Hostess Gifts Are a Bit Weird, No?

A tea cup is actually a fantastic hostess gift, now that I think about it. [Via Wikimedia Commons]

A tea cup is actually a fantastic hostess gift, now that I think about it. [Via Wikimedia Commons]

We’ve talked about hostess gifts plenty, but I was thinking about them the other day and I realized that they are sort of a strange custom. Something like wine, that could theoretically be used during the party (though you should never expect it!), makes sense, but when you get into some of the other ideas that end up on lists of “great hostess gifts” things start to get a little strange.

Like, “thank you so much for inviting me to dinner- here is a set of hand painted playing cards!” Or “a single teacup and saucer!” Or “a wine stopper from Italy!” All very nice things, but they seem so unrelated to the event at hand and so small and knicknacky that they really can’t be of much actual use to the recipient.

I’m not saying that we should abolish hostess gifts, because obviously they do serve a small purpose in showing your appreciation for something someone is doing for you. But, I do think that when you want to get a token gift in the under $10 range, it’s best to stick to consumables- chocolates, jams, flowers, pastries, wine that can actually seem luxurious at that price point rather than a small bit of junk that will end up in the donation box in six months.

The New York Times is Wrong- Parties Are Not Dead

Holly Golightly managed to throw quite a party in a small space with no money.

Holly Golightly managed to throw quite a party in a small space with no money.

Recently, the New York Times’ Style section continued it’s trend for being tone deaf and out of touch by declaring “The Death of the Party”. I made a particularly frustrated noise upon seeing it as I had JUST thrown a party the previous week.

The author, Teddy Wayne, says: “The incidence of house parties in America (and sections of Canada) thrown by and for those in their 20s, the prime years for adult socializing, may be dropping for a raft of technological, economic and cultural reasons.”

Now, I am on the older edge of the “millennial generation” but my experience has absolutely been full of parties. I went to many a raging house party full of underage drinking and shenanigans in high school thanks to some friends with remarkably obliging parents. In college, I was in a sorority so there were plenty of parties there, but even if I wasn’t, Tulane was a party school and there was no lack of them. I even attended Stanford for a semester due to some…hurricane problems, and even they had some particularly wild parties. And now as an adult in New York, it’s almost a constant cycle of parties- some in apartments and some out at bars.

Wayne sites David Foster Wallace’s famous prediction “It’s gonna get easier and easier, and more and more convenient, and more and more pleasurable, to be alone with images on a screen,” which is true, I suppose. But if my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds are any indication, it’s all of our friends being out at parties and other fun social events that are giving us FOMO rather than pleasure.

He does point out a fear of party throwing saying that these days a keg and some discount chips just don’t cut it, interviewing one girl who said “As for alcohol, her friends have top-shelf taste. “Now it’s bourbon — and not just any bourbon.” Which…can be true, honestly. I throw parties and I can easily spend a hundred dollars or more on food and beverages. But that’s because I like to put out a really nice spread. In my experience, people are perfectly happen to bring things to share and don’t REALLY care that much about what you serve (and if they do, maybe you need better friends?). If hosting at your own apartment is too much, it’s really easy to “host” the festivities at a bar. Definitely in the millennial age group, no one sees anything wrong with that and plenty of people like the excuse to come out as long as someone is doing the actual organizing. It may technically be “rude” to invite people to a thing and then not pay for everything, but who cares when you are in your 20s (and now that I am going to be moving on up into my 30s, I am seeing that age bracket as not so stodgy either!)? Jaya and I usually throw an Uncommon Courtesy anniversary party every year at a great tiki bar and everyone always has a great time.

Meeting at a bar also solves the problem that Wayne proposes that with rents in NYC so high, the younger crowd is all spread out over the city and going from your house in deep Brooklyn to a party in Astoria can take ages and many subway transfers. To that I say pffft anyway. Are these people really that lazy? Didn’t we all move to New York to not stay at home all the time (and I say this as a major homebody!)?

Anyway, I challenge all of you to pick a date, throw a party, invite everyone you know, don’t worry about space or food. It will be fun! And invite some Times reporters, as they don’t seem to get out much.

Potluck Etiquette

Church ladies know how to potluck! [Via Wikimedia Commons

Church ladies know how to potluck! [Via Wikimedia Commons

If you are throwing a potluck, you are not “hosting,” you are “organizing” as hosting implies that you are providing everything for a party.

Potlucks are not appropriate for wedding receptions as wedding receptions are supposed to serve as a thank you to the guests for doing the important duty of attending the wedding. However, you can get away with it in certain circumstances: having a VERY small wedding of mostly locals who are enthusiastic about the idea. It’s also a lovely idea to throw a potluck FOR a couple who otherwise wouldn’t have a reception.

For less formal gatherings, a potluck can be a great way for a bunch of people to get together without it being a significant cost for one person/family.

However, if you want to plan a potluck, make it clear when issuing the invitation. Do not pull a bait and switch:

“Hey, do you want to come over for dinner on Saturday?”

“Sure! That sounds so fun!”

“Great! Come at seven and bring a salad to feed 8!”

That is not okay. You must say something like, “Hey everyone, it’s been a while since we’ve seen each other and it would be really fun to hang out and play board games and have dinner on Saturday. We can have it at my place if everyone will bring a dish. I will grill burgers and hot dogs, so bring some sides, desserts, and drinks that go with them!”

