Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Braving the Baffling Banquet

You are attending an awards banquet or a wedding or the final function of a weeklong conference at the Grand Hotel in a distant city. The room is a sea of linen and candles. There are dozens of round tables, and each is supposed to seat—somehow—10 people. The place settings seem to be jammed together. One set of cutlery blends into the next. There are too many dishes and glasses, and far, far too many people at the table. Stay calm. Continue to breathe normally. You can handle this, one step at a time.
First, find your table. Then find the place card with your name on it. Never, ever, ever, rearrange place cards to suit yourself. To do so is a major breach of etiquette. Somebody gave considerable thought to the seating, probably taking into consideration factors such as familiarity and status—within the society, family, company, or institution.
For example, it would be a bad idea to move your place card next to the host, just because you’re friends. You’re likely to unseat the guest of honor. (Tampering with the place cards is even ruder on private social occasions because the host has given careful thought to the seating arrangement and will not be happy if you try to second-guess him or her.)
Before you sit down at your table, introduce yourself to any dining companions you don’t know and say hello to those you do. Here’s an opportunity to make a positive impression on your fellow diners by taking the initiative to meet them and shake their hands. If you simply sit down, you risk having to shout your name across the centerpiece to people who, if they can hear you, won’t remember what you said.
Enter your chair from the left side. Men, it is neither sexist nor theatrical for you to draw out the chair for the woman on your right. Women, accept such a gesture.

No comments: