Polishing Silver

Not to get too WASPy, but if you’re going to have and use real silver trays and teapots and all that other good stuff that you inherited from your mom and grandma, you should probably give it a good polish once in a while. And while I wouldn’t exactly call it bad ETIQUETTE, serving your guests with tarnished silver pieces (especially silverware) is definitely bad hosting.

However, polishing silver is really easy, doesn’t take much time, and gives you a high level of satisfaction, making it the best kind of chore.

Ugh so gross and tarnished.

Ugh so gross and tarnished.

The first step is to go out and get some silver polish if you don’t already have it.

Silver 2

Read the directions for the brand you get carefully, but usually you apply the polish, rub rub rub the piece, then buff it off with a clean cloth. Sometimes you rinse with water too.

Rub rub, buff buff

Rub rub, buff buff

You can also buy special horsehair brushes to polish intricate details on your silver pieces. I only know this because my mom was FURIOUS when I used hers to scrape baked on gunk off a pan when I was about 13.

So shiny!

So shiny!

Once your silver is all nice and shiny you can put it out for display or store it away. If you store it, buy some Anti-Tarnish Strips and pop them into the container with the silver so it will still be all shiny when you pull it out again.


So You Want To Have A Theme Party…

The Pretty Little Liars always have the right costumes

The Pretty Little Liars always have the right costumes

Your basic party is pretty easy to plan. Clean the house, put out some snacks and drinks, turn on some music, and your friends will generally make a good time of it. And sometimes parties have a natural theme, like a certain holiday. But sometimes you want to throw a party around a specific theme or activity. You may want to have your friends over for board games, or a craft night, or a costume party, or even to watch a specific TV program. This takes a little more finesse to pull off. On one hand, it’s weird if only a couple people have taken the activity seriously. On the other, it’s weird to force people to participate in something. Here are a few tips on how to throw, or attend, a successful theme party.

If You’re The Host

1. Make it really clear what the party is about. I’ve seen so many emails along the lines of “there will be food and drinks and games and music,” which reads as a list of optional things available to you should you decide to attend this party. And then you show up and apparently games are the whole point. Make your invitations specific. Say you want to host a Monopoly night, or marathon The Sopranos, or have everyone learn macrame. Tell people explicitly what they need to bring or wear if that’s important.

2. Not everyone is going to be great at the theme. Once Victoria hosted a “masquerade” party, and requested everyone dress in sexy, fancy attire and wear masks. I think we all wore masks for about five minutes before our faces got sweaty, and some people dressed fancier than others, but it was okay because 1. we’re all friends and 2. Victoria is a great hostess who would never in a million years make someone feel bad for not adhering to a theme. Also, every year we host a Halloween party, and though we will lightly jab at people who don’t show up in costume, we understand that not everyone has a costume/wants to wear one.

3. If tone/theme is important to you, you need to provide it yourself. Basically, the bigger you want the theme to be, the less you can rely on people to do it for you. Not that your friends aren’t great, but let’s say you want to throw a Mad Men party, where you all eat 1960s food and drink 1960s cocktails and dress like you’re on the show. Asking someone to pick up a six pack for a party is one thing, but asking them to research vintage cocktails and be on top of all the ingredients for them is another. I’m sure you have close people in your life who would do this for you, but part of being a host is, well, hosting. If it’s important to you that everything match this way, you’re going to either need to spend the time and money pulling that together, or delegate with the risk that it won’t be your vision.

4. Understand if people decline because they’re not into the theme, or choose not to participate. As with anything, you have to know your audience. Not all of your friends are going to have an outfit at the ready that makes them look like they’re in Mad Men.  Not everyone wants to marathon the same TV shows as you, or is into crafting, or knows what people eat at a 1970s disco party (quaaludes?). Sometimes this means your guests will try their best and fall short, sometimes it means they’ll show up because they want to hang out with you and not really participate, and sometimes it means they won’t come at all. You cannot make someone as enthusiastic as you, and that’s okay!

5. Relax, nobody will notice the details as much as you. This is a blessing and a curse, but try to see it as a blessing. Give yourself a break. Don’t spend a week worrying that the ratio of vegetarian to non-vegetarian appetizers is off, or asking your guests a hundred questions about what they’re bringing, or bemoaning that half the people showed up without the right costumes. Of course these things are frustrating, but at some point you have to let it go, mainly for your own sanity, but also because the most important thing for a host is to appear relaxed and happy. If you’re stressed, your guests will pick up on that vibe, and no one will have much of a good time.


