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Be My Guest

by Stephen Lautens


December 24, 1999

The last half of December is when every meal seems to be served on a cracker. The party season is in full swing, and we won't get any rest until New Years Day.

There are lots of guides out there to being a good host. Every magazine has articles about how to make festive centerpieces, low-fat hors d'oeuvres, and your own wrapping paper. I however draw the line at getting into the holiday mood by hot-gluing cranberries to the family pet or slow-moving relatives.

Yes, the relentless spirit of Martha Stewart has every aspiring host and hostess whipping up their own eggnog and making Christmas ornaments out of tissue paper and spare car parts. In short - making life generally miserable for the rest of us who see the holiday as a chance to relax.

But before you call me Scrooge, I'd like to point out that my wife and I are no strangers to entertaining. Our annual Christmas open house had a paltry 89 people show up at our small home this year.

Even so, I still think it's easier being the host than the guest. Especially since my wife does most of the work.

It's actually very challenging being a guest ­ especially a good one. A friend's mother used to say: "The host throws the party, but it's up to the guests to make it a success."

My friend Rob is a great guest. He mixes with everyone, has a story ready to tell and keeps the glasses filled. As the politicians say, he works the room.

A good guest doesn't say anything when you're given the same scented candle you gave your host last year. Besides, if their memory is that bad you can always wrap it up and give it back to them next year.

Some parties are like being dropped behind enemy lines. As a guest you should be prepared by bringing a survival kit. Some hosts are slow to offer a life-sustaining drink. Rather than be a burden, wrap up a bottle of your favourite hooch and say it's a present for your next stop. If things get bad, say your imaginary friend will understand if you open it up.

A good guest doesn't let a party get below critical mass. If it does, help your host deal with that last problem guest who has no intention of leaving. Lure them outside with an offer to drive them home, then claim your car has been towed.

Special note for guests with children - don't let them handle everything on the buffet. Fingerprints in the pate and toothmarks in the cheese can ruin all but the heartiest appetites. I make it a policy to only eat the things at the centre of the table.

Don't say anything when your hosts refuse to lock the cats up. After all, there's nothing so appealing when you arrive as seeing the cat on the dining room table sitting in the butter.

I was a guest at a beautiful dinner recently given by cat people friends. During dinner one of the pussycats jumped on the sideboard and brushed up against a candle. After a spirited chase down the hall, the feline meteor was extinguished without serious damage.

I like to think we were all good guests. Even though the only thing you could smell was the aroma of slightly singed tabby, we carried on with dinner without anyone mentioning it.

Martha would have been proud.


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