really disapprove of this, and such behavior gives me mid-party crisis as a guest; too much ordering around just isn't very relaxing. Of course it comes like a gift from God when you are being stultified by some stiff, but generally I hate it.
And never take the women through and leave the men to drink port and smoke cigars in the dining room -- it is pretentious and silly. The thing that I object to most about this is that if you are somewhere where this happens, the men inevitably are quite dull (otherwise they wouldn't be doing it) and so you go through and they talk utter arrogant nonsense, tilting back on their chairs and guffawing among a cloud of cigar smoke. The girls sit around and start having an uproarious time gossiping, and then the men come in and interrupt when they feel like it. Urrrgh -- it makes me insane with irritation.
HAVING PEOPLE TO STAY
I still get rather excited about waking up in the morning and there being friends around. I know that it is quite childish, because it really is a hangover from whispering all night with a friend on a folding bed.
A beautiful guest bedroom and having friends popping in and out has got to be one of the great pleasures of life. There are things you can do for guests that would be impossible to maintain in your everyday life, which is why it's fun and not a drudge to do them. Those extra frivolities are what makes someone comfortable and feel welcome. It is extraordinary how different it feels arriving in a house where your host is ready for you and excited about your arrival compared with when there is a rather fraught atmosphere and your stay is obviously extremely inconvenient for everyone.
If you are having someone to stay for longer than a night, you may want to make sure they feel able to help themselves to whatever they need. You don't want to be asking constantly if they need a drink or something to eat, and it often makes it much easier to have someone around who is able to infiltrate themselves into your life. Show them where everything is and make it clear that you would like them to help themselves. You will probably find they will still need to be offered things, as people do find it quite hard to help themselves too much, unless they are very good friends. You may also need to get used to it yourself, as it can be a bit strange having someone too much at ease around your home, picking up the phone and piling into the wine cellar. By working out what you like and letting your guest know how everything works, you will find that things become a lot easier for both of you.
Fluffing up the bedroom
Naturally you need to give some thought as to what might suit the guest, male or female, old school or modern. The bed is the obvious place to start, and you can make it more comfortable with layers, folding wonderful old blankets across the end for the male guest, or antique Welsh ones for the stylish girl. Acres of white linen and broiderie anglaise are ideal for most mothers-in-law. Hot-water bottles in winter and delicious dressing gowns, hotel style, cost little extra effort. Electric blankets can be a bit of a dilemma; for some people the idea of a warm bed is about as appealing as a glass of lukewarm water, and it should not be used as an alternative to central heating.
There are key things in guest bedrooms that are often overlooked: enough pillows and a bedside light, for example. I know this sounds totally mad, but there have been many times when I have had to grope my way from the bedroom door to the bed, stubbing, of course, my toes along the way. This does not fit very well with the joy of switching out the lights as you are unable to hold your eyes open a second longer. Squishy pillows are essential; a single long pillow is by no means enough and is too much like boarding school or childhood. If you have any square pillows, these are the most comfortable. The bed has got to be deliciously cozy, and extra blankets on the end look pretty. They also mean that should your guests get cold in the night, they can pull them up. Everyone lives by such different temperatures; some live in very warm houses and others like a slight chill, so it is a good idea to offer the extra blankets.
The more luxurious you make the guest bedroom, the greater the amount of time your guests will want to spend in it. This is not meant in an unfriendly way, but if by any chance you are able to find a television from somewhere to have in there together with some lovely books, it is going to be a place where your guests would probably like to retreat to in the afternoon for a siesta. Now, this might suit you very well, especially if they are staying for a while. I love staying with friends when there is an atmosphere of being able to run on your own schedule to a certain extent. It takes that pressure off both parties to have to entertain one another all of the time. Not that I have ever stayed anywhere where there was a television in my room, and I hate going to bed in the afternoon. Ever since I have been old enough to say that I don't want to, I have taken great pleasure in not doing it.
