How to Handle Dinner Parties in Your 20s
All photos via Bruno Bayley
adulthood

How to Handle Dinner Parties in Your 20s

Dinner party invites are a rite of passage for all adults to go through when they realize they are many pegs behind the Great Adulthood Race than everyone else they know.
January 24, 2017, 2:19pm

This post originally appeared on VICE UK. We used to have a comments section, and then we deleted it so we could write this article. I am serious. I am serious about this. We got the email a few weeks before the change. "RE: Comments Section," it read. "That cesspit, that awful pit of cess. We are closing it because it's just the same three lads named 'Ben' telling us VICE used to be better back in the old days." The email continued: "And so you can now write openly about aspects of the lifestyle of the middle class, safe in the knowledge that nobody will call you a 'sell out' or accuse you of being 'out of touch with the common ket-addled reader,' at least as long you do not check the comments thread on Facebook, amen." It was a good email, and I liked it. The change has negatively affected absolutely no one at all. We live, now, in utopia. Welcome to it.

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And in that utopia we must talk about dinner parties, because you're probably 26 or thereabouts, and you have been invited to one. This happens, and people don't talk about it: Just like you turn 28 and realize all your friends are happily coupled up and have been for years, and you, the last remaining all-singing, all-screwing singleton tearaway, get invited to four weddings in one summer and have a massive Tinder panic when you realize you've got a plus-one to each and nobody to plus-one with.

That is exactly the same as this, but a couple of years earlier and involving slightly more Le Creuset casserole dishes*. Dinner party invites are a rite of passage for all adults to go through with a small quiver of panic when they realize they are many pegs behind the Great Adulthood Race than everyone else they know, love, and live with, and the only real reaction to being invited to one is to sink one bottle of red beforehand and three additional bottles during and cry-vomit into the nearest downstairs bathroom as soon as someone says the word "profiteroles."

Here's how to have fun with it!

What Do You Wear?

Guarantee you that if you turn up in the same "T-shirt, jeans, fucked up Classics" combination you cycle everywhere in then one half of the couple (it is a couple that has invited you to their house for a dinner party, this is the rule) (it is always a couple; imagine a single male inviting a few of you for dinner. "Alright? I'm making spaghetti al forno for a few pals. It's not a murder thing! Come over!" No.) then one half of the couple will silently-but-also-not-very-silently sob behind the kitchen door and whisper-but-actually-very-loudly say "I canNOT beLIEVE they showed up looking like that! This is WHY I hate your FRIENDS!" and the whole resulting atmosphere will be a write off. Wear a shirt or a dress, dude. It's not that much to ask.

What Do You Bring?

I have had this text conversation circa 100,000 times now:

Hey! What shall I bring? Wine?

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Great!

What color? Of wine?

Well, we're having chicken for our entrée!

I don't know what that means!

Here's what you bring: one bottle of $10 wine, the one with the biggest punt in the bottom that you can find at that price point; two (two.) bags of Doritos Spicy Sweet Chili, the finest chip known to man (you will have been told to turn up at 7:30 PM ["sharp!"] for dinner, but it will not be served until 9:15 PM at the earliest, and you will want the chips); and, if you really want, a box of chocolates or something that makes you look like you go to these things a lot. All in, you can get this done for under $20, which for a full home-cooked dinner (with wine) in return is a pretty good deal.

Ah, Shit, a Wine Jerk

Ah, shit. Shit. There's a wine jerk here, being a jerk about wine. Shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbow, buttons to the top of his chest. Deep tan from a trip to the south of France. That sort of thing. He's insisting on there being a decanter. "No decanter?" he's shrieking, folding his shirt sleeves up an extra inch. "Right. We need a clean, dry vase, or I can use that big mason jar you use for your muesli. It needs to aerate!" Is he… crying? "This is a 2004, Michael! We need to get some air in here!"

Wine jerks are often the worst of all the jerks because only wine jerks hold a single stemmed glass up to the grimy light of your friend's IKEA-and-a-sofa-so-old-it-needs-a-throw-over-it-to-disguise-that-big-bolognese-stain apartment and go "look at the legs on that one." He's making you smell the wine before you drink it. He's doing a big, flappy arm gesture and saying "deep berry." He… he wants you to drink the wine in a special way where you run it over your tongue, but you just get confused and accidentally spit it out a little bit? Oh, God, no: He's reaching for the Casillero del Diablo you bought in a blue bag from the corner shop. "Hmm," he's saying, tapping his lips together, running his tongue through his mouth. "Hmm, yes: big, big, earthy flavors." Haha! He doesn't know anything! Liking wine is for assholes!