And if you are the one with the great idea to host a potluck, please actually make some effort towards planning. In addition to food, you will need serving utensils, plates, cups, silverware, etc. You want to also help guide the party so you don’t all end up bringing potato salad. Making a party potluck doesn’t mean it doesn’t take any work. That being said, don’t be a potluck dictator! Letting people know what categories of items are needed is great, telling people that they must bring a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting is not. Also make sure you have a convenient area to set up the food in a central location so everyone has a chance to access it.

For the potluck attendee, of course it goes without saying that it is beyond rude to show up at a potluck empty-handed. It is also rude to bring significantly less than anyone else. Don’t show up with one $2 2-liter of soda when everyone else is bringing their famous lasagnas and layer cakes! It’s fine if you can’t cook, just say that you will bring all the paper goods or 5 2-liters of soda- something comparable!

Another good rule is to bring at least enough to feed the number of people you are bringing with you plus a few more (ie a couple with two kids should bring way more food than a single person!)

If you have significant and difficult dietary needs, make sure you bring something substantial that you know you will be able to eat, or just decide that potlucks are not your bag and decline the invitation. Don’t get there and complain there is nothing you can eat.

Never criticize a dish someone else brings. If you don’t like it, simply don’t eat it.

Your dish should be ready to serve when you arrive- you won’t be able to guarantee that there will be fridge or oven space (unless you clear it with the host in advance.)

When serving yourself, be sure to take small enough amounts that there will be plenty of food for the people behind you. It sucks to be last in line and have nothing left to eat besides some melting jello salad.

Don’t go back for seconds until everyone has gotten firsts.

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 Deal When Someone Doesn’t Remember You

None of these people are going to remember anyone they met.

None of these people are going to remember anyone they met.

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

Would you consider writing a post about what to do when someone you’ve met before reintroduces themselves? Do you tell them you’ve met previously? Do you just smile and go with it? I imagine there’s different protocol for the person doing this whom you’ve only met once before, compared to the person who’s ‘met’ you for the fifth time.


Introduced Again and Again


Official Etiquette

Miss Manners says that you just politely remind people that you have met.


Our Take

Jaya: Was it you don’t remember meeting someone, or they don’t remember meeting you?

Victoria: They don’t remember meeting you was the question, but we can do both.

So this happens to me allll the time.

Jaya: Absolutely, on both sides. I’m usually not offended if someone doesn’t remember meeting me.

There are a lot of people out there! I’m not special

Victoria: Haha yeah! I think it’s fine, especially when you are meeting people in a crowd or its a dark bar situation.

Jaya: Yeah exactly If it’s going on like 5-6 times I’m also usually not offended, it just signals that I’m not gonna be best friends with this person, which is fine, I got friends. I’d be more offended if it were in a business situation.

Victoria: I think it’s totally fine to say “oh we met at such and such a place.” But I hate it when people are like “we’ve met” and are really short about it. It’s like, jeez sorry.

Jaya: Yeah, give someone a break! Plus that doesn’t help me, now I just know we’ve met but have no idea where.

Victoria: Oh and sometimes if it’s been a long time, and I knew they probably wouldn’t remember me, I won’t even say anything. I’ll just be like, it’s nice to meet you.

Jaya: Definitely. Also, if I get a sense I’ve met someone before but forget their name, I like having my husband or a friend nearby so I can be like “oh this is my husband Matt” and then he goes “Hi, nice to meet you, what was your name again?” and then boom, I remember their name.

Victoria: Hahah nice trick. Okay and then if you are the one who didn’t remember meeting them, I think it’s nice to apologize and then say something about being terrible with faces or whatever.

Jaya: Definitely. Or if they bring up the night you met and you remember it being particularly drunken/dark/hectic, mention that.

Victoria: Yes! Now, if this is like the 6th time you’ve forgotten them…..maybe just run away?

Jaya: But yes, if it’s the first time it’s happened, I don’t think you can really get mad. But yeah any more it’s like, this person is probably a jerk and you can avoid them. Or maybe has face blindness. Check that they don’t have face blindness first.

Victoria: And maybe do the super businessy thing of proactively saying peoples names when you meet them so you remember them.

Jaya: Ugh that never works for me. I do that every time I meet someone and repeat their name in my haed and then it’s immediately gone.

Victoria: Haha yeah, I don’t do names either. I just never say anyone’s name unless I’m yelling across a room to get their attention.

Victoria : Did you know that the princess of Sweden is face blind? That must be a nightmare in that position.

Jaya: I love how you just know the princess of Sweden is face blind.

Victoria: I am full of fun facts.

I think also if you forget someone but you sort of think you have met before you can just be like, hey how are you????

And then later be like omg this is so embarrassing I am blanking on your name.

Jaya: Yes! I pull “nice to see you” a lot when I’m unsure.

Victoria: Yeah, I am pretty good with faces but not with names.

Jaya: Definitely. I don’t know, I feel like everyone goes through this, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to be understanding when it happens.

Victoria: Yeah, totally. And I mean, if someone is just being obtuse about it and you’ve met ten times, just ignore them and write them off as someone awful that you don’t want to deal with.

Jaya: Absolutely, there are better things to focus on that one person who can’t be bothered with you.

Though again, if it’s in a professional setting it makes it harder.

Like if a partner at your law firm refuses to learn your name.

Victoria: Yeah, I was going to say, if it’s business and they are senior to you, just keep firmly introducing yourself to them through a smile with gritted teeth.

If they are junior to you, get them fired.

jk jk