‘Be my guest!’ we say, airily.

‘You must come over and dine,’ we trill – sometimes with patent insincerity – as we hurry to get the other off the phone, or edge towards our escape point in the crowded road’s inadvertent meeting place.

Isn’t it sad that we so often use the promise of guest status to fob someone else off; that there is, within human communication, this accepted and understood level of an invitation being mere empty words.

What does this say about our relationships – and, in a more global sense, our relationship with the concept of the guest?

We tend to be fiercely territorial – and controlling. We want the social status of having many friends, a full dining calendar, of being popular and courted by those deemed to matter in our particular corner of this vast planet.

Yet we are often ambivalent at best, downright hostile (in a passive-aggressive way) at worst when society’s push actually comes to specific occasion shove. The number of times I have heard friends (and, in years gone by, my parents) agonising over the guest list, lamenting some choices, admitting, to me, that they don’t actively like Guest A (and only invited him or her to repay the ever-full bank of social debt) and, all in all, they’d rather be indulging in mutual leg-waxing in the kitchen than gushing and heeing and hawing all in the name of some spurious God of Social Success.

A guest, to me, is a person of inestimable value: Someone you love enough to want to spend time with; someone you esteem greatly and are happy to share your home, food, drink and companionship with; someone whose presence enhances your life – and the invitation of whom makes you smile warmly and laugh in delight.

Of course there will be nerves attendant upon such an event. We are programmed to entertain competitively more often than not – exemplified in the hilarious, but ghastly, series ‘Come Dine with Me!’ – and dinner parties, or other soirees, tend to be fraught with unspoken rules and the neurotic need not just to keep up with the apocryphal Joneses, but also their aristocratic neighbours, the Cholmondeley-Fortesque-Smythes (whose Family Tree goes right back to the Norman Invasion, don’t you know?).

Somehow, the simple pleasure a guest brings can, all too often, become lost in this pointless welter of table setting (Are the forks in the right position? How many wine glasses should we have?); this lunatic concern about what WE look like; these invidious choices based upon the socio-economic status of those one has invited – and a gallimaufry of other concerns which have bugger-all to do with the delight of receiving friends and the proper intention of any social occasion – to have a bloody good time!

Thing is, being a guest is a temporary state of affairs. We are all guests upon this planet. We arrive, for a metaphorical evening’s worth, and then depart for other regions, other incarnations. We do not, in the grand scheme of things, stay very long. But, during our guest visit, this time round, we try and cram as much as we can of the world’s bounty (both light and dark) before it is time for us to say our grateful farewells.

Of course it is important to prepare mindfully for one’s guests – but, if the preparations, the minutiae of entertaining, take over from the most important part (interacting with those one has invited) then, I would suggest, one has got the balance the wrong way around.

The best social gift one can convey is genuine enthusiasm for one’s guests – so that they feel wanted, loved, appreciated and 100% welcome!

Anything else is just social politics!

Excellent metaphor for life!



10 thoughts on “Invitation

  1. Julie

    My survival tips to middle-class English dinner parties: It’s simple really… all you have to do is smile, smile smile and smile some more.
    So, here you are, beaming your loveliest smile as you arrive at your host’s house. Excellent. Then what?
    Start the conversation by stating the obvious: how bad or good the weather has been recently or is now. Very very gently get a bit more personal by asking your host how his/ her cat did at the vet’s. Widen the scope of interest by throwing in a compliment about the host’s garden: ‘I love your fushias!” or ‘ this clematis is so pretty!’. Squeeze in a safe joke. Or two. Show your liberal credentials by adding an anti-racist or anti-sexist statement. Keep on smiling. If a guest pours scorn on the ‘elite’ or the ‘chavs’ or any politician or celebrity in the media, it’s ok to laugh.
    Never raise the topics of money ( unless it concerns house prices) , sex ( unless it’s about some mad Frenchies or crazy Italians) or personal difficulties such as depression, illness, unemployment, divorce, loneliness etc… (unless you have a relevant Oscar Wilde quote up your sleeve which can illustrate how cool you are.)
    If there is a deadlock in the conversation, just ask: ‘did you hear about Brian in the Archers?’. Someone will have and the conversation can start again. Smiles all around. Well done.
    Finally, leave with audible regrets But note how relieved your host is to see you go. It’s time to display your most heartfelt smiles. Go for it!

    Phew! It’s over.
    The taste remains with you for a long time though: HYPOCRISY. A strong and pungent flavour…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lizzy

    Well, when I say it, I mean it. I wouldn’t take the risk of inviting someone I didn’t want. But I am guilty of trying too hard and getting the balance wrong (must try harder!).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Know what you mean, Lizzy. I am quite sure that, amongst the Hyacinth Buckets of our world, there are a plethora of genuine, well-meaning organisers of social events, and that hosting guests is, for most people I know and care about, a warm and fabulous initiative. xxx


  3. This hits home for me. I have rarely been an entertainer (i.e. host of houseguests), but have been a guest at several places. And I tend to flout convention as a guest in a couple of ways due to my very low maintenance personality:

    * I rarely bring gifts.
    * The setup of the table? Couldn’t care less! Cleanliness of the place? Doesn’t matter to me!
    * I haven’t successfully reciprocated the hospitality (this is more due to locational circumstance than my personality) .
    * Special accommodations? Frequently unnecessary.

    Liked by 1 person

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