Saturday, August 27, 2011

Idle Thoughts on Dinner Parties


One of the many things I have never understood is why people invite other people to dinner. I like good food, but I don’t think of eating it as a great recreational experience. I prefer not to prolong it. And to be forced to listen to other people wittering inanely at great length is far too high a price. I would rather make myself a sandwich and go and do something interesting. And I frequently do.

I am not completely misanthropic (not completely). There are people whose company I enjoy, but I tend to talk to people when I have something to say to them, or when they have something to say to me, that we both happen to find interesting. Basically, I loathe anything that sniffs of ceremony or social ritual. Life is too short for that sort of thing.

(We are a highly social species, and many people do like this sort of thing, so the problem is, I am sure, mine, not theirs, but I still loathe the whole business.)

Programming conversation in advance, deliberately sabotaging it by inviting a range of people who will never have any common interest to discuss beyond the utterly banal, and then encouraging them to spend hours yapping about nothing by placing good food and drink in front of them, is a very strange idea indeed.

Even if they are the right people, the circumstances are invariably wrong. How can you possibly know, days or perhaps weeks beforehand, who you might wish to talk to on a particular evening?

And then there is the unnecessary complexity of the food. As with so many social occasions, it seems essential to reach the limits of nervous collapse while preparing for them. Everyone must pretend they are having fun, but no one is allowed to genuinely enjoy any part of it. A good way of ruining any chance of relaxing and enjoying it is to plan a series of dishes that take hours to prepare and are impossible to time together. It really doesn’t have to be like that.

If people just wanted to enjoy each other’s company they would arrange to meet in a bar that also did decent food in case anyone felt hungry. Then they could eat, drink and talk as they wished, and leave when they wanted. But that might be fun, so it must be, not actually forbidden, but held in low esteem, a youthful indiscretion, a minor diversion, not on the same moral level as the dinner party.

And the guests, of course, are never the people you would choose to invite. They are chosen because they are owed, because they are useful, because they will know you’ve invited someone else, because it’s expected, because they will make up the numbers, because there are too many men, because they will give someone else someone to talk to, because that way you won’t have to talk to them, because the people you wanted can’t come. Whatever. Not likely to be an enjoyable evening, is it, if everything is carefully designed to make sure it is as irritating and tedious as possible.

And don’t get me started on weddings.

4 comments:

James Higham said...

One of the many things I have never understood is why people invite other people to dinner. I like good food, but I don’t think of eating it as a great recreational experience. I prefer not to prolong it. And to be forced to listen to other people wittering inanely at great length is far too high a price. I would rather make myself a sandwich and go and do something interesting. And I frequently do.

Classic - I abhor not only the parties but the conversation which takes place.

CIngram said...

The thing is they're invariably very dull, but you're trapped, as they are highly inelastic and you can't make an excuse until a certain number of ritual acts have been performed. If those people really wanted to be together they wouldn't do that way.

[I'm very tempted to start on weddings;-)]

Vincent said...

I do think you have a point, but this is based on an experience where "the exception proves the rule". When we go to one of Emma's parties, the focus is on the food so in that sense it is a dinner party. However the food is a buffet so at no point do you have to sit round a table with one main conversation. I haven't counted but there would be 20-30 people. Depending on weather and season, there might be a barbecue in the garden but this is a kind of sidestall and distraction if someone is keen on running it. Emma the hostess prepares a set of wonderful dishes, more than you could imagine, including lots of dessert items.

Really, it is just a party & everyone loves it & meets old friends and new too. So this seems to be the answer, supply a buffet and call it a party instead. Certainly works at weddings too! But then you need an Emma, and they are rare.

CIngram said...

Exactly, Vincent. What you describe is precisely how these things should* be done; people invited to come together, provided with good food and a pleasant environment in which they can interact at will, and given the freedom to catch up on old friends and meet new people whose company they might enjoy. It's a world away from the kind of dinner party I was complaining about. Yes, it seems we all need an Emma.

*'Should', assuming the intention is enjoyment. When you get into the realms of competitive hostessing, where the purpose of the party is not anyone's pleasure but rather putting one over on the Marchioness of Dimchurch- or Mrs 47, according to which league you play in- the thing clearly is hopeless, and you get involved at your peril.