Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I Love My Guests — Truly I Do. But . . . UPDATED with Lamentations and a Good Laugh

On Thursday I host my Eleventh Annual Caroling Party, a tradition that Good Neighbor Anne and I started when our daughters were in kindergarten. Back then we invited the entire K class, and the biggest issue was determining a method for keeping track of whose turn it was to ring the doorbell. It has evolved over the years to include fewer Dallin school friends and more church and Betsy-Tacy friends, but it's still a large, lively, multi-age crowd, and it's a fairly easy party to host. And once the party is in full swing, I completely and totally love it.

Caroling outdoors on a crisp New England winter eve in the company of 25 souls who are so dear to me, singing those beautiful songs, knowing that hot food and good drink is waiting for me at the end — there's almost nothing better. The act of caroling together in the frosty air seems to bond people, and we all have a grand old time.

But the days and moments leading up to it — that is when I start making my own Nixon Enemies List.

Today I got this note from a friend:
At 3, I'll be making my way by bus and foot, probably via the Whole Foods so I can pick up a contribution. Is arriving a bit early verboten? Or could you tuck me away in some (warm) corner where I won't get in the way? I'm also hoping that another attendee will be willing to give me a ride home. If you know of someone who lives in my neck of the woods and can do some matchmaking, that would be helpful.
Note: The party starts at 5:30.

So, in other words, my guest, one of 25, wants me to (1) give her permission to come ridiculously early, (2) make sure that she'll be warm enough while she waits for the party to start, and (3) be "helpful" by arranging her ride home. (She is an adult who chooses not to drive.)

I know that I'm in my pre-party prickly mode, but nonetheless: I do not think that any of this is my responsibility. (Imagine if all 25 guests made similar requests!) But she is my friend, so I responded civilly — and by Thursday night I'll be wholeheartedly delighted to see her. Such is the magic of the Caroling Party.

I believe that I am the dream party guest. In reality, I am not the dream party guest, since (1) I hate parties and usually back out at the last minute, and (2) I get edgy if there's no activity planned because I hate performing small talk with strangers, so I drink more than my share, hide from the other guests by checking out the host's bookcases, then leave early.

However. During my brief appearance at said party, my manners are exquisite.

Here is what I think all guests should do:
  1. RSVP within three days of receiving a personal invitation.
  2. Arrive on time — no more than 5 minutes early, no more than 15 minutes late.
  3. If you do come early, offer to help and then stay out of the way when the hostess refuses. Don't make any extra mess, and don't touch the party food until the party starts! (My dearest Brunie knows I'm talking to her now — but she's gotten much better over the years. Now, whether she's better at leaving the food alone or better at hiding her tracks, who can say?)
  4. When the hostess is trying to get hot food on the table, get out of her way. Leaving the kitchen to stand in the doorway is not sufficient.
  5. If it's a potluck, bring not only your contribution but everything you will need to serve it (a bowl or platter, a serving utensil). Do not make extra work for your host at her busiest moment! 
  6. And don't just dump a bag of chips on your host's pretty table. A simple and attractive clear plastic serving platter or bowl can be purchased at Target for just a few dollars. Make the investment! You can use it forever.
Finally, if you want to bring a tasteful hostess gift, a bottle of white wine is always appreciated — that is, if I'm the hostess. Other hostesses might prefer red wine or beer. One hopes that you will know your host well enough to make this determination. Alas, my shelves full of gifted red wine and beer tell another story . . .

(I really am not complaining about this, I appreciate any and all hostess gifts, but I do find it amusing. I only ever drink Chardonnay, and yet people almost never bring me a hostess gift of Chardonnay. Que sera sera.)

The party will be great fun and I will have a blast, despite how cranky I sound right now. (Husband can describe the whole emotional arc, starting on Sunday when I think about canceling, every single year.) One thing I've gotten very good at is not obsessing over how clean the house is ahead of time. It will be overrun with 25 people plus their kids and lots of snowy boots — my house will be trashed within seconds. And I'm delighted to have an excuse not to have to mop ahead of time, believe me.

Time to get some presents wrapped and in the mail.

Merry merry, happy happy!

