As I get ready to attend a wedding that promises to be quite an event, I am musing on the what my responsibility is as a guest. Whether I’m attending a Superbowl party, gala fundraiser, intimate dinner party, or wedding, there is more required of me than than showing up on time.
I take comfort in advise Judith Martin, a.k.a. Miss Manners, gave many years ago to someone who wrote in about her excruciating shyness. Hosts cannot be everywhere at once, and they cannot ease all the social awkwardness that may occur. Guests are obligated to help their hosts ensure that everyone has an enjoyable time.
Think of it as distributed hosting. Are you a guest who doesn’t feel any responsibility to help your hosts in this way? Or are you shy, perhaps? I’m shy, and it’s helpful to consider that there is undoubtedly someone else who feels as awkward or more so than I do. Can I perhaps consider what I’d like someone to do for me in this situation and do it for them?
So, here are a few signs you suck as a guest even though you might have a splendid time.
- You only talk to people you already know. Extra points for making a closed circle that excludes people.
- You stare at strangers who approach with an expression that says “What do you want?” (Party conversations are NOT like conversations you have with a friend in a restaurant.)
- You and your friends talk about things that only you understand in front of strangers without explaining anything. (Don’t talk about that great night 10 years ago you and your frat brothers all got thrown in the drunk tank.)
- You don’t ask people questions that draw people out on their interests (see below).
- You sit in one place all evening. (Extra points for looking sullen.)
Since I’m shy, I’m inclined to get tongue-tied. So it’s helpful think ahead of time about ice-breakers. Since this evening’s event is a wedding, there are a few natural questions:
- How do you know Pat and Terry?
- The ceremony was lovely, wasn’t it? I wonder how they had the energy to plan this and buy a house and move at the same time!
- Did you travel from out-of-town?
If the answer is yes, whoopee! There’s so many easy ways to continue the conversation.
- How was the flight?
- How long are you staying?
- Have you seen any any of the sights around town?
- Have you been here before?
There are lots of general purpose conversational tidbits. I used to think that small talk was a waste of time, but I’ve come to believe it’s not at all. It is the way in which strangers can learn what, if anything, they have in common without undue strain or damage. (I.e. stay away from religion and politics.)
- Do you like live music? Do you go to concerts?
- Do you like reading fiction or non-fiction best?
- Are you an outdoor person?
Why should you bother to break out of your comfort zone, even if you’re a Microsoftie developer who cannot stop thinking about that that whizbang GDI+ code you’re working on, and you could talk shop with your collegues?
- You’ll help your hosts if you help other guests who may not have the easy entree have a good time
- You might just be surprised by the person you reach out to. They might be a love interest, or have some arcane knowledge of building boats, and you have always had a secret desire to build a boat.
- Our daily lives benefit by giving our subconscious a chance to work on problems or ideas.
So, a party is a chance to do things a little differently. Shake things up and step out of your comfort zone. What’s the worst that could happen?