Karen Cleveland – Smith guest blogger and Canada-based doyenne of decorum – follows up her first post on Italian etiquette (How to… fare bella figura) with another manners-minding missive, this time on dinner-party protocol for globetrotting guests…
Well done, you savvy traveller, you: your charm and witty banter has earned you a dinner invitation at a lovely local’s home. By all means, accept it. Making friends when travelling is one of life’s pleasant surprises and may very well take your trip to another level – a true glimpse into your host country.
Before you jump in the shower, polish yourself up and put on your Sunday best, it behooves you to give some thought to, and do some quick research on, what to bring along to dinner. Because, of course, a good guest never arrives empty-handed.
If you are lucky enough to score a dinner invitation on your travels in Asia or parts of the Middle East, don’t take it personally if your host doesn’t open up your gift in front of you: tradition is such that gifts are not opened in front of the gift-bearer (in case it is a terrible present: the gift giver is therefore spared the humiliation). Likewise, if you are presented with a gift, do not open it unless invited to.
One might think that sending flowers in advanced of dinner is a sure bet, but regional traditions covet certain blooms for special occasions. While an arrangement of white flowers is a lovely gesture to a dinner host in Mexico, a bouquet of white chrysanthemums is more appropriate for funerals in Japan and France. In Asia, odd numbers are ominous while many Europeans still follow the custom of sending an uneven number of flowers, suggesting inseparability — though please, don’t sent an inauspicious thirteen stems.
Regardless of wherever on this great wide world you are dining, take note that showing up with an armload of cut stems might actually pull your host away from their meal preparations. Best to come with flowers already arranged, or better yet, leave it to the professionals and have an arrangement sent earlier that day. In China, gifts are often presented in pairs, so if bringing along of bottle of wine, bring along a second.
Some traditionalists suggest that bringing wine to dinner might imply that the host’s cellar is inadequate, particularly in countries that are proud of their local wine production. If that is of concern, a great bourbon or scotch might be more fitting. Also be mindful of larger cultural implications of a well-intentioned gift: bringing alcohol to a Muslim home is in poor form.
Whatever thoughtful gift you bring to dinner, be sure to thank your host following the meal. And reciprocate with an invitation to host them when they are on your home soil.