— Lady C


I was fairly cross when I posted this in the a.m. (which was fairly obvious in my tone, nicht war?). I heard Husband stirring and went up to perch at the end of our bed.
  • Me: I think I'm having regrets.
  • Husband: Mmm?
  • Me: I think people are going to read my blog today and get their feelings hurt.
  • Husband: Hmm.
  • Me: Maybe I should take it down.
  • Husband: Mmm? Hmm.
(Can you guess which one of us has the PhD?)

And in fact, after he'd woken up a bit, Husband read this post and said yes, he thought it was a bit harsh. In the meantime, I'd reread it and thought, I stand by every word of this.

So, a couple of things:

Every one of my dear friends will find him- or herself in one of these bullet points. To me, the larger point is: You are my dear friend — and we continue to be dear friends, despite your flagrant flogging of my personal party etiquette guidelines, Brunie.

Most, if not all, of my friends think I'm just the tiniest bit demented when it comes to parties and party behavior. And also, opinions vary on the size of the "tiniest bit." The word "harpy" has been used, in other words.

Having said all that, I truly do apologize if I hurt anyone's feelings. Please forgive me. 

On a final note, I just got THE MOST AWESOME e-mail from my fabby pal Writer Jenny, who is attending my Caroling Party (I have exhorted the guests to remember to bring flashlights, which are oft forgotten each and every year):
Pie and I are going to arrive about a half hour early. Hope that’s cool with you. We’ll just stand in your kitchen doorway with the bottle of Merlot I’m going to bring for you as a hostess gift. Oh, and would you mind, I’d love if you could find some nice strapping handsome man to walk us home. Hate walking in the dark, just us girls. And I’m assuming we can just borrow flashlights from you? Right?

Life is sweet!!


  1. Everything you wrote is correct. I would rather have a guest arrive an hour late than fifteen minutes early. It is THE MOST stressful time for party prep. I am more forgiving about lateness than you, but otherwise, we are right here - fingers pointing from my eyes to yours.
    Mrs. Cynicletary

    1. From my eyes to yours, sister-friend! Wish you were coming on Thursday. Have a great rehearsal!

  2. I threw a dinner party the other month where we invited 6 people (three couples). Two arrived 2 hours late, two arrived 2.5 hours late, and two didn't show up at all, without a phone call. Parties make me manic. I feel your prickly pain.


      Your own toilet list inspired my list today. It's a mad mad world, girlfriend.

  3. I heart you and your caroling party SOOOO much. And I thank goodness I don't really need a flashlight. (Kidding!!)

  4. I heart you too, honeybunny! Your glowing personality will light your songbook. But if further illumination is needed, because you made me laugh so much I will give you your choice of flashlights from my personal collection. :)

  5. This makes me want to fly back East to attend your party. And also to prove that I am the best party guest ever. Mostly I would follow you around and say things like "Did you notice? I arrived EXACTLY on time" "Did you notice? I brought chips and put them in a BOWL" "THIS bottle of Chardonnay is from ME" "I not only brought a flashlight for myself, I brought an EXTRA for anyone who isn't as good at parties as *I* am".

    1. OhmyGOSH how much do I love you??? Please come right now, that would be the best party EVAH. I of course would do exactly the same thing.

      In fact, I long to attend a party hosted by someone exactly like me, so I could follow her around and say, "Oh wow, what a beautiful table! How kind of you to set up exquisite-looking cocktails in pitchers so we can help ourselves! What clever and interesting games you planned for us! What fun this is! Goodness, how much work you've put into making your guests happy and comfortable! I am so appreciative!!"

      I live in hope.

  6. I cannot believe you have shamed me in this way!
    My reputation as a party guest is unparalleled! I am enthusiastic and jolly at all times. Particularly when very, very drunk.Sadly, I can never get very, very drunk at your parties because you live so far away. Your loss.
    I come early, I get chastised, I chain smoked in front of Starbucks for HOURS so as not to be early, I get chastised. Is it no wonder I try to calm myself by sneaking the odd savory. Oh yes, you will never be able to tell where I have struck, but it still happens EVERY TIME.

    1. Dearest, once the party has started, you are the gold standard of party guests. EVERYONE wants you at their parties!

      For every minute leading up to that . . . oy vey.

      But I love you devotedly, regardless, and I hope you will say the same.