Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Winning formula

Zadie Smith, in an interview with John Self, asks an interesting question about what we expect when someone invites us round. "Once you're invited, what kind of hospitality is ideal?"

I guess we all have our own ideas about what makes for an enjoyable evening and what doesn't. I've been to a few agonisingly tedious get-togethers in my time but also plenty of witty, exhilarating ones I had to drag myself away from. So what's the difference, I wonder? Here's a few suggestions for the ideal formula:

1) A relaxed, informal atmosphere. As opposed to that uncomfortable feeling that the place has been specially cleaned and tidied, there'll be a big frost if you accidentally spill wine on the priceless Persian rug, and too many subjects are taboo in case they embarrass or offend the assembled company.

2) Original ideas and witty comments. As opposed to hours and hours of banal, predictable, deadpan conversation about property prices, childcare, the weather, holiday cottages and the price of heating oil.

3) Disarming personal confessions. There's nothing so riveting and touching as someone unexpectedly revealing that they get awful panic attacks, or they're terrified of the dark, or they used to go shoplifting, or they talk to themselves.

4) The other guests being genuinely intrigued by my own life and interests. As opposed to asking me a few polite, indifferent questions and then continuing to hold forth about themselves. Or ignoring me completely while finding someone else utterly fascinating.

5) Following from 4, an absence of those self-absorbed individuals who find their own lives totally mesmerising and could talk about themselves till dawn the next morning unless you forcefully shut them up or show them the door. If allowed a free run, they kill the conversation stone dead.

6) Positive, optimistic people who enjoy their lives. As opposed to the permanently-depressed moaners and whingers who never stop complaining about their bad luck, their overwhelming problems and burdens, and how everyone else is sabotaging them and undermining them.

It's not often that these things come together and you go home feeling quite deliriously entertained and inspired. But it does happen sometimes. And when it does, it's worth all the dreary, interminable occasions that preceded it.

22 comments:

Bijoux said...

How about: Don't bring up past arguments you've had with your significant other or criticize SO whether SO is there or not.

It just makes everyone else extremely uncomfortable.

Scarlet Blue said...

Hello Nick, do you come here often? What is the price of heating oil in your part of the world?
*wanders off to find the vodka fountain and tea time spread featuring nibbles from Iceland*
Sx

Wisewebwoman said...

I'm heading out the door shortly to one such event, an annual Ladies' BBQ, so I am now armed and dangerous.
XO
WWW

Grannymar said...

I find that the impromptu gatherings are the most enjoyable, they happen without expectations.

Nick said...

Bijoux: That's a good one. Nothing like sniping at your SO for making everyone else look away in embarrassment or start scrutinising the cutlery.

Scarlet: Ah, heating oil, did you know it's gone up by 13% in the last month? I mean, 13%, it's unbelievable. Mind you, if you shop around....

www: Be afraid, be very afraid. Wise Web Woman is going to say exactly what she thinks and fuck the social niceties, lol....

Grannymar: You're right, impromptu gatherings are often the best, people just freewheel in an uninhibited fashion.

kylie said...

i'm usually delighted just to be invited

Leah said...

Swear to God, sometimes I feel like I will DIE on the spot when someone brings up real estate at a party...or worse yet, home renovations...

Can I admit something though? I sort of enjoy the company of pessimists at a social gathering on occasion, especially when they are funny!

Nick said...

Kylie: Oh that's very generous of you! What, even if you're bored to death with the inane comments you're having to listen to?

Leah: I know, there was a period in London when people talked about property prices ALL the time. Do you know, our house is worth another £10,000 every day blah blah. For fuck's sake....

Ah if pessimists are also funny, that's the redeeming feature. I always enjoy a bit of acerbic wit.

Cheerful Monk said...

I don't like parties. I'm a one-to-one person.

Nick said...

Monk: I prefer one-to-one too, but parties can be brilliant if the company is right. Though that's a big if.

Secret Agent Woman said...

I usually enjoy parties, but I don't like it when anyone holds forth about ANYTHING. When I get the sense that someone is just enjoying hearing him or herself talk, I completely (and noticeably, I'm afraid) zone out.

Nick said...

Agent: Oh do I know what you mean. I can recall several occasions when one particular person just droned on and on and on, and for some reason no one had the nerve to shut them up. I also tend to visibly zone out.

Rummuser said...

No all those ingredients don't come together every time, but when they do, it becomes memorable. I have not been going to any parties for some time now, but I should be soon starting. I am actually hesitating as I have become used to my comfort zone and think that I should start by going to my club to start with. There I can wander off to more amenable groups if I get uncomfortable.

Nick said...

Ramana: Now you have the chance, you should go to as many parties as possible. Some will be dire but I'm sure others will do you a power of good.

blackwatertown said...

You left out alcohol.
That usually helps. Until it doesn't.

Nick said...

Paul: Alcohol does help for a while. The halfwit who's talking to you seems to be spouting pearls of wisdom. But then the alcohol wears off and you realise you've wasted the last 30 minutes on utter gibberish.

blackwatertown said...

Ah - and then it helps you nod off too.
Or at least provide an alibi.
No, I wasn't dropping off to sleep from overwhelming boredom. It's the booze that's to blame.

Nick said...

Paul: That's true, alcohol is an excellent excuse for having tuned out the other person's inanities for the last 10 minutes.

Liz said...

You don't ask for much then?!

I'm always amazed that bores are unable to see the glaze forming in one's eyes.

Nick said...

Liz: I admit it, I'm very demanding about who I choose to hang out with. And yes, funny how some people don't even notice you're busy scrutinising the lampshades because they're actually more interesting than some self-absorbed monologue.

speccy said...

I'm sorry Nick, you can't come round. I have no Persian carpet!

Nick said...

Speccy: Oh good lord, you're definitely from the wrong side of the tracks. No invitations for you.