There are times when one despairs that anything civilized will happen again, and then there are moments of such perfect Perfect Propriety that one feels refreshed to Keep Going. Having attended a Sunday brunch in the home of friends, Etiquetteer now feels it's possible to Keep Going. The late Boris Lermontov once observed that "A great impression of simplicity can only be achieved by great agony of body and spirit." The occasion passed off so effortlessly that Etiquetteer believes the hosts substituted forethought for agony, which made everything "go." On arrival, all the guests were greeted cordially in friendship and immediately offered something to drink, in approved Dorothy Draper style. On the coffee table over mimosas one could enjoy either madeleines (and obligatory references to Proust) powdered with sugar, or savory puffs filled with cheese. Or both. Etiquetteer definitely enjoyed both.
Brunch should not really be a very formal meal, and the company was quite friendly over service à la française* of a lavish menu. First we were served a course of pâté de campagne with cornichons and small savory cheese crackers. This was followed by a course of oysters on the half shell, which was in turn followed by cuplets of bacon containing poached eggs, served with a green salad and breakfast potatoes. To conclude, we were offered a French toast, fluffy and piping hot, incorporating blueberries and pecans.
A menu, of course, is not as important an element of a party as the company assembled. And here, too, the discernment of the hosts was evident. Everyone at the table had similar interests but varying areas of expertise, so that all had something unique to contribute to the conversation that the others didn't know. As a result, the conversation never flagged, always the sign of a good party.
With forethought, each of us can arrange a meal for guests at home very like this. Knowing the interests of friends, relatives, and colleagues, one can create knowledgeable groups for mutually stimulating conversation. Becoming familiar with recipes and kitchen equipment, one can judge what menu items work well together, and how to time their preparation so that one doesn't miss out on too much good talk. And, because sometimes things do go wrong, having a backup plan that begins with laughter (so reassuring to company) will help one feel that there's a solution for everything.
As the holiday season approaches, Etiquetteer very much hopes that you will consider opening your home and your heart to those you care for most, during the holidays and afterward.
*Most Americans know service à la française as "family style," when diners help themselves from dishes on the table. Etiquetteer recognizes that there are those who find it Unpardonably Pretentious to sprinkle little bits of French about in their conversation, but Etiquetteer prefers to think of it as merely an homage to the Edwardians and the late Mame Dennis Burnside. Besides, it is a much less harmful behavior than explaining exactly why one is excusing oneself to visit the restroom.