Treats beside the bed
So set about making your guest bedroom really cozy and delicious. Try to think of all the things you would like to find when you are away from home. There is much to be said for the approach of a chocolate on the pillow, and while you may think this is just going a step too far, it is quite funny. If you can't quite get to grips with a Ferrero Rocher, break some squares off a bar: it would be as delicious and look great. It does not have to be fancy; in fact, quite often the less fancy it is, the better.
Bedside tables are a good place to start. Of course, the really old-fashioned thing is to put flowers beside your guest's bed. This is the loveliest of traditions and if you have flowers in your garden, this is obviously the best place to start. One of my favorite things is the single garden rose sitting in a glass vase, but don't be put off by the seasons: in the early winter you will probably find branches with berries on that will look glorious. Where you are unable to have summer flowers, whatever is around should be fine.
Think of leaving a small decanter of whiskey and a tin of good biscuits for your guest's midnight snacks, or a jug of water and a small bowl of some delicious fruit. Don't leave out anything too big, like apples or bananas, which have too much in the way of cores and skin, but figs or plums, apricots, grapes and peaches, depending on the season, are more like it. Customize the snack to each guest, and try to think of what you would really like to find in a bedroom when you are away, as that is usually a pretty sure way of getting it right.
Make the table fantastically luxurious, too. In old-fashioned houses you often find writing paper and envelopes, which are always rather tempting for sitting down and sending out gossipy letters in that Jane Austen fashion, but quite unrealistic. Postcards are much easier and more likely to get written; leave them by the bed with stamps on the back and a pen. If you can get to a post box, it is really worth knocking off the odd postcard while you are away, as they should not be kept exclusively for proper holidays. My friend Cathy is always sending me funny old-fashioned postcards from places she goes to in the countryside. They make such a delightfully welcome change from the usual brown envelopes and they are very good things to have around the house, perfect for kitchen walls or even just sliding behind the light switches and in the corners of frames.
Don't overlook books beside your guest's bed. I step out of my front door with just about my entire life in my suitcases, but more often than not my book will still be sitting beside my bed. It is infuriating because it is just the best thing to do last thing at night. When you are staying with other people, your bedtime is slightly determined by theirs; it is not like being at home where you can pad around the house until you are ready to climb into bed and drift off. The thing that I have always found boring when staying with friends is starting a good book, which I then have to leave behind. I never remember to buy a copy once I'm back home, and taking it with me when I leave is a sure way of never getting asked back.
As a hostess, the best thing by your guest's bed is to have books of short stories or back issues of Vanity Fair. Keep a combination of subjects -- old folklore is good (they feel like proper bedtime stories) as are short histories of the surrounding area. But for me a book of ghost stories is probably the best.
What to do if you don't have a plethora of bedrooms
Don't worry, you can still have people to stay, you just have to be a little more creative with the space you don't have. My best friend in the whole world, Honor, lives in Los Angeles, and she has an old French day bed in her sitting room, which I have slept on. In fact, once I slept there happily for two whole weeks. She does have a lot of space, as so many people in Los Angeles do in comparison to London, but she prefers to organize her space in this way, and in the daytime the day bed makes a really cool sofa with lots of cushions. Honor likes it because she thinks it is slightly Oriental in feel, and at night is the perfect bed. To live like this for any length of time you have got to be extremely tidy or else everyone goes insane with the mess. Unmade beds are bad enough in your bedroom, but in your sitting room they are totally intolerable.
The day bed option is very good for studies or a sound investment if you have a room that you want to double as something other than just a spare bedroom. I find that sofa beds are just the worst; they are uncomfortable sofas and uncomfortable beds, and should you ever want to sell one, you would probably find it difficult to just get someone to take it off your hands. So, what to do when you don't even have the extra room for a study-cum-spare bedroom or a French day bed? You can make the sofa in your sitting room as cozy as any bed. Make it as you would make a regular bed: take off the back cushions, if it has any, put a bottom sheet on the seat cushions, and then either a duvet or sheets and blanket on the top. Put the lovely things that you would put on a bedside table on the end table and make sure there is a lamp for your guest to read by. Suddenly you will rather regret that you aren't getting into it yourself. This sort of arrangement is only really good for the overnight guest, as you can't exist happily with someone living so on top of you, and there is nowhere for them to put their clothes and things.
