Sunday, February 20, 2011
Segregated Dinner Party Leaves A Bad Taste
By Thelma Domenici
For the Journal
Dear Thelma: My question is lengthy, as I have to explain to you what I experienced recently at an evening birthday party at the home of friends of my husband. The couple are from another country. My spouse is from the same country, but I am not. The couple invited several people to attend the party at their home. The majority of the guests were of their nationality, but the hosts also had relations by marriage not of their nationality present at the occasion that evening.
The hostess made sure that she sat all those of her nationality in the dining room area and she had the relatives of her husband sit in the living room along with my spouse and me. Every time a dining room guest would go try to sit in the living room to visit with us, the hostess would get up from her area in the dining room and in her native language ask them to go back into the dining room.
The hostess did try to mingle a bit around the two rooms, passing out appetizers to all of us, but finally at dinner time, she got up and instructed everyone in the living room that we should get up for dinner as we should eat first because the others tend to eat dinner much later in the evening. She had us serve ourselves and eat while the others watched and visited with each other. I was made to feel as if she wanted us out of there quickly so that they could begin their party once we were gone.
Please tell me what you think of the way our friend the hostess handled this event. I am reluctant to go back to future parties at her home.
A: Thank you for sending the question and sharing your experience. I will tell you first that the hostess' behavior does not represent the guidelines that I encourage hosts or hostesses to follow.
To be a hostess means using your heartsense to create an event during which all invited can enjoy the company of everyone equally. It should be an occasion for everyone to experience the evening in the same manner, and no one should ever wonder why they have been invited.
The top responsibility of the hostess is to prepare a guest list. The ultimate success of the evening is very much dependent on the combination of people invited. Develop a list of people who will enjoy being together and feel comfortable together. For the host of the party you attended, it would have been better to invite fewer people who could all experience the party on the same level, rather than making some feel isolated or separated from the group.
I use place cards to arrange seating at the dinner table for my guests, seating spouses away from each other and mixing up the group to allow people to socialize with someone new sitting near them. As host, I sit at the head of the table. From that spot I can initiate or consolidate the conversation if necessary. If two tables are used, I ask in advance for a particular guest at the second table to exchange places with me at some point in the meal. I select someone I know will be comfortable doing this and plan it with him or her privately ahead of time.
A host also should make sure everyone mingles and provide opportunities for that to happen.
As for going back if invited again, I would feels as reluctant as you, and it's likely I wouldn't go back.
An honored guest and good manners never go out of style.
Have a question about etiquette? You can ask it at www.askthelma.com. Thelma Domenici is CEO of Thelma Domenici & Associates, offering corporate coaching and contemporary social skills development programs to all ages.