The Cocktail Party
painted by John Koch, 1956
The New York Historical Society
Two of the commenters on my "Popular Party Guests" posting asked me to share what I believe a host should reasonably expect in return from a guest who has been the beneficiary (sometimes more than once) of a host’s entertainment. They said, and I paraphrase here, "I have had numerous parties over the years where I have repeatedly invited certain guests who have never invited me to one of their parties, much less had me over for a drink. Is it reasonable for me to expect that such a guest should return my hospitality in some form?" This is an excellent subject for discussion, I think, and something that Boy and I have bandied about from time to time, both between ourselves and with our most intimate party-giving friends. It’s useful to compare notes on these matters.
But before I launch into what I believe are Reggie’s Rules for Social Reciprocity, I think it might be helpful for me first to share what motivates me, as a host, to throw parties and entertain guests. In other words, Why Reggie Throws A Party:
- I’m a “party person” – I like attending parties and I have a good time at them;
- I love opening up my house and sharing it with people I like;
- I enjoy throwing a party – the organization, the planning, and the execution of it – I have fun doing it;
- I like puttin’ on the dawg – bringing out the silver, china, crystal, and linens, and decorating the house;
- I take pleasure in giving my friends a good time, feeding them well, providing them with tasty drinks, and making them feel appreciated; in other words, entertaining them;
- I am happy seeing my friends enjoying themselves, and being the catalyst for it;
- I have the space, stuff, and means to be able to do it, and I enjoy using it and sharing it;
- I’m good at it, it comes easily to me; and
- It increases the likelihood of my being invited to my guests’ parties in the future.
Remember the old sayings “Give a little, get a little” and “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine”? Well, they apply to entertaining, too.
Don’t get me wrong: a guest is under absolutely no obligation, moral or otherwise, to reciprocate a host’s hospitality if they don’t choose to, particularly if they decide they don’t care for their host all that much. But, if the guest likes the person who has entertained them, and they wish to maintain a social relationship with them over time, including being asked back to future parties, then the guest must reciprocate the hospitality. The form of such hospitality is incidental; the obligation is not.
So, to answer my commenters' question: Yes, a host should reasonably expect a well-mannered guest to reciprocate their hospitality at some point, assuming that both host and guest wish to maintain an ongoing social relationship. Failure to issue a reciprocal invitation, particularly when the guest has been the recipient of the host's hospitality more than once, is a lapse of manners on the part of the guest. At that point it is then up to the host to decide whether he wishes to maintain the social relationship with said guest by issuing further invitations, out of the goodness of his heart, or to drop them and concentrate his hospitality on other, in some cases more deserving, guests.
But well before a guest is under any obligation to reciprocate their host's hopitality they must first have acknowledged and thanked the host for the hospitality they have enjoyed. This appears as Rule 14 in "Reggie's Rules for Popular Party Guests" and is also the first rule of "Reggie's Rules for Social Reciprocity."
Rule 1: Within 48 hours of attending a party, guests must contact their hosts and thank them.
Either be telephone, email, or mailed note. Failure to acknowledge the hospitality with a simple post-party "thank you" can be interpreted, rightly or wrongly, as meaning the guest either didn't care for the entertainment or couldn't be bothered to acknowledge his host's generosity. It is a disincentive for the host to issue a return invitation to such guest when there are other, more gracious guests who charmingly express their appreciation.
Rule 2: If guests wish to maintain a social relationship with those that have entertained them, then they must reciprocate the hospitality in some form, to the extent that their means and circumstances allow it.
Failure to do so sends a signal to the host, whether intended or not, that the guest does not care to promote an onging social relationship with the host. It also, and quite reasonably, leads many a host to conclude that there are others who are more worthy of their future hospitality.
These two rules of social recoprocity are the foundation for building and sustaining a social relationship amongst civilized, social people. Social relationships are, by definition, two-way streets, as are all true relationships. Without reciprocity of some kind, social (and other) relationships eventually wither and die. What once had the opportunity to blossom into a sustained social relationship instead finds itself lumbering down a one-way street leading to a lonely nowhere.
Of course there are exceptions to these rules, as there are for any. But they are exceptions, and I shall discuss them in the second part of my examination of this subject, to follow shortly. I will also share my views about what I believe constitutes appropriate and suitably enjoyable reciprocal entertainment, which I think may surprise one or more of my readers.
Next week: Part II: Myth vs. Reality
What a beautiful picture of:ReplyDelete
The Cocktail Party
painted by John Koch, 1956
The New York Historical Society
I often wonder if part of the issue is a lack of creativity on the part of those who don't reciprocate. Just because one doesn't have the home, silver, china or financial means for a large catered party doesn't mean there aren't perfectly wonderful ways to reciprocate.ReplyDelete
Couldn't agree more except to add that there are all sorts of ways of "reciprocity". Nothing is said about having to reciprocate "IN KIND" There are those who, unlike us, hate to entertain, no matter how informally. To those I say, no problem, we know who you are, how about a baseball game and a hot dog, or order chinese and invite us to watch the Oscars, send flowers, maybe a note? ANYTHING, no matter how boring, is better than nothing. We can always say no and if we really like you, invite you again!ReplyDelete
Columnist: Thank you, and indeed!ReplyDelete
DocP and Lindaraxa: You are on to something...please stay tuned for Part II in which I discuss what constitutes reciprocity, among other things...
