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What Would Ms. Darby Do?
Navigating modern manners doesn't have to be a big ol' crapshoot. Just ask the expert.
Dear Ms. Darby,
Is it ever OK to show up early to a party?
Short answer: No.
The long answer: Please, no. Just ... don't.
That last half hour before a party starts is peak shit-show; scrambling to get appetizers set out, queuing up music, bitching at your partner for not getting enough ice, lighting candles, putting on pants. Unless you are the host's BFF and they've specifically requested you help set up, showing up early almost always throws a big glitch in a host's giddy-up. If you, Prompt, are right on time and keep asking what you can do to help, pitch in where and how the host suggests, but don't take it upon yourself to clean, rearrange furniture, or plate unless specifically asked to do so. You don't want to be the person who well intentionally cleans up the countertop only to find out that you threw away all of the clamshells that the host was planning to stuff for serving. True story. My job for early guests? Grab yourself a drink, and get me one while you're at it, pretty please.
Dear Ms. Darby,
What the hell is a "Hostess Gift," and when should I bring one?
General rule of thumb: never show up empty handed.
Unless it's a casual "stop by later" sitch with your closest friends, bringing a small token of appreciation to acknowledge the host's effort in opening up their home and in thanks for the invitation is a thoughtful custom. It doesn't need to be extravagant or expensive. Flowers and food items are lovely, but keep in mind that the point of the host gift is to add to the host's joy, not make more work for them with a whole country ham in need of refrigerator space, or demanding they open up your bottle of wine to breathe, stat. Some of my favorite host gifts? An engraved bottle opener (thanks, Enrique!), seed starts for a countertop herb garden, artisan chocolate, homemade jam, notecards or a vintage cookbook. I always appreciate it when guests include a short personal note with the gift, or a favorite cocktail recipe jotted down to accompany a bottle of booze.
Dear Ms. Darby,
It was recently my turn to host our monthly book group. Ten people replied "yes" to the Facebook group invite, but only three people showed up. I put a lot of time and expense into cleaning up, preparing lots of food and buying wine. I'm pissed off, but also kind of paranoid. Does everyone hate me?
—Really Sad Very Perplexed
You're not alone, my flummoxed friend. It's an unfortunately flaky trend that seems to be getting worse every year, if complaints on my own Facebook and Twitter feeds are any indication. It may seem at first that last-minute ditching is a relatively minor mannerly infraction. But as we see in your case, the downside is bruised feelings and leftover cheese platter sadness for days.
Like many instances of consciously using our good manners, following through on a "yes" reply is essentially an application of empathy. That "do unto others" shtick is no bullshit. To be fair, it's probably not about you personally, RSVP, and more about your book group's demographics. If many of you have young kiddos, there's a good chance someone's going to be sick or child care falls through. Although shooting a quick "Sorry! Something came up!" text seems like a nicer option than totally ghosting the host, this casual out is no less hurtful when it's amplified by many. Maybe the members of your book group need a not-so-gentle reminder that all of you are all in the same hosting boat, so to speak. This seems like a good time to re-evaluate your responsibilities to each other and the group to build up, rather than undermine, your friendships. Perhaps monthly meetings are just too much commitment, and an every-other-month schedule might have higher attendance? Maybe y'all decide that meeting at a coffee shop or for cocktails could take more pressure off individual hosts' time and pocketbooks? There's no easy answer, RSVP. On the bright side, you're stocked up on wine and got the vacuuming done, which is more than I can say for my own casa right now.