What's that saying from Game of Thrones? I believe it's "Winter is coming".
New Zealand winters can be cold, wet, grey, bleak and long, but it's a good chance to brush up on your sleep hygiene and enjoy early nights, warm baths, fires, layers, thick socks, slow cookers, and entertaining at home.
But opening up our homes to our friends can also open up a can of worms. Social etiquette has become somewhat blurred in recent times but all suggestions point to still taking something along to acknowledge the hosts for putting the shindig on. Depending on the season and the occasion, this can be chocolates, fresh strawberries, flowers, candles, soap, bath salts, or a nicely written card. That, and don't be too early or too late to the party.
I break these rules when we socialise with people regularly, as we agree to do away with all the above. Otherwise it would be a never-ending merry-go-round of little gifts and bottles of wine. You don't bring anything to us and we won't bring anything to you.
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During winter we can't rely on backyards to soften awkward situations, so here are some hard-learned lessons for happy occasions indoors.
It is imperative that both hosts and guests keep an eye on alcohol consumption. One evening I was congratulating myself on an excellent meal prepared, for the first time no less, for the guests we had met recently. Suddenly one guest pushed their chair back, brought their cloth napkin to their mouth, and vomited at the table. It was quite something. Once everything was cleaned up it appeared that my husband was pouring his notoriously strong G&T's and they were being consumed at pace by a small-framed individual. I'm absolving myself of all blame as I was in the kitchen preparing the dinner, which unfortunately didn't manage to soak it all up and is now affectionately referred to as Vomit Chicken.
And as tempting as it may be to start unloading about the latest relationship thing that's pissed you off while your partner is nearby, hosts don't have time for this and guests don't want to hear it. Save it for a private encounter over coffee when you can really get stuck in. We used to have friends come for dinner often and many evenings we witnessed cracking arguments. While perversely entertaining the first few times, it became excruciating to witness some of their most private concerns and their ultimate demise. Mercifully they both moved on to less combative situations.
When I think about it, we are like magnets for displays of shocking etiquette. There was the time a guest deposited their chewing gum into a cloth napkin. Our horror turned to amusement when their husband picked up the napkin to wipe at a small spill on his dinner suit. One dinner party for a soon-to-be-married (now divorced) couple saw the bride bring her own dinner of broccoli and canned tuna in a Tupperware container. She really should have eaten that at home and then picked at the salad and asparagus on the table. Some other guests never forgave it.
So when you are invited into someone's home, think of it as a privilege that the hosts are keen to open their sanctuary to you, and provided you don't vomit, fight, deface the host's property or turn up with a worse, or even better, dinner than what's being served, you'll be on your way to securing a repeat invitation this winter.