Bring yourself, your manners, and a gift for the host.
In some parts of the country, a cocktail party might be about the cocktails. Southerners, though, who don't need an excuse for a cocktail, put the emphasis on party.
And, like any social gathering, a cocktail party has its own set of rules that, if not followed, will give everyone something to talk about.
Here, 6 things you should never do at a Southern cocktail party:
1) Never... Sit Down
Cocktail parties are for mingling, so barring a physical limitation, you should be ready to roam. And we do mean ready.
“When you accept an invitation to a party, you’re entering into an agreement of sorts that you’ll bring your A game,” says Thomas P. Farley, an etiquette expert and keynote speaker who is better known as Mister Manners. “You’re there to add to the mix—don’t disappoint your host by bee-lining to the first seat you see.”
2) Never... Prospect for Cashews in the Nut Bowl
Beyond taking your focus away from conversation, excavating your favorite nut, the rarest slice of tenderloin, or the biggest oyster from the food display is just gross.
“You’re not there for the shrimp,” laughs national etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Texas Diane Gottsman. “Eat something before you leave the house so you’re not tempted to focus on the food the moment you arrive.” And, please, use the serving utensils and not your fingers.
3) Never... Gossip Without Knowing Who Is Related to Whom
This being the South, you can count on complicated family trees with more branches than the Mississippi. Instead of getting yourself caught up, do your homework.
"It’s OK to ask your host when you RSVP a little bit more about the party so you can be prepared,” says Gottsman. Once you’ve arrived, asking guests how they know the host will not only open up conversations, but it will also help you get the lay of the land.
Pro Tip: Since you don’t know who—or whose mama—made the food, decorated the house, or chose the wine, keep any criticism to yourself.
4) Never... Try To Have a Serious Discussion
Since cocktail parties are all about small talk, prepping with a few good stories or a bit of trivia will keep the conversation flowing. Even better, if you get stuck with someone who wants to turn your conversation into an impromptu therapy session, you’ll be prepared to facilitate a gentle 180.
"Fun, quirky facts make great conversational course correctors," says Farley. "I sometimes scout web sites for fun factoids—a good one is what happened on that particular day in history—and work them into the conversation.”
Both Farley and Gottsman note that five to seven minutes is a good rule of thumb for a cocktail party chat; after that, it’s okay to move on.
“Instead of monopolizing someone you enjoyed speaking with, tell them that you’ll look forward to seeing them again as the evening goes on,” says Farley. “By then, you’ll both have had a chance to circulate.”
5) Never... Arrive Empty-Handed
It’s not that we’re expecting a gift. Except we sort of are.
"A thoughtful host gift is a gesture of gratitude," says Gottsman. "It can be something as simple as a bottle of wine or a lovely set of paper or linen cocktail napkins.”
There are, of course, a few host gift “don’ts” including anything you expect to be served that night or that needs to be dealt with in any way, such as a bouquet of flowers that isn’t already in a vase. It’s always OK to ask what you can bring, as long as you make it easy on the host by bringing your food heated, appropriately plated (ask if you’re not sure), and accompanied by serving tools.
6) Never... Leave First
Admit it: No one is really joking when they declare that they don’t want to be the first to leave because everyone will talk about them. And while that’s probably true, the real reason you shouldn’t scoot out early is that it sends a message to your host that you had a bad time at their party.
"Think of the guest list as ingredients in a cake," says Farley. "They all need to be there for it to work."
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Read the original article on Southern Living.