Monday, December 14, 2009

The Formal Party Ingredient

Oliver and Rachel DeMille offer as one ingredient to raising and educating a future leader that they should either go to or watch their parents go to a black-tie event at least once a year. I don’t know about you, but my sphere of influence does not exactly include the black-tie event crowd.

This last weekend, however, I did have an opportunity to attend a formal holiday party for my husband’s work. We arrived at his impressive home and were greeted warmly by the host. This was a party for the management departments of two of his energy consulting businesses and staff from an emerging third business, so there were numerous people, none of which I knew and less than a third my husband knew. The crowd was as diverse as one can imagine, a young couple in dreadlocks and kakhis with information about homebirths, a Russian scientist complete with thick round silver glasses and bowtie with a charming wife from Greece and stories from around the globe, a Puerto Rican University professor who teaches educational method and wrote a Spanish guide with her husband and daughter, a smiling mingler with a vague job description, but one got the impression had something to do with making everyone feel happy, a woman with nose rings and rings various other places, whose children had only ever attended Waldorf schools, those dressed in suits and formal gowns and those dressed in collared shirts, or blouses.

As we stepped into the large entry hall, several pieces of fine art could be seen. A large print of an Egyptian god in silver, stood next to a Grecian statue. In the dining room hung a still life of a fruit bowl on one wall with abstract and surreal paintings on the other. Family portraits hung in another room, along with a picture of the host with President Bush.

Quickly, the relevance of training our children in more formal manners was brought to my mind as I questioned the proper responses when introduced to a couple, or when I was not introduced and a conversation between my husband and a coworker immediately began, while his wife stood next to him and I stood with my husband. In my real estate training I picked up the need for a firm handshake, and yet so many people had those dead-fish ones, hmm. And what is to be done with the glass when one is finished drinking? What about the shrimp tail when one has just eaten a shrimp and is engaged in conversation? Is it appropriate for the wife of one couple to sit next to the husband of the other couple when both couples are seated on the same couch? This situation arose twice. When we sat near a younger couple they didn’t flinch, but there was an obvious awkwardness when this arrangement came up with an older more formal couple. The thought came to me that I could have used a few more formal parties as a child, but I was certainly glad for the formal parties I had attended at my Great Grandmother’s on Christmas Eves growing up.

As we ventured into one room and watched the string quartet play, I was at least gratified that I knew almost every classical piece (thanks to “Beethoven’s Wig”) and could name each of the instruments.

One thing I did notice, though, is that for all of Hollywood’s depictions of parties with women in revealing clothing, the one lady that wore an extremely revealing top was the one that was the hardest to talk to and not just for me. Our husbands had much in common and spoke at length, and though, I stood next to her I could not bring myself to look at her, much less ask her about herself. Perhaps, this is a lack of social polish on my part, and yet, I noticed that no one else seemed to talk to her either and many tried to avoid looking in her direction.

As the evening progressed I recognized the pattern straight out of the entertainment section in “The Joy of Cooking.” Cocktails and drinks, followed by hors’d oeuvres, then dinner, in this case an intriguing Persian buffet, as the host was Iranian and loves to share his food. This was followed by a later dessert and coffee table. I had always wondered how one party could hold so many different sections of food, I think the key is to have a very long party, and serve the dinner very late, so people are very hungry.

I’m not sure this would be considered a black-tie event, yet like so many things after I have experienced something similar I see the point for the DeMilles’ ingredient for educating future leaders, mostly because I see the wants in my own education in this area. My husband and I decided that next year we would bring the older children and let them experience it for themselves.

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