BY CHRISTINE CHEN
So, you’ve been invited to a party. Oh, the excitement, the anticipation, the fun . . . and the anxiety! What should you wear? Who will be there? Will others talk to you and make you feel included? You might ponder many of these questions before attending a party because you want to arrive feeling as confident as possible.
But a truth easily forgotten is that parties can cause as much or more anxiety for the host as for the guests. As the one in charge of all the planning, the host has great responsibility placed on him or her. Everything must be considered, from decorations, food, and entertainment, to the budget and the guest list. And even with the most careful party planning, the host still needs one essential ingredient to make the party a success: cooperative, well-mannered guests.
Yes, even guests have responsibilities at a party. After all, parties are not meant just for the guest to have a good time, but for the host to have a good time as well. And, in fact, how good of a time the host is having often affects whether or not the guests have a positive experience at the party as well.
Before Party Day
Your first responsibility as a guest comes when you receive the invitation. Most invitations will ask you to respond, or to “R.S.V.P.” – the abbreviation for the French “repondez s’il vous plait,” which means, “Please reply.” It is best to respond as soon as you receive the invitation, but never wait longer than three or four days to respond. There is no excuse for not responding to an invitation. After all, the host thought of you and took the time to send you an invitation, and you can show your appreciation by promptly responding.
If you are able to attend the party, go the extra mile and ask ahead of time what you can do to help. Depending on the type of party, you might offer to bring a bag of chips or to pick up some ice. If you are unable to attend, remember to express your thankfulness for the invitation and offer your best wishes for a wonderful party.
Now, the part that probably causes the most anxiety for you as the guest is deciding what to wear. It can be embarrassing to show up at a party wearing jeans and a t-shirt when everyone else is dressed in fancy outfits. Instead of wondering and worrying about the party’s style of dress, simply ask your host; you can’t go wrong if you follow his or her lead. As a general rule, “casual dress” usually means slacks, jeans, or shorts, together with a polo shirt or t-shirt, or a sundress for females. “Semiformal” means suits and ties for the men and fancy dresses for the ladies, and “formal” or “black tie” means tuxedos for the men and long gowns or very fancy dresses for the ladies.
At the Party
The big day has finally arrived. Whether you are attending a birthday party, pool party, graduation party, or Valentine’s Day party, you have responsibilities the minute you knock on the door. Your host will usually greet you at the door, and if it is a small party, he or she should introduce you to the unfamiliar guests.
At a large gathering, keep in mind that your host will be quite busy, so do not be offended if he or she does not walk you around and introduce you to everyone present. Here is your opportunity to do your part. Although it is tempting, and much easier, to hang out only with your friends during the entire party, take some time to meet others at the party whom you do not know.
Of course, it can be very intimidating to approach a stranger and introduce yourself; however, realize that the other person feels as uncomfortable as you do, and, like you, that person will be grateful for your efforts to initiate a conversation. Plus, you can be sure that your host will appreciate your help in making the other guests feel welcome and comfortable.
Approaching unfamiliar guests is really easier than it seems. Simply walk up to the other person, and tell him or her your name and the connection you have with the host. For example, you could say, “Hi, I’m Melissa. I go to school with Nicholas.” Most likely, the other person will respond with a similar introduction.
Once the introduction is out of the way, what do you talk about? This next step can be very awkward and embarrassing. However, great conversation is the main contributor to a wonderful and successful party. The key to good conversation is good listening skills. All people like to talk about themselves, so begin by asking questions about the other person. Show an interest in his or her responses, and, most importantly, make eye contact. A sincere desire to learn about the other person is a sure way to make a great first impression and to get to know another person. Who knows, you might end up developing a friendship that lasts a lifetime.
Another way to add some spice to your conversation is to prepare a day or two before the party by reading the newspapers, watching the news, or listening to the radio. This type of preparation will give you interesting things to talk about at the party. Avoid idle gossip, but talk about things you have in common, such as school, children, friends, church, or sports.
A host always appreciates thoughtful guests. Be sure to jump in and help whether you are asked to assist or not. If you notice a dirty plate on the coffee table, pick it up and take it to the kitchen. Quickly clean up any spills or crumbs you see on the floor. Offer to empty the trash if it is getting full or to refill the chip bowl if you notice it is empty.
There are many ways to help out; it just takes some observation on your part. Your host will be grateful for your respectful behavior, and you can be sure you will get an invitation to the host’s next event. There is no greater way to say “thank you” than to lend a helping hand.
When the Party is Over
It is often said, “All good things must come to an end.” Sometimes it is hard to tear yourself away from a great party, but if the invitation said the party lasted from 8:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m., be sure to leave no later than 11:00. The party may be over for you when you leave, but your host still has a lot of cleaning up to do.
Before leaving a party, find the host and thank him or her for inviting you, and then say good-bye to the other guests. If you have to leave early, quietly find the host to say good-bye. If you loudly announce to everyone that you must leave, the other guests may think it is time for them to leave as well.
Last, but certainly not least, send a thank-you note to the host expressing how much you enjoyed the party. This should be sent no later than two to three days after the party. Your host will be very grateful for your thoughtfulness and will appreciate knowing that the party was a success.
So, the next time you get an invitation to a party, remember, above all, to be kind, mannerly, respectful, and helpful. That way, you are sure to be the kind of guest that every host wants at his or her party.#
Christine Chen is the founder and director of Modern Manners, a consulting firm that helps children, teens, and young adults develop social and dining skills. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit her website at www.modernmanners.net, or write to Modern Manners, 24216 Clematis Drive, Gaithersburg, MD 20882.