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Fantasy Dinner Party Challenge July 30, 2010

Posted by nrhatch in Books & Movies, Food & Drink, Humor, People.

A few days ago, I posted A Sunset Dinner Cruise and encouraged others to plan their own Fantasy Dinner Party from setting to menu to guests.

If you plan to host an elaborate State Dinner as part of your Fantasy, here are a few fascinating (and somewhat disturbing) tips from a PBS Special on the Queen’s visit to America in 2007.

Place settings should be aligned with the precision of a surgeon performing open heart surgery on an infant.

Buckingham Palace and the White House both employ people whose primary function is to measure the placement of each serving vessel and utensil ~ not by eyeballing them, but with a ruler.

This acute attention to detail reminded me of an attorney who would check the conference room before each deposition to make sure that the bottom of the mini-blinds were equi-distant from the sill, and that each slat was perfectly perpendicular.

The same attorney would examine each piece of out-going mail to ensure  that his secretary had typed the address not just correctly . . . but in perfect horizontal alignment to the bottom edge of the envelope itself.  An address typed slightly askew had to be retyped.

He fervently believed that clients would fire otherwise competent attorneys if they sent brilliant and astute briefs in envelopes with crooked address labels.  Perhaps he misunderstood the reference to “crooked lawyers” in    jokes casting well-earned aspersions on the practice of law?

Consider the hobbies, occupations, and interests of guests when selecting  which china service to use.

Before the State Dinner, Laura Bush lovingly explained that she had selected the Rose China because she thought that Her Majesty would appreciate the flowers embossed on the rim.

Perhaps I’m in the minority, but other than a cursory look at my utensils (to ensure that they are clean), I’m not obsessed with the design on the china, the color of the napkins, or the number of forks I’ve been provided.

Instead, I’m focused on who is seated immediately to the right and left of me (“please let them have the table manners of a toddler”), the quality of the food, and the general nature of the conversation.

I promise, should you invite me to your home, I will not subtract stars from your rating due to your choice of dinnerware unless . . . I see dried egg yolk  smeared on its rim.

As you obsess over the choice and placement of table settings for your next dinner party, do not overlook the chairs.

Before the guests enter your main dining room, please double-check the chair alignment and spacing so as not to turn your guests off before the meal is even served.

All backs should be perpendicular to the table edge, without any visible leaning to the left or right (which could be construed, by some astute guests, such as the Mentalist, as a sub-conscious indicator of your political beliefs).

Time everything in advance (to the precise minute) so that your party has the proper flow and ease.

Before the State Dinner, President and Laura Bush met with The Timer (an individual whose job it is to time every step, wave, and handshake down to the closest fraction of a second):

At 11:50, be dressed and ready
At 11:52, we’ll shoot your photo in the foyer
At 11:54, take 2 steps forward, then 2 steps back
At 11:56, dosie-do your partner
At 11:57, bow to the corner
At 11:58, proceed forward to the Red Carpet

What happens if the President needs to make an unexpected last minute visit to the Little Boys Room:

Timer taps foot: “Why didn’t you take care of that upstairs?!”

President looks chagrined, like a boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

Timer taps watch: “Well, alright, but make it snappy.  Proceed directly to the urinal.  Do not stop to admire your reflection in the mirror.  Spend no more than 15 seconds to unzip, drip, shake, and zip.  Remember to wash your hands.  Use soap.”

Odd isn’t it, thinking of a President, or Monarch, actually having the same bodily functions and needs as the rest of us.

Take the path of least resistance by keeping comments neutral and non-confrontational.

As Her Majesty interacted with American commoners, she said little of a substantive nature ~ nothing that would draw attention to the fact that she has a mind, and knows how to use it.

Instead, she responded with hesitant, non-assertive, meek, mild murmurs designed to put each recipient of her benevolence at ease:

* When shown a portrait of a previous occupant of the White House, she responded, “Fascinating.”

* As Laura pointed out the candelabra on the mantle, a gift from the Queen years earlier, Elizabeth nodded, adding a polite, “I wondered.”

* At the Kentucky Derby, when shown the Trophy, she showed sincere interest with a question, “Lovely.  Is it always the same size then?”

Her seasoned responses are worth keeping in mind if you’ve ever been tempted to respond to an uttered inanity by pointing out that the speaker’s  IQ must rival that of, say, a broom.

Next time you find yourself in that type of sticky wicket, instead of saying:  “I don’t care why you elected to serve crème brûlée rather than vanilla pudding.  I like vanilla pudding.  And, if you weren’t out to impress everyone with your  nouveau sophistication and refinement, you’d have served vanilla pudding,”  merely nod and say, “I wondered.”

It’s as easy as using “STOP, DROP, ROLL” to extinguish blazing clothing . . . once you get the hang of it.

Just keep these 3 points in mind:

STOP:  Never disclose your actual thoughts on the matter at hand.