If you know you are going to want to put up people on your sofa, there are measures you can take when decorating to make this tolerable. For example, for one of the end tables to your sofa you could have a small chest of drawers, which means that there is at least somewhere for the clothes to go. A burst suitcase in your sitting room for any longer than five minutes is just impossible.
Bathrooms for the guest
Like leaving my book at home, I can find myself without a toothbrush really easily, or my tweezers, or just about any number of things that should be in my bulging toiletries bag. Putting together all the necessities in your bathroom is another styling opportunity not to be missed. You get a smug satisfaction from making sure your friend has everything they need, and it is particularly fabulous when the praise comes as they find the replacement bits and pieces. Think what a joy it is to go and stay somewhere where the bathroom is filled with delicious bath oils and scrubs that you don't have at home. Making sure your guests find a lot of things to do in the bathroom is also going to give you some time to put up your feet.
There are different degrees to how involved you are going to want to get with your credit card before the arrival of your guest, and it will depend on who it is. But the thing is that it does not have to cost a fortune. A lot of the stuff will be in the house already, and if you have a guest bathroom it is a good idea just to keep adding the occasional thing from time to time. This will spread the pennies. You can also put things in there from your own bathroom before he or she arrives, and if he or she is going to be sharing with you, then just put together a bath package in the bedroom. Do not feel that you have to have everything on the list; just pick the things that will suit the person staying. Some of the items come as standard and some are truly like the Ritz in their over-the-top nature. Be careful that your guest is not laden down with a ton of stuff on his or her way down the corridor.
To keep all these things in order, either in your guest bathroom or in the bedroom, use little glasses, tall glasses and dishes. Q-tips and razors fit in short glasses or old demitasse coffee cups. Tumblers are incredibly useful for makeup brushes, mascara and lipsticks; dishes take all the other, flatter, makeup. I love arriving in a house and having some time to nest, and this is made more possible when a few bits and pieces have been left for me to get on with. It is a rare treat to have time to sit down at a dressing table to do one's face properly, so doing it when staying in someone's house in holiday mode feels very spoiling.
Guests arriving after long journeys
I have arrived in many Scottish houses late on a Friday night, missing dinner and not being offered anything to eat and starving until breakfast the next morning. This is not because my hosts were not the kindest, most generous of friends, but simply because they didn't think that we wouldn't have eaten that filth on the plane. Tray dinners by the fire are really divine; there is something just magical about having something delicious brought to you in the sitting room. I don't really like being shoveled immediately to a room and offered a bath and time to unpack. I like to be in the thick of it, chatting and hearing the news of the friends I am visiting. It is a really good idea to have the tray dinner ready, so that it is not a big deal to sort out when your guests arrive.
Things being prepared for your arrival just makes you instantly feel at ease and as though this moment has been looked forward to. There is something really magical about arriving somewhere late at night -- you are tired and slightly disorientated, excited to be with your friends and full of anticipation for the forthcoming days of fun.
Some people do like to go and get settled before they come down to join you. If you know your guest well and are aware of this characteristic, finding a steaming scented bath with fluffy white towels ready to get into is going to be beyond luxury. If I was that kind of person, then I can't imagine anything nicer. In fact, I do think it would be the best, particularly if you are staying with an old friend who can chat to you while you are in the bath and getting ready for some of that delicious bread and soup that is simmering away downstairs. These things are built on atmosphere -- they are not going to cost any more than what you would have spent anyway. All it costs you is time and effort, which is what makes it so fabulous. Everyone needs to be spoiled, and spoiling the people who have traveled any distance to see you is wholly appropriate.
Going to stay with other people
I get quite nervous about other people's houses and that is why I try to make sure no one feels that way when they are here. I panic about things such as the loo might not flush or what time should I wake up, or everyone will know each other and I won't and they will all think that I am a freak and not talk to me. Well, of course, it is never ever that bad and the loo usually does flush and I have never missed lunch or anything embarrassing like that and, if everyone is awful, which has never actually happened in entirety either, you can always observe them and make mental notes. Once you do that, ghastly people become rather entertaining. I am now often more excited about bumping into the really grim people that I have come across in other people's houses than the nice ones.
