I recall that you did a column awhile back on when it's proper to arrive at a dinner party. What I would now like to hear you discuss is when it's proper to leave a dinner party. Usually, there is no problem. But lately my husband and I have been running into some bad luck. We were at a "dinner for eight" a couple of weeks ago, and after dessert had been served we all retired to the living room, where a wide-ranging conversation ensued. Everyone appeared to be having a nice time, and then the hostess suddenly stood up and said, "Well, it's been lovely having you here. I hope we can all get together again sometime soon." Of course, that's all any of us needed to hear. We all jumped to our feet as well and started bidding adieu.
What this woman did was perhaps entirely proper, but it nevertheless felt rude. And I would never have shared this story with you if it hadn't happened in a different city and state. The other incident, not so rude, happened to us at a dinner party we threw at our own house. No sooner had the dessert plates been removed than one couple stood up and said "Thanks for a wonderful meal, but we really have to go," then high-tailed it out of there. They're good friends of ours, and it turns out they were having a little marital misunderstanding, but their early departure caused everybody else to go as well, despite my insisting that they didn't need to. As a result, my husband and I were left behind, bereft, with a kitchen full of dirty dishes, at 8:30 on a Saturday night.
So, what are the protocols regarding departure times? Is there a subtle way to let people know the party's over?
By Your Leave
By Your Leave: There are indeed protocols regarding departure times, but nobody seems to know what they are anymore, so I don't see why I should bother sharing them with you. Okay, I'll share them with you. It is generally considered proper to leave a cocktail/holiday/special-occasion party within half an hour of the time the party is scheduled to end. Got that? In other words, people are permitted, even expected, to linger at such events, but you shouldn't overstay your extended welcome. As for dinner parties, it is generally considered proper to leave within half an hour of everybody getting up from the table. And by "generally considered proper," I mean that's what etiquette mavens like Emily Post and Letitia Baldridge say to do. I say: You can stay as long as you want, just turn off the kitchen light before you go to bed.
Of course, not every host is as accommodating as I am. For those of you who would like to hurry your guests along, here are some things to try, starting with the most subtle. 1) Stifle a yawn. 2) Glance at your watch. 3) Linger by the front door. 4) Fail to stifle a yawn. 5) Hold your watch to your ear, then shake it gently, then hold it to your ear again. 6) Rub your nose against the front door, as if it's time for you to be let out. 7) Actually fall asleep, or appear to. 8) Stomp on your watch while screaming "Now they'll never go home!" 9) Run out the door and take a pee in your front yard. 10) Expire, or appear to. 11) Announce to the guests that time is an illusion and that if they lived here, which they appear to do, they'd be home by now. 12) I can't really say this in mixed company, but it involves a Pooper Scooper.
Hopefully, it won't come to that. And the fact is, for any guests that you're ever going to want to have back someday, stifling the yawn should be more than enough.
To linger longer, like a bad smell, write to: MR. RIGHT, ISTHMUS, 101 KING ST., MADISON, WI 53703. OR CALL 251-1206, EXT. 152. OR E-MAIL MRRIGHT@ISTHMUS.COM.