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Have you ever wanted to escape from wherever you were sitting and bury yourself in the sand?  If you have, well, you might, just like me, have had to attend a few formal British dinners.
I hate to generalise, but I have to say that it can be a dreadful experience. It might be a charity dinner or a so-called informal dinner at someone’s house, (don’t kid yourself, the informal dinner will turn our to be very formal). I learned that the first rule is to smile and shut up. You are here to flatter the hosts or organisers anyway. This means that you can’t talk about yourself at all. If you do, it will be considered impolite. At one of such dinners, I was immediately on my back foot when I was told “Oh, what a nice dress, I thought that short cuts were not appropriate after 40 but I was clearly wrong”.  Smile. Don’t say anything. Thank whoever made such a comment. Don’t even mention that you are not 40 yet. It is simply not worth it. Lovely start. How do I get out?

I suddenly remembered my doctor telling me to squeeze my tummy after my children’s birth, in order to get back in shape. I decided to put his advice into practice immediately, even if my younger daughter is 7 now. As you can’t really talk when you suck your tummy in, it is a win-win situation.

I tried hard to find a subject that would break the ice. On one occasion, my mistake was to talk about kids. You see, our hosts used to have kids, but they were all grown-up now and had been to a leading boarding school aged 8 anyway.  They were basically shipped there and never returned. It didn’t give us much to talk about. But, come on, said the lady who was hosting the event, pets are so much more rewarding than kids anyway. I couldn’t believe my ears. But I hadn’t started drinking yet, so surely I had heard her correctly.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against pets and I grew up in the French countryside, surrounded by cats and dogs. But, to me, the order of priority is:
1: Children
2: Pets
Well, it turned out that I was wrong again. Silly old me.
The right order of priority, for the evening, was:
1.     Pets
2.     Garden
3.     House
Right. It is just a dinner, no need to voice my indignation. 

To add insult to injury, I then had to endure all the details of their beloved cat’s illness (her name was Izzy, and she was 15), and how in the end they decided to put her down because the poor darling was suffering too much. It must have been a terrible for them, I said. I swear that I saw a tear in the corner of my host’s eye. “It was hard”, she said, “and Walter and I are still very upset”. We still don’t know whether we will replace her. The whole monologue had lasted 6 minutes and 35 seconds according to the kitchen clock. And the cheap wine wouldn’t really distract me anyway.

The funny thing was that, when I had mentioned that my grandmother had passed away earlier in the year, she had quickly changed subject and said “Oh, these things happen”. They do indeed. Come on, there must be some white wine somewhere.

I hoped that a white knight in shining armour would rescue me but my husband was discussing gardening with the husband. No end in sight for both of us.

I spend the whole evening smiling and nodding while trying to get a flatter tummy. To make matters even worse, I didn’t really enjoy the food. To be fair, the steak and kidney pie was really heavy.

I now need to send a Thank you card for the privilege of having spent such a lovely evening. I am not sure what I will write.
On the bright side, apparently they said we were great company. Maybe they were just testing us?

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London
  • Poor you, you really are mixing in the wrong circles. Don’t think I would have lasted 10 minutes at that party. Some people are so shallow and up their own backsides. Next time, be yourself, if that is not good enough, then it’s their loss.

    • Thanks. You know, I try really hard to blend in. But sometimes, it is just too hard, isn’t it?

  • I agree with City Girl that you are mixing with the wrong types. You need to come out to the country to Castle Caldwell for one of those famous country suppers with real people!!

    • What a nice idea! That said, as a French woman in the UK, I feel like a misfit from time to time…

  • I am not sad that I don’t have to attend occasions such as these. I remember when I was with my doctor fiancé once we went to a party with a bunch of other doctors. I said ‘bonjour’ when I arrived, and ‘au revoir’ when I left and didn’t get a chance to say anything else the whole evening. It was ALL medical talk. They were not interested in discussing anything else.

    That was the last time I attended a party of doctors.

    By the way, if you listen to The Archers, that’s often a good conversation leveler.

    • I need to follow your advice and listen to The Archers. As for doctors, I think that they have a sense of humour of their own, don’t you think?

  • I think your hosts were Brits of the worst kind. Pets are are wonderful, but to put them before people is insane at worst and misguided at best. Good hosts make their company completely relaxed and draw them out, not make them suppress themselves! Commiserations – at least you lived to write about it.