LOOK INTERESTED: Allow others to shine without showing how smart, cultured, and well-read you’ve become in your short time on the planet.

LISTEN:  Pay attention to ridiculous comments and inane  conversations  swirling around you.  When no one is looking, jot down tidbits to share.

All most people want from a conversation is an audience for their ideas, and the occasional acknowledgment that those thoughts have been heard.

So, just smile and nod, boys.  Smile and nod.

No rules.  Just write!

Further suggested reading (thanks, Liz!):

If you ever want a fun, fictionalized account of life in the White House, may I vehemently recommend “The President’s Daughter” and “White House Autumn” by Ellen Emerson White?   There are two others in the series as well, and they are absolutely brilliant and compelling reads.


1. Loreen Lee - July 30, 2010

Well if something is good humor, I have learned, been taught, there is also a serious side, and vice versa. So, isn’t this the way to ‘perform’ on a lot of social occasions, outside even the White House and the Palace.
After all, it’s just ‘good manners’. If you’re thinking of that little girl in the plane, she is a nice contrast in this context. Maybe, after all, she doesn’t want to be a nuclear physicist but rather a satirical comic!

nrhatch - July 30, 2010

I’d rather chat with the little girl on the plane then someone who puts “form” over “function” to this extreme.

Who cares if the plates and chairs are askew, was the party fun???

2. Agatha82 - July 30, 2010

You know, I don’t even know what to do if I go to a restaurant where there’s too many forks and spoons of different sizes at either side of my plate. Life is too bloody short to obssess over such silly things, I think life would be much more fun (though very messy) if we were able to eat the way toddlers do, eating the food with their hands, throwing it around laughing whilst we use our own shirt as a napkin…ha ha ha

nrhatch - July 30, 2010

Agreed. Life is too short to obsess over trivialities. Dining with toddlers is FUN . . . plus kids say the darndest things. : )

Paulatc - July 31, 2010

Agatha82: You need to rent or pull out your copy of “Pretty Woman,” and watch it again. The tutoring given to Julia Roberts’ character by the Hotel manager (Hector Elizondo) is a classic, and also quite correct! You might have to replay that scene a few times, but you’ll get the gist of which fork/spoon/glass to use! Just try and keep your escargot in the tongs: you might not have as agile a server at the restaurant as she did! Remember – they are “slippery little suckers!”

nrhatch - July 31, 2010

Ha! Paula, you crack me up. : )

I had completely forgotten that scene with the slippery escargot.


3. nancycurteman - July 30, 2010

Would boxes of take-out Chinese food be inappropriate? Could I bring up the topic that all religions are divisive? What’s wrong with folding chairs?

nrhatch - July 30, 2010

Nancy ~

If you serve Chinese Take Out, on folding chairs, with religion as the centerpoint for conversation . . . COUNT ME IN!!! : )

That sounds like a party worth attending.

Pass me the chopsticks, please.

4. cindy - July 31, 2010

I had such a good laugh reading this, thanks.
*Departs with a regal wave*

nrhatch - July 31, 2010

Yay! When Bill and I watched this show, we had our mouths hanging open at how our tax dollars are being spent to “wine and dine” visiting dignitaries.

I certainly don’t feel like George and Laura should have entertained The Queen with pizza on paper plates and beer out of the bottle, but it all seemed so Ego-centrically Askew.

I practice the regal wave regularly. It makes me feel SPECIAL. : )

5. Paulatc - July 31, 2010

I saw this show too, and felt about the same way. It is hard to understand why such things are so important to anybody! Seems to me like the company makes the meal and/or gathering. After all, the function is created for the guests, not the other way around!

Anyway, the reason so many tax dollars are spent to insure that everything is done exactly so, is because of the NEVERENDING “news” stories and negative publicity that would be heard from both sides of the pond should any breech of etiquette occur! Remember when Michelle Obama put her arms around QEII’s waist? Good grief! You would have thought it was the end of the world…there are still some stories circulating about that so-called “faux pas!” The fact the QEII reciprocated the gesture in a very relaxed way, to me shows that MO has a very good sense and understanding of QEII’s vibes!

Also, I remember reading long ago from either Emily Post or Amy Vanderbilt, or perhaps another of the arbiters of good etiquette, that the purpose of etiquette is to make your guest/s COMFORTABLE, not to club them over the head with their deficiencies in “proper deportment!” If your guests are not comfortable, then the party is NOT a success, no matter how well-placed the china and silverware.

nrhatch - July 31, 2010

Excellent points, Paula.

These things are important to some people because they feel acting this way sets them “apart” from the masses. It makes them feel more important when they look in the mirror. : )

6. Happy Halloween! | Spirit Lights The Way - October 31, 2013

[…] At least it was a potluck supper . . . and not a sit down dinner for the Queen. […]

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