‘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!