A recent conversation with my sister about the disappointments of having uncouth persons at your table made me think again about how easily a dinner party can go sour. Fortunately, we have had many good guests of late, the kind of people who go above and beyond the call of duty and write us thank-you notes afterwards and help with the dishes. I can't complain about these guests.
However, given that many young people of my generation have never thrown or attended a dinner party held by one of their peers, I have a few suggestions on how to be a good guest. It's not hard, really, to be a good guest; a few small gestures go a long way towards securing a second invitation for yourself at any board.
My new rules for dinner party guests (or, what I'd like to see at my table the next time around):
1. APPRECIATION. There's nothing like being told that your food is delicious, especially after you've spent the last few hours preparing it, and may have been planning the menu for days. Any small acknowledgment of the effort that we've put into feeding you will be much appreciated, in turn, and do wonders for the chefs' mood.
2. CONVERSATION. In my book, a conversation is reciprocal by definition. That means, sometimes I ask you questions, sometimes you ask me questions; I let you talk, you let me talk. We look around to see who has not spoken in a while, and devise some way to bring that person into the chatter. Dinner at our house is not a therapy session or lecture hall; please don't hog your time.
3. GRACIOUSNESS. This is similar to appreciation. Arrive on time or oh-so-slightly tardy (we plan our cooking around when we think you'll be here); there's no need to bring a gift, but they are always welcome as a token of goodwill; we plan on doing our own dishes ourselves, but if you're a good dishwasher, we don't mind the extra help. Be polite; be interested; be yourself.
To my frequent dinner companions: rest assured, if we have invited you back for another round, you're already doing all of the above, and we hope to see more of you. You are the best of guests; you are the reason we rush around town after work buying groceries and tracking down recipes; your conversation is what feeds our minds; you make tonight the best of times.