    • You are so right. At least I survived. Next time, I need to work on an early escape plan.

  • Oh dear, sounds like you’re dining with the wrong people. Formal dinners can be a chore, and pretty dull, but I think it often comes down to one’s fellow guests. It’s amazing what a difference being seated next to an interesting, engaged individual can make! You should come to one of my dinner parties, Muriel, where the wine flows copiously and so do the giggles…

    Sarah’s spot on though – when in doubt, talk about The Archers! Although this tactic can work better in rural settings than urban.

    • Name the day and I will come Flora…That said, I am starting to wonder whether it is me. maybe I am not a social person, after all.

  • There are times when I have to go to dinners and get together like this and yes, I keep trying to get a flatter tummy too!;)

    But yes, normally I end up with good food and that makes the tummy efforts go down the drain! But then, I talk so much that I use it to my advantage at times… other times, I just chew and smile and nod… 🙂

    • What would we do if we couldn’t smile and nod? Well, I really don’t know…As for the food. Well, sometimes I like it, sometimes I don’t (the British have a way of having jam with their meat that disgusts me). I think that I am picky!

  • I think it would’ve been appropriate if you had also said to the host, “Oh these things happen”. I’m sure her reaction would have been priceless. :-))

    • Maybe she would have thrown me out of their house and I would have been relieved. You are right. But the thing is, I am trying so hard to please. Too hard maybe.

  • I can relate to your feelings/comments about British dinner party etiquette. Most sound deadly boring. I remember going to dinners like those where people made derogatory remarks, talked about their pets to the point of lunacy, gardening, and travel, but never about personal things. I also remember delightful dinner parties full of humor, wit, and scintillating conversation, but that rarely touched on personal topics. Sometimes, however, the host or hostess might take you aside and ask or share something personal – just not in front of other guests.

    • Sounds like you were luckier than me, Penelope. I think that I might just become asocial with age…

  • Muriel, you might want to send her a copy of your post instead of a polite thank you card. This would be a win-win situation: you would not have to lie pretending how lovely the food and the wine were and you will never be invited their again!

    • That’s a thought…She probably wouldn’t understand what was wrong with her anyway. Some people are just in their own world and there is nothing you can do about it…

  • Cripes, you must move in extraordinary circles. I have dined with rich people who have talked almost entirely about their material possessions. My husband eventually said, after hearing about everyone’s ever-more-wonderful dining room tables, “Oh, I like to eat fish and chips on my knees more than anything” but I think they thought he was just making a weird joke. In my youth I used to attend cocktail parties and attend balls (more or less at gunpoint) because my parents mixed quite a lot with grand folk, but when you got talking to them, they were reasonably normal. Or maybe they just seemed normal because I was so young.) Your fellow diners sound as if they have stepped straight from the London of 1875! 🙂

    • I know. I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. I don’t know what happened. I am desperately trying to blend in but sometimes, it is just too hard!

  • Hehehe for the love of the English. You are really just invited over to hear the whinging okay my dear! I can say that as I’m part English and have seen the best and worst of the dinners. You really must realise that nothing you will ever say, do or wear will be good enough, so don’t even worry yourself by trying 🙂 Easier said than done though. My last trip to England I was put in my place more than a few times for my aussieness, what I drank, what I said, what I wore, etc etc etc. And yes, I wasn’t allowed to really speak. Just smile and nod. If there is anything I despise more it is condescending people who think they are better than others. On the flip side when I got to stay with my extended family who live in the Midlands we cracked out the wine and had a great old time.

    • I think that you are right, it has got something to do with London: they are just too posh over here. I can’t believe that they gave you a hard time because of your aussieness. I would love to hear more about this…

  • Excellent post! You managed to get real humour in this post even when it was about an unpleasant experience. It sounds like an awful dinner, but well done for being so tactful and polite. I’m not sure I would have been able to do the same. I would probably have brought out my BlackBerry and started showing her videos of my son’s first steps just to annoy her.

    • That’s a thought. I should have done that. That said, next time, I think that I will call in sick…

  • They put pets and the garden before children and still feed you in the kitchen!!! Why else would you have your eye on the kitchen clock. Heck, that class of people should be eating in a great hall or something 🙂

    • They should indeed. But you have to remember that a lot of them are like this…(this side of the pond!)