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A French-Inspired Garden and Home by Judith Stringham

Being a Gracious Guest & a Little French

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Is there any time in the year more filled with invitations for parties, family gatherings, and get-togethers than the next five weeks?  Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years invitations fill our social calendars.  Dinners, luncheons, cookie exchanges, ornament parties, and overnight stays are routine happenings during late November through the first week of January.

Several great bloggers offer wonderful tips on how to welcome others to our homes so that our guests will feel special and wanted.  Excellent advice that makes me examine how to be a better hostess. What about being a guest? Could we talk a little about how to be a gracious guest for the next five weeks...  and beyond?

The very first thing on the road to being a downright irresistible guest is to be on time.  However, in your enthusiasm, please, please, please do not be way early.  Your hostess has worked days, probably even weeks, getting everything just right, but there are always last-minute details that must be done, and your hostess needs those last few minutes free to do them without having to entertain and to socialize with early guests. 

On the other hand, please do not be late.  Whenever it is à table! (time to eat), hot food needs to be served hot.  If the party guests have to wait for a late guest to arrive, the hostess has to find a way to keep hot food hot without it over baking, drying out, or turning soggy.  If you find you are going to be fifteen minutes (or more) late, call to let the hostess know to start the meal without you. 

Speaking of food, in today's world, there are all kinds of diets.  Low-fat, heart-conscious, vegetarian, gluten-free, and sugar-free all come to mind.  A gracious guest knows that a hostess cannot provide all variations for all guests. (My mother, however, spoiled us unbelievably and always cooked way too many dishes just so each of us would have our favorites.)  Very likely, the hostess spent hours researching cookbooks for a tasty meal that may even include watercress soup or le poivron grillé (grilled pepper). 

If you have a life-threatening allergy, please share this with the hostess as soon as possible after receiving your invitation.  An email or quick phone call will help the hostess avoid placing your life in danger.  Your allergen may still be on the menu, but the hostess can let you know which dishes to avoid and to provide some dishes without it.  

Whatever your dietary needs are, a gracious guest never utters, "Beurk!" (Yuck!) aloud or under her breath at what is served.  Nor does she expound on 1] the poisons other guests are ingesting by eating sugar, fat, gluten, etc... and 2] the problems her body has from sugar, fat, gluten, etc... 

A gracious guest chooses from whatever choices of food and drink are offered without requesting an alternative.  If you think the meal may not have enough choices to satisfy your hunger, do like Scarlet O'Hara in Gone With the Wind.  Have a little snack before you go to the party or after getting home. Be sure to eat some of what is on the menu. And, don't place your serviette (napkin) over your plate to hide what you didn't eat. 

To be a truly gracious guest, offer compliments on the meal, the table setting, the flowers, the company with sincerity, not flattery.  Thank the hostess for the invitation while at the party, and within a couple of weeks afterward follow up with a written thank you.  Emails and texts are de regueur (etiquette or current fashion), but there is something very special about receiving a handwritten thank you in the mail. 

While medical problems are not appropriate table talk, a gracious guest sits wherever the hostess indicates (never rearrange place cards) and talks to other guests on either side.  You may not be able to participate in shop talk with a pro, but you can ask the pro to explain something in his/her area of expertise.  La bonne idée (a good idea) for a gracious guest is to brush up on details of stories, such as sources for the brownie story, to have something interesting to add to conversations. 

Cell phones?!  Mon Dieu! (My goodness!)  Does it really have to be said?  Silence cell phones before joining the party.  If an important call that cannot wait may occur, a gracious guest places the cell phone in vibrate mode.  Should the important call come, a gracious guest excuses herself and leaves the table and room to complete the call as quickly as possible.  Routine calls should be allowed to go to voice mail. As they say in the movie theaters, "It can wait." 

Lâcher le morceau (to tell the truth), family members often forget these basic principles of good manners at family holiday gatherings.  Nevertheless, all of these guidelines are important for family gatherings.  We teach our children by example.  Furthermore, what we practice every day, not just on special occasions, become part of our behavior and routine.  Then, to be a gracious guest becomes second nature to us.  

There are many other practices for a gracious guest, but these are among the most basic.  Do you have any other things you would add as most basic? 

For a little French on a regular basis, visit Kristin Espinasse @ French Word-a-Day, author of the book Words in a French Life