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When Dining With The Queen

April 20, 2009

"Would you do that when you are dining with the Queen?" was a common question asked in my home when I was growing up. My grandmother, whose penchant for etiquette came from her own Victorian mother, insisted that all her children and grandchildren be prepared for this inevitable dinner invitation. When the invitation did finally come, it was only addressed to her and my grandfather, and the rest of us sighed (audibly) with relief.

Regular lessons included napkins in our laps, elbows off the table, mouths closed while chewing, and not a spoonful of soup slurped. We were enrolled in cotillion where we learned that proper young ladies wear gloves and curtsy when introduced. When I graduated from the London School of Economics, I did have to curtsy before Princess Ann, but I failed to impress her enough to warrant an invite to pop ’round the palace for a bite. Sorry Grandma.

Over the years, I have met a great number of people who could have benefited immensely from a crash course at my grandmother’s home. In college, there was Peter who, rather than learn which fork went with which course, used two simultaneously. Later there was Eric, who was breathtakingly gorgeous, until the dinner date where he chatted happily throughout the entire meal while chewing his hamburger. In addition, there is my teenage niece who I cannot get to stop texting at the dinner table.

When my grandmother passed away, I inherited a number of items including a 1945 edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette and a 1935 edition of Elinor Ames’ Book of Modern Etiquette. Leafing through them the other day I was reading up on place setting and table seating for formal dinners. Which led me down the tangent line of thinking about my "dream dinner party". Most people, I am sure, have a list of famous people with whom they would love to dine. Many of the lists I have found online require a medium to get the invitation passed on. Guests include Jesus, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, and Hunter Thompson amongst other deceased dignitaries. Not that I do not love a good séance, but at my dream dinner party, I would prefer to dine amongst the living.

So, before I can really get into the nitty gritty of my dinner party plans and menus, I need to come up with my guest list. According to Emily Post:

    The proper selection of guests is the first essential in all entertaining.  Some people have this "sense" – others haven’t.  The first are great hosts and hostesses; the others are the mediocre or the failures.
    It is usually a mistake to invite great talkers together. Brilliant men and women who love to talk want hearers, not rivals.  Very silent people should never be put anywhere near learned ones, nor the dull near the clever, unless the dull one is a young and pretty woman with a talent for listening and the clever is a man with an admiration for beauty and a love of talking.

Constructing the right guest list was not as easy as I originally thought. Over the years, I have frequently commented to my husband -"Oh! So-and-so would be great fun to have dinner with." However, I have failed to keep track of with whom I have wanted to break bread. Therefore, I needed to start from scratch. There were some "obvious choices" like Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres, The President and his Mrs., and Steve Jobs to name a few. Yet, I decided to rule them out from the start. Too many big dogs slobbering all over my Limoges china. For a myriad of reasons, I am not interested in dining with Angelina and Brad, Katie and Tom, or Posh and Becks. Cameron Diaz can kiss my ass and she will still never be invited to dine. Had Hugh Hefner proposed to Holly Madison, I might have considered an invitation, but so long as he is popping Viagra for teenage twins, he can order his own KFC.

After giving thought to what kind of soiree I had in mind, I came up with a list of people I thought would make for witty and weird dinner companions. Even though each of these people has a spouse, domestic partner, significant other, date-du-jour, or a parole officer, they will have to leave them in the car.  Despite the offense served to Miss Post’s sensibilities, it’s my party.

In addition to my husband, my list is as follows:

Elvis Costello
Elvis Costello

Elvis has been secretly in love with me since the early 80’s.

Stephen Fry
Stephen Fry

I like a good renaissance man.  Not to mention I think he really is the reincarnation of Oscar Wilde.  So I guess, I would be dining with the dead, sorta.

Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiassen

I am hoping he will finally tell me that Skink really does exist, like Santa.  

Helen Mirren

Dame Helen Mirren

One way or another, I’m dining with the Queen.

Katie Morgan
Katie Morgan

Unfortunately, Ms. Post is somewhat silent on the subject of my husband’s suggestion that Ms. Morgan’s invitation should read clothing optional.

J.K. Rowling
J.K. Rowling

She’s just crazy clever with a vivid imagination. I’m hoping over the course of the meal we can encourage her to write a prequel.  I want to know more about Dumbledore’s romance with Grindlewald. I’m envisioning something like a Harlequin Romance for Wizards.  Nothing that would be required reading for first years at Hogwarts.

Amy Sedaris
Amy Sedaris

She’s a brilliant hostess, and I want to impress.  I’m hoping that if she’s not dressed like June Cleaver, she will be wearing a fat suit.

Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith

I’d really like to invite Silent Bob, but I have concerns that Jay would be loitering outside my door waiting for him.  I don’t want to do anything to break the truce amongst my neighborhood drug dealers, things are fragile enough in our barrio.

People who know my husband well would be quite surprised to know that he spent most of last night discussing the topic of the importance of a seating chart for a formal dinner.  Mind you he was 3/4 of a bottle into a nice $5.99 red.

On the subject of table seating Miss Ames offers the following instruction:

    The order of seating is: Highest ranking lady guest to the right of the host; next highest to the left of the host; the seat of honor for a gentleman on the right of the hostess, the second ranking place to the left of the hostess. Therefore the less distinguished guests are along the middle…A wise hostess will give forethought to the placing of the guests. It’s too bad to hav
    e to put a quiet little mouse next to General Garrulous, but it’s much wiser to have a listener next to him than to give him Miss Repartee as a dinner partner.

Table Seating

 Above is featured a diagram from Miss Post’s book outlining proper seating and service directions.  On the right is my husband’s and my much laboured over seating chart.  My husband was kind enough to make the concession of seating himself betwixt the Queen of England and the Princess of Porn.  He’s a team player.

So, now that I’ve shared my dream dinner party with you.  I would like to know about yours. 

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