Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Manners for grown-up dinner parties

I was watching The Real Housewives of Orange County (yes, I'm a Real Housewives junky) and was appalled (but not surprised) at the behavior at Vicky's dinner party. I expect to see them picking at each other and stirring up troublethat's good TV, but these women behaved like they had never been to a dinner party.

In case you missed the episode, Vicky hosted "the ladies" for what she called a Southern dinner. (I won't go into all the reasons it was NOT a Southern dinner.) She had gone to a lot of trouble and probably a fair amount of expense (although who knows how much of that is paid by the show). The story was that she had been dating a guy from Mississippi and had been learning about Southern food, and she wanted to share some of it with her friends.

Well, when they were served crawfish, these women started acting like they had never been to someone's home for dinner. They made faces, they complained, they turned their noses up and refused to eat. It was disgraceful. You would have thought they had been served steamed monkey brains.

I'll admit that the caterers did not start things in a good direction when they served the crawfish in big plastic bagsI have never seen that done. The crawfish were served whole, as they often are, and I can see that might be a little intimidating (except that crawfish really just look like small lobsters, and no one freaks out when they're served a whole lobster).

NEVERTHELESS, no matter how much the food might catch you off guard, when you are a guest, the number one rule is that you show respect for your host. Think about it. Someone has invited you into their home and prepared a meal for you (or paid someone else to). They probably vacuumed the sofa cushions and cleaned the toilet (or paid someone else to). It's your job to receive this gift graciously and with gratitude.

So, what do you do when you're at a seated dinner party and you're served something strange?

First, you put a smile on your face and think of SOMEthing nice to say. All those rude, snide, critical complaints and derisions stay locked away inside your head until you're in your own home with the doors closed and no one can hear you but your husband (who will not repeat a WORD of it because that would be hurtful, and also terrible manners). That's the proper time and place to let it ripwhile you're eating the fast food you picked up on the way home because you're starving after not eating at the dinner party.

Then, remember that you are sitting at the grown-up table, and grown-ups TRY NEW THINGS. You never know what might turn out to be your new favorite thing! A lot of times people are afraid of things that seem odd or unusual, and they never give the food a chance. Even if you're served something that you already know you don't like, you need to find a way to eat a few bites.

Unless you have a food allergy that will cause you to break out in hives or go into anaphylactic shock, you need to take a few bites of whatever it is that's on your plate. You're probably not going to get away with just pushing it around the plate, but I have a few tricks that might help you get a little of it down.

Take very small bites. I mean really little ones. You might not think of this at first, because it does mean you'll have to drag it out by taking a lot more bites, but tiny bites don't have much taste.

Get involved in a good conversation. It will distract you from the food. (But you still have to eat some of it.)

Mix a small bite of what you don't like with a bigger bite of something you do like. The taste of the stuff you like should cover up some the taste that you don't like.

Hold your nose. It really does block a lot of your sense of taste.

Take a swig of water, and swallow the food like a pill. Obviously, you'll need very small bites and probably do a little chewing before you gulp it down.

I highly recommend that you combine these strategies. In fact, do as many at once as you can safely manage!

Don't let this one odd dish ruin the whole experience for you. Remember that your host has tried to do something very nice for you, and that should make you feel good.

And remember that desserts are usually good!


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