The Cocktail Party
painted by John Koch, 1956
The New York Historical Society
Two of the commenters on my "Popular Party Guests" posting asked me to share what I believe a host should reasonably expect in return from a guest who has been the beneficiary (sometimes more than once) of a host’s entertainment. They said, and I paraphrase here, "I have had numerous parties over the years where I have repeatedly invited certain guests who have never invited me to one of their parties, much less had me over for a drink. Is it reasonable for me to expect that such a guest should return my hospitality in some form?" This is an excellent subject for discussion, I think, and something that Boy and I have bandied about from time to time, both between ourselves and with our most intimate party-giving friends. It’s useful to compare notes on these matters.
But before I launch into what I believe are Reggie’s Rules for Social Reciprocity, I think it might be helpful for me first to share what motivates me, as a host, to throw parties and entertain guests. In other words, Why Reggie Throws A Party:
- I’m a “party person” – I like attending parties and I have a good time at them;
- I love opening up my house and sharing it with people I like;
- I enjoy throwing a party – the organization, the planning, and the execution of it – I have fun doing it;
- I like puttin’ on the dawg – bringing out the silver, china, crystal, and linens, and decorating the house;
- I take pleasure in giving my friends a good time, feeding them well, providing them with tasty drinks, and making them feel appreciated; in other words, entertaining them;
- I am happy seeing my friends enjoying themselves, and being the catalyst for it;
- I have the space, stuff, and means to be able to do it, and I enjoy using it and sharing it;
- I’m good at it, it comes easily to me; and
- It increases the likelihood of my being invited to my guests’ parties in the future.
Remember the old sayings “Give a little, get a little” and “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine”? Well, they apply to entertaining, too.
Don’t get me wrong: a guest is under absolutely no obligation, moral or otherwise, to reciprocate a host’s hospitality if they don’t choose to, particularly if they decide they don’t care for their host all that much. But, if the guest likes the person who has entertained them, and they wish to maintain a social relationship with them over time, including being asked back to future parties, then the guest must reciprocate the hospitality. The form of such hospitality is incidental; the obligation is not.
So, to answer my commenters' question: Yes, a host should reasonably expect a well-mannered guest to reciprocate their hospitality at some point, assuming that both host and guest wish to maintain an ongoing social relationship. Failure to issue a reciprocal invitation, particularly when the guest has been the recipient of the host's hospitality more than once, is a lapse of manners on the part of the guest. At that point it is then up to the host to decide whether he wishes to maintain the social relationship with said guest by issuing further invitations, out of the goodness of his heart, or to drop them and concentrate his hospitality on other, in some cases more deserving, guests.
But well before a guest is under any obligation to reciprocate their host's hopitality they must first have acknowledged and thanked the host for the hospitality they have enjoyed. This appears as Rule 14 in "Reggie's Rules for Popular Party Guests" and is also the first rule of "Reggie's Rules for Social Reciprocity."
Rule 1: Within 48 hours of attending a party, guests must contact their hosts and thank them.
Either be telephone, email, or mailed note. Failure to acknowledge the hospitality with a simple post-party "thank you" can be interpreted, rightly or wrongly, as meaning the guest either didn't care for the entertainment or couldn't be bothered to acknowledge his host's generosity. It is a disincentive for the host to issue a return invitation to such guest when there are other, more gracious guests who charmingly express their appreciation.
Rule 2: If guests wish to maintain a social relationship with those that have entertained them, then they must reciprocate the hospitality in some form, to the extent that their means and circumstances allow it.
Failure to do so sends a signal to the host, whether intended or not, that the guest does not care to promote an onging social relationship with the host. It also, and quite reasonably, leads many a host to conclude that there are others who are more worthy of their future hospitality.
These two rules of social recoprocity are the foundation for building and sustaining a social relationship amongst civilized, social people. Social relationships are, by definition, two-way streets, as are all true relationships. Without reciprocity of some kind, social (and other) relationships eventually wither and die. What once had the opportunity to blossom into a sustained social relationship instead finds itself lumbering down a one-way street leading to a lonely nowhere.
Of course there are exceptions to these rules, as there are for any. But they are exceptions, and I shall discuss them in the second part of my examination of this subject, to follow shortly. I will also share my views about what I believe constitutes appropriate and suitably enjoyable reciprocal entertainment, which I think may surprise one or more of my readers.
Next week: Part II: Myth vs. Reality