If You’re The Guest

1. Make an honest attempt to engage in the theme!  Themes are no fun if nobody participates, so if it’s clear there’s a certain activity the party is centered around, go for it! Wear a costume, bring themed favors, suggest what board games you’d be excited to play. Don’t try to make it just a normal party if that’s not the host’s intention. And if you don’t know what you should be doing, be honest. A few weeks ago I went to a potluck, and one person admitted she wasn’t a great cook and offered to supply cocktails. It was great, because she clearly wanted to be at a party with all her friends, even if making an elaborate fish entree wasn’t her thing.

2. If you really can’t do that, don’t go. Do not go to a Game of Thrones party if you hate Game of Thrones, no matter how many of your friends are there. You will not like it. You will either be forced into conversation after conversation about Game of Thrones before watching the show, or you’ll be that person trying to change the subject and steer everyone away from it and it’s just not a good look. If you can’t make a good faith effort to engage in the central activity, just don’t go!

3. If you’re the type of person to notice negative details, keep it to your-fucking-self. The last thing a host needs is being told their 1960s decor isn’t really authentic. Keep your mouth shut.

How to Host an Overnight Guest

Not exactly the most welcoming. [Via Wikimedia Commons

Hosting overnight guests is the most intimate form of hosting since you are essentially signing up to share your living space with someone for a period of time. Now, the level of hosting can vary greatly- you are going to treat a one night guest, a weekend guest, and a long term guest in slightly different ways. But there are some key things to remember:

  • Figure out where they are going to sleep ahead of time ( I also recommend being upfront with your sleeping arrangements when you extend the invitation- let them know that they will be sleeping on your couch, the floor, the spare bed, etc. so those who cannot sleep in certain arrangements can decline.)
  • Make sure you have everything set up before your guest arrives. Blow up the air mattress and make it up with clean sheets, make sure the guest bed has clean sheets, etc. (If they are sleeping on your couch, you shouldn’t make it up until just before they go to sleep so you can both sit on it.) The idea is to not make the guest feel like a burden as they see you scramble to get everything together. Plus if you discover the air mattress has a hole or the blower is out of batteries or all your sheets are dirty, you will have time to remedy it.
  • Pull out a set of (again, clean!) towels for your guest to use and point them out to the guest when they arrive.
  • It’s nice to have some snacks and drinks available that you tell the guest to help themselves to.
  • Show the guest where cups, plates, forks, etc are stored so they can get them themselves.
  • Make some effort to tidy up, especially in the bathroom. You might not mind showering in a tub with a gross ring, but that’s because it’s YOUR gross ring.
  • Unless you know for sure your guest isn’t a breakfast person, try to have a couple of things on hand like toast, cereal, and orange juice. If you are a baker, make some muffins, or go all out and make scrambled eggs and bacon. It will really make your guest feel cared for and they will be happy not to leave your house ravenous to go to whatever plans you have for the day (unless you are planning on going out to breakfast!). Here is my etiquette confession: I can’t offer people coffee because I don’t own a coffee maker. But I do live literal steps from a bodega that guests can get coffee from, so forgiven?
  • If you and your guest are sharing your bedroom make sure to talk about whether you are ready to turn out the light and what time you want to wake up.
  • If you have a friend coming to visit, make sure you come up a list of fun things to see and do that you can share with them. They don’t know what’s good to do and you do! If they are coming for some other reason, help them out with figuring out where they are going, transportation, important things to know, copies of your keys, etc.

How To Set Up A Guest Room

This is Emily Post's ideal guest room. I can't say I love her taste in curtains!

This is Emily Post’s ideal guest room. I can’t say I love her taste in curtains!

So these days, it seems like most people don’t have a dedicated guest room. Usually if there is an extra room, it’s an office with a fold out couch or something similar. I wonder sometimes what percentage of people “back in the day” really had a proper “guest room.” We did when I was very young and had a big house, but when we moved to a smaller house we didn’t anymore. Did people really have more overnight guests “back then”? I have so many questions.

These days, you make do with what you have, but if you lived in Amy Vanderbilt and Emily Post’s worlds, you have a guest room and they had some adorable, now somewhat outdated advice about what to put in there. So really, this post is mostly etiquette history, as you can certainly follow this advice but it is in no way expected.

