As an Asian growing up in Miami, I was exposed to many different and wonderful cultures and cultural traditions. They say Miami is a “melting pot”. Although, I like to think of it more like a tossed salad. The tomatoes are still tomatoes, the lettuce is still lettuce, the croutons are still croutons, and it’s all mixed up, but still delicious! There are so many different norms when people meet and greet each other. For example, in Thailand, we “sawadee”, meaning, we place our hands in an almost prayer position and gently lower our heads as a hello gesture and sign of goodwill and say sawadee, which is basically “hello!” It’s the Thai’s version of a handshake
It was in junior high when one of my friends invited me to her family’s house for a party and I learned first-hand that people in Latin American cultures kissed each other to say hello! “Why are these people kissing me?” I thought as I stood frozen not knowing what to do when my friend’s mom kissed me on the cheek as I walked into her home. It wasn’t necessarily upsetting, I mean, it is a sign of affection, it was just different from what I knew. Now I love to kiss people hello! I still do air kisses and just kind of protrude my cheek to press against others people’s cheeks, but at least I don’t look like the oddball uptight Asian girl that just arrived yesterday for some student exchange program.
So culturally, there are things we do that are just “different” than perhaps the cultural norms you may be used to, but that doesn’t mean you can’t embrace them. For example, my mother never ever washed dishes when we entertained at home. In the Thai language, the word for guest is the same as customer. So, in other words, they are pretty much one and the same. We are in service to our guests. So I guess she thought that washing dishes in front of guests at the end of the party was no different than your customers in a restaurant having to watch the dishwasher wash your dishes after eating.
So imagine my uneasiness when I became an adult, got my own place, and starting entertaining on my own….when my non-Asian friends would roll up their sleeves and just start loading up the dishwasher. My eye would start twitching and my lip would spasm in revolt. No! No! I would protest. But I soon learned that in some cultures, helping to wash dishes is a way for some guests to show appreciation for the hard work you’ve put into the meal. I learned that no one was right or wrong. We just were exposed to different ways of doing things. Now, I have a “he that cooks, does not clean” rule in my house. I feel bad for my poor boyfriend, cause apparently, I find that food tastes better when you’ve used every single pan and cooking gadget in your kitchen.
Over the years, I have hosted and attended several parties and although it doesn’t necessarily make me an expert, I have been exposed to different practices on both the part of the host and guest that I feel I can offer what I have observed to be “best practices” or rather, The Entertaining Commandments. Again, culturally, there are things that make our respective country of origins so unique, but there are practices that are good form in any culture.
“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.” – Emily Post
The Entertaining Commandments:
10. Always bring a gift for the host.
In some cultures, giving Mandarin oranges is a symbol of prosperity (which we could all use), and goodwill. It doesn’t have to be an expensive token, but it is always good form to bring at least a bottle of wine, a candle, or a small bottle of olive oil. Just anything that shows appreciation for the host’s efforts. No matter how many times you’ve been over. This could be your sister’s house you go to for dinner every week; you can get a decent bottle of wine for under $10, so no excuse! And certainly do not take back any bottles you brought, even if you didn’t get to it. Oh and another thing, if you’re going to bring Red label, don’t finish the host’s Blue label that was unopened, hidden in the kitchen behind a tarp.
9. As a host, always make sure you look ready, even if your food is not.
I once went to a party where the host still had a towel on her head after just getting out of the shower. Your goal in entertaining is putting guests at ease the minute they arrive. It’s alright if you’re running a bit late with the hors d’ oeuvres, you can still work on them in the kitchen with your guests! Organize your day, so you can take the time to shower, put on your smile and party face and greet your guests without feeling rushed.
8. As a guest, never arrive late and say that anything is cold or dry or ask where the food is.
Yeah, I once had a guest arrive 2 hours late for a UFC fight watch party I was throwing and tell me my salmon sliders were a bit “dry.” I don’t think I need to explain further. Just don’t.
7. As a host, always think about lighting and festive music to set the tone.
How many times have we been to a party where all the lights in the house are on full blast, like we’re about to perform surgery and no music on? Soft lighting, even candlelight makes everyone look good (always a plus!) and festive music always help set the tone.
6. Always have a bowl of individually wrapped mints out. Your guests will thank you.
At the bar in my house, I have a small bowl of individually wrapped mints. I always notice guests take a few throughout the night and I think they appreciate it. Sometimes you feel self-conscious about your breath after drinking a couple sangrias and eating a few pigs in the blanket, ya know?
5. Always RSVP as early as you can. Even if you don’t know if you can confirm immediately, at least respond.
With so much of our lives being spent on social media, it’s not uncommon to receive an invite online nowadays. It’s easy to just earmark it for later. But try to get in the practice of at least responding, even if you just don’t’ know yet if you can make it. “Thanks so much for the invite to your baby shower! I’m not sure if I can make it just yet, as I have to secure a babysitter for that Saturday, but let me check and I’ll get back to you by this Friday the latest.” And always thank the host for inviting you. Never have the host get to the point where they have to chase you down and ask you more than once if you’re coming to her wedding, bridal shower or dinner party.
4. As a host, never complain about your stressful day before the party.
I’ve been to several parties where the host goes on and on about the stress associated with throwing the party: “Omg, I had to fight all this traffic to get to the grocery store to get these eggs for the deviled eggs, and then I stepped on dog poop when I was carrying all these bags by myself, then I dinged a car, while opening the door and the owner of the vehicle threw his smoothie at me, then I was super late getting home and then I burned my hand off making these meatballs. I hope you’re having a great time. How do you like those meatballs?”
As a host, it’s your job to set the tone and one of the ways to do that is to be positive. Everyone’s got problems, and if everyone leaves it at the door, everyone can have a great time for a few hours with good friends and good food.
3. Never just show up with a guest without letting the host know beforehand.
2. As a host, if your guest declines an alcoholic beverage, handle it with grace and have alternate options.
I once had a reunion party with some old friends from my childhood I hadn’t seen in at least 15 years. Everyone had cocktails and was having a great time. I of course offered a drink to one of my old friends and he said he just wanted cranberry juice. I scoffed and said, “oh no! You can’t just have juice!” Then he politely told me that he’d been 6 years in recovery. I was mortified and apologized profusely and he said no worries at all and we both laughed at my faux pas. But it did make me think. There are lots of folks that just want to take a break from drinking, either for health reasons or weight loss, and we have to respect it and not make a big deal about it socially.
1. Don’t ignore the company of real people to bury your head in your phone to interact with strangers on social media.
The irony of social media is that its intended purpose is to bring people together, but a trend I find happening more and more, is people who ignore others at a table to “tap-tap-tap” into their phones all night. As a food blogger, yes, I am that person that has to take pictures of food. But I do what’s called the “one and done.” Take one picture of some really beautiful food, some pictures of your friends or a drink. That’s it, you’re done. Certainly don’t take several minutes to upload to social media and spend the rest of the night to see who’s commenting on whatever you posted, while ignoring those in front of you. The internet will always be there. Cherishing your friends and family in the here and now will not.
There you have it, not everything that could possibly handle every possible social situation, but it’s a start. Always keep in mind thoughtfulness about the feelings and comfort of others and you can do no harm. Now let’s party!