Great post Reggie! I agree with everything in this post! With regards to reciprocity, I have found that some of my guests don't reciprocate because they feel so inferior when it comes to entertaining. I agree with lindaraxa that any reciprocity is great! We had an awesome cocktail party a while back and one couple invited us over for dinner at their place. It was very informal and casual (paper plates and stools for seats), but it was great! They apologized over and over that it wasn't like we do, but having someone cook a meal for me and clean up afterward is a wonderful gesture (considering, of course, that the meal doesn't make me ill!).ReplyDelete
I remember reading that Julia Child had the same lament, particularly seldom being invited to another's home for lunch. When asked what she thought a good lunch might be, she replied, "A chicken sandwich and a glass of scotch." Simple enough. I think reciprocity doesn't mean quid pro quo, except that it must equal the same spirit of the heart.ReplyDelete
How lucky your guests are to be invited to one of your parties. Inviting someone to your home is like a gift--of your time, your cooking (or catering) abilities--and to say thank you in any form is proper. Some time ago I was visiting an ill relative and with no place to stay and a friend who lived nearby invited me to stay with her family. She loves to cook and planned the weeks menu. I got along very well with her and her family. As a thank you from person of modest means at the time I found out where she shops and got her a gift card--which she loved.ReplyDelete
I know your post is about entertaining -- I hope you won't consider this completely off topic. I found your blog some time ago while reading Mrs. Blanding and since been a daily visitor.
Reggie, I believe you came home from the hospital ready for a party and haven't changed since. Only someone who loves a good party could have attended as many deb parties as you did in your day. Of course, you are an adorable guest and the best dancer I ever met.ReplyDelete
I agree on the reciprocity. But that doesn't mean you have to throw a party or a dinner at your house. It just means you have to somehow indicate that you want to be friends with me. Invite me to lunch. Or to the theater. I don't care.ReplyDelete
Just let me know that you are not just putting up with me because I am very insecure and want to know that you are not just coming to my parties for the food. (Because I am a fabulous cook and it could happen.)
Butler, HBD, and GD: You all keyed in on an essential component of reciprocity, and which I shall be discussing in my subsequent essay -- the form is incidental, the obligation is not.ReplyDelete
Barbara: Thank you for your comment, it is indeed in the spirit of this post. I am happy you wrote it.
Sister: You are the dearest of them all, thank you.
I so love to check in with you, your writing is such great entertainment (no point intended..) and the topics, well, they are right on the money!!!!ReplyDelete
I am in the position of "owing" a lot of different people a night out, and I can't wait to open the doors! For two years there have been renovations to be done, no extra $ and time, but SOON, SOON there will be a party!
There are other ways to reciprocate rather than have a party and I am sure you account for those. I don't think people are not reciprocating intentionally, I just think that there are those who are ignorant about social etiquette. They might also feel you have the talent, time, home and inclination to entertain and they do not possess any of those, so they 'let' you do it. You've known those folks - the ones that are soooooooooooo busy, just haven't had time! Like you do...right.ReplyDelete
Love your column, lovely, a throw back to the way it used to be and should be.
I am the anonymous poster who first raised this issue. Thank you so much for addressing it on your wonderful blog. I look forward to reading your opinions as well as the opinions of your ever so insightful readers.
Since I posted my query on your blog, I have thought long and hard as to why my guests' lack of reciprocity bothers me so. It's simple -- my feelings are hurt. I truly enjoy spending time with friends and don't mind the amount of time involved in making that happen. I just wish that I was on the receiving end of an invitation once in a while.
This comment has been removed by the author.ReplyDelete
Dear Anon 10:10: Thank you for checking in, and I am pleased that you have done so. Also, thank you for giving me the inspiration for this post. I regret that your feelings have been hurt by your thoughtless friends. For they are, I am afraid, exactly that: thoughtless. In the cold light of day, perhaps it is best to consider their actions as louder than words, as well as reconsider the benefits that such a one-sided "friendship" provides.ReplyDelete
i will have to continue reading.ReplyDelete
this all sounds very serious.
Let go of your insecurities and resentments. Celebrate your good fortune without obligation. Give without expectation. Contractual relationships are never fulfilling. You are very lucky - enjoy it without anger.ReplyDelete
Reggie- Sadly, I find that very few people posses the energy, creativity and joie de vivre to entertain at home. I am a New York City dweller, and have many dear friends to whose apartments I have never been. They typically entertain in restaurants, and I am nver offended- unless, of course, I hear that they have finally had people over, and haven't included me. And, by the way, for those of you who hesitate "doing it", entertaining is very much like sex- you may approach it the first time with some trepidation, but the more you do it, the better you get at it and the more you enjoy it. And nothing gurantees a better party than a host who is having a good time- it's contagious.ReplyDelete
Anon 2:20: I am afraid you missed my point here. I shall endeavor to make myself clearer in my next posting on this subject.ReplyDelete
Anon 10:03: Thank you for your comment, I agree with you across the board. Entertaining need not take place in one's dwelling. I shall expand upon that thought in the second part of this posting, which I hope will appear shortly, once I've posted several other essays sitting in the queue ahead of it (got a bit waylaid by the laptop gremlins last week...)ReplyDelete
I love reading your the rules Reggie. They are like a gentle scolding from a favorite elder.ReplyDelete