I once sat down with a duchess, who will remain countyless. She had a Labrador slobbering all over her and she talked at length about her horses. I was not really able to enjoy the slobbering Labrador (I might have been wincing, actually), or the idea of riding very much, which absolutely horrified her, and she shrieked, "Oh Rita, you are soooooooooooooo pavement." At this moment she shot up in my estimation, but I am not sure if that was the response she was looking for. I think that she was probably trying to intimidate me or get a laugh off everyone else at my expense (which she was welcome to). But whatever is was, it didn't work, as I let her know in no uncertain terms that she was absolutely right and that instead of going out marching across the moors in the morning I would be going shopping. That reined her in and I had so much fun with her from then on, playing up to her towny expectations of me over the rest of the weekend.
As a guest, there are also unspoken rules that should apply. I firmly believe that if you break something, it simply must be replaced, and this counts for the water tumbler as much as the piece of furniture. I find it so depressing when possessions of mine are broken by careless friends who appear to think it doesn't matter, and I am also horrified when I break something in someone else's house. (This is the moment, friends, to call and claim damages!) Broken things must be replaced or restored. That said, my tolerance level for carelessness around my home is diminishing and I am fast learning the cost of friends. You really cannot have blanket rules because sometimes a guest will break something and be mortified by it. You may know he or she is totally skint and that you actually don't really care about the thing that was damaged or can easily replace it yourself. But equally this doesn't mean that just because someone has less money than you, they have carte blanche to destroy your home without receiving an invoice. You just have to weigh it up.
Just trying to help...(please don't!)
Now this is a line that usually comes out of someone's mouth just as disaster has struck; it has often come out of mine just as I have really bossily rearranged something that has already been arranged. Being a helpful guest is a tricky path: when are you getting under your friend's feet and when are you really being a help? Well, I think the first thing to do is to chill out. One is only ever getting it wrong when one is eager to please and slightly nervous. When you are in your own home you are usually in some sort of control as to when to get food on the table or generally domesticating, even if it looks like a poor impression of the contestants on a silly game show. But it is great not to feel as though you have been abandoned in the kitchen and are nothing more than a slave to your friends. As a guest, general morale boosting is good. So sit and chat while your host/hostess cooks and then you can offer to peel or scrub while you are sitting there. Sitting is especially good, as you are not in danger of getting in the way -- it is also always preferable to standing.
Another good tip is when the plates are being cleared and you (and half a dozen others) stand up to help, and your hostess says, "Please stay sitting," for God's sake sit back down again. It is my idea of a nightmare when everyone leaves the table, as it is sometimes easier to clear up by yourself and it can be very disjointing to the conversation when lots of people are bobbing up and down. There is nothing that will sink a hostess's heart faster than awkward silences.
You know what the other thing is, and I must admit that I don't suffer from this: a lot of women are very territorial about their kitchens. Actually, I lie, I never realized it until I just wrote that just now: I am. I hate people in my kitchen without me. It makes me very nervous, and I hate people offering to help with the dishes in the middle of an evening. You cannot believe how many people say, "Oh, come on, I'll help you do the dishes," and there are still people sitting at dinner. In fact, you are probably having a pretty good time with someone. The thing is, they have decided to go home, so have stood up to leave, announcing it very loudly (another thing I hate). But they then have a momentary feeling of guilt about the mess and so start trying to clear the table and get you into the kihen. Are they nuts? I really had to insist against it once. I mean they were about to destroy my evening. Just because they want to go home they try to wreck everyone else's evening by clearing people's plates from underneath them and dragging you away to the kitchen sink, leaving the rest of your friends to think that it must be time to go home too. All because they are trying to help. Well, don't, or you will come back in your next life as one of those small insects that only live for a day.
Copyright © 2002 by Rita Konig