The Basics:

  • A relatively comfortable bed. Emily Post suggests sleeping on it yourself once. Amy Vanderbilt suggests that you have two twin beds that can be pushed together (she is very concerned about couples that prefer to not sleep in the same bed???) That bed should have plenty of blankets and pillows as well.
  • There needs to be a light near to the bed that is bright enough to read by.
  • A working clock (though with cell phones these days…)
  • Hangars in the closets and empty dresser drawers so the guest can actually unpack.
  • Good curtains or shades to keep the sunlight out.
  • A pitcher of water and a glass

The Extras:

  • Flowers in a vase
  • Lots of books!
  • A desk with pens, writing paper, envelopes, and stamps (clearly in the days before email!)
  • Snacks for the guest to eat before bed
  • PJs and a bathrobe
  • A full length mirror
  • An array of toiletries for the bathroom
  • A hot water bottle (they specifically mention this for women- I wonder if it has to do with cramps more than keeping your toes warm.)

Thank Goodness We Don’t Have To Do That Anymore:

  • Emily suggests having a candle and matches. In case of an emergency, fine. BUT she also suggests that some people like to keep a candle burning all night. NO!
  • Both etiquette mavens also recommend having ashtrays and matches for smokers- not so much a necessity today (even if your friends smoke, I can’t imagine allowing them to smoke in the house.)
  • The pull cord for servants should be next to the bed (as if, Emily Post!)
  • Breakfast trays! (Maybe this was easy with lots of servants, but I am not running a hotel!)
  • A swimsuit if you have a pool (so unlikely that anyone would be able to have enough sizes of swimsuits for this to be practical!)
  • A radio (so quaint!)
  • A turned down bed (this is the maid’s doing, but I guess it doesn’t really take any time, so you COULD do it. Theoretically.)

But seriously though, nobody expects that their host provide them with a hotel room. And if you do have a real guestroom, I imagine that your guest will be so thrilled to be sleeping on an actual bed instead of a sofa or an air mattress that they won’t care about the other stuff. Just make sure that the sheets are clean (always always change and wash sheets between guests, come ON!) and the room is also clean and reasonably tidy and you are fine.

How To Throw A Good Party

The older I get, the more I’m surprised at the number of people who have made it to adulthood without knowing how to throw a half-decent party. Because yes, you can send the invitations and buy the beer, but that doesn’t mean people will end up enjoying themselves. It’s almost Christmas, so you may be in the midst of setting up your very own party right now! Here are some of our tips on how to throw one that people will be excited to attend.

1. BE CHILL: In our post on how to be a good host, we mention the importance of being gracious. You never want to make your guests feel like their presence is a burden for you (especially if you’re the one who invited them!). The way you execute this will be different depending on the type of party you’re hosting. If you’re hosting a dinner party, find dishes you can make ahead or order out one or two things so you’re not spending all your time stressed in the kitchen. If it’s a potluck, make sure you’re not getting 12 potato dishes, but let your friends make what they want to make. Most people have a better time if it’s a little more free-flowing.

2. Music: Have you ever been to a fun party where there is no music playing? If you have, please comment and tell us how this was accomplished, because in my opinion nothing kills a party faster than when there’s a lull in the conversation and you’re left with absolute silence. If you’re having a party where people are dancing obviously music is important, but don’t discount it as filler noise when people are just getting into conversations. And unless you trust all the guests’ music tastes, make sure there’s one person in charge. Otherwise that one person whose idea of a good time is Papa Roach B-sides WILL be taking over your iPod.

3. Activities: If you want to have specific activities like watching a movie or playing board games, definitely include that in the invitation. Springing things like that on a group is definitely a “know your audience” thing. Some people will be totally down for an impromptu game of charades, others will just see it as forced fun, and an interruption to the perfectly fine time they were having before.

4. Food and Drink: Again, the availability here will depend on what kind of party you’re having, but plan on having at least something for everyone, whether it’s a cheese plate and some wine or a keg and order-out pizza. Unfortunately, this is where I see most hosts stressing themselves out, either trying to provide every single option or haranguing their guests to show up with something. Remember, most guests will show up with something without you reminding them! I can’t remember the last time I hosted a party where most of my guests didn’t offer to bring food, alcohol or something else before I even got the chance to ask for it.