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Compliment the Cooking, but Don't Go Too Over-the-Top with It

I am convinced that cooking for someone is the greatest act of love you can ever perform—and, yes, I am including butt stuff on that list! And mouth!—because it nourishes, it warms, it soothes, it very literally keeps you alive. When someone makes you a thick tomato-y sauce—enriched with fat pancetta, finished with just a dab of cream, served on soft, yolky pasta—they are basically saying, "I want you to live, and I want you to live marvelously." Anyone who spends 40 minutes chopping things to make something you consume in less than 180 seconds is basically sacrificing their time and care for a brief moment of your enjoyment. So when someone cooks you something you say, "Thank you, thank you, 1,000 times thank you," and also: "Mmm! Yeah, this is—what have you put in there? Salt?" and point to it with your fork.

Stop there, though. Don't be like, "Can I have seconds? Thirds?" Do not lick the plate. The thing if you over-compliment cooking is that someone will get up halfway through the meal and start making you a packed lunch for work tomorrow, and that is a nightmare. You cannot do that to someone. That sweet person, who slaved so long and hard over your dinner, making you a lunch, too. "It's… this is one of our good Tupperwares, I would like it back"—oh, no. "I've done a little pita bread wrapped up in tin foil here, too—just unwrap it and pop it in the toaster or microwave at work"—oh, this is too much, too much. "Shall I do you a little pot with some olive oil in, do a little drizzle of olive oil?"—obviously yes. And a slice of cake for dessert, too. But that's it. That's all I'm letting you pack me.

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The Bit Where Someone Gets an Adult Board Game Out and Goes 'No, Don't Gr—It's Really Well Reviewed!'

At some point, someone is going to get an adult board game out, because it's 2017, and this is what we do now. Am I a big enough man to admit I have played—and enjoyed!—Settlers of Catan? I am. Am I big enough to say I like the Resistance, both the version set in space and the version set in olden times? Yes, I am. Do I still get a horrible clunk of dread when someone gets Cards Against Humanity out? Yes, I do. What I am saying is I know and like adult board games. That is who I am. That is the kind of man I am. Here's a thing I have said before: "Ooh, Monopoly? Bagsy the Scottie Dog!" That's me. I'll admit that.

The thing, though, about breaking an adult board game out at a dinner party is it only goes one way, which is "someone has to read the instructions in full for 20 minutes before a single hand is played, the first game takes an hour, and you're never quite sure who it is who won, and then the second game—actual game—gets so bizarrely competitive that someone sprints to the toilet to anger-cry when they lose the Sha'harn Wastelands to a coordinated power coup." When someone brings a heavy box and shakes it in that fun board game way, just know that you're not getting out of here without someone flipping a game board and yelling "FUCK YOU!"

The Cheese Course

There is never enough cheese on the cheese course. Bring your own bit of brie if you have to. If someone palms you off with two types of cheddar and an old jar of Branston Pickle, then riot. Riot. Set fire to their apartment.

The Great 'Offer to Do the Dishes' Conundrum

The thing with offering to do the dishes is there is a very real danger that someone will take you up on your offer to wash up, and then you'll be left having to wash up. This cannot be allowed to happen.

But then, if you just sit there and drink wine like an unhelpful asshole—especially if someone else very loudly and actively does the washing up—then you lose the game, too. There is an unspoken transaction at play during a dinner party: I, the dinner party haver, will make and prepare you a delicious dinner; in return, you, the dinner party doer, will do the dishes. But you don't want to do the dishes, do you? Because I've burned a load of pork to the bottom of one pan and somehow used three different grill trays. So what to do. What to do?

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Novices, at this hurdle—and I am including you in this—novices ask if they can "help at all" with the dishes. Then they get to do the dishes, in full, and get absolutely no kudos for it. Me (the expert, the great guy), I know how to play this game, so I win. In that post-dessert lull, you suddenly leap up from the table and say, "OK: DISHES!" then take some plates and start cleaning.

It unfolds two ways from here, and you always win:

WAY ONE: You do the dishes, entirely. At first, this sounds bad—you had to wash a cheese grater, man! You can't get your hand down the inside of that!—but also you get props for doing the dishes. "Oh, thank you," your host says, "thank you, thank you. You did the dishes." At the next dinner party—there will always be another one—they will point to you and say, "And you are so good for doing the dishes—always cleaning, at parties!" This is your legend now. This is your name. With one act of doing the dishes, you are assured kudos for it forever.

WAY TWO: They go, "Oh, don't worry about the dishes. I'll do the dishes tomorrow." And then you don't have to do the dishes, but you still get points for attempting to do the dishes.

?????? DID I JUST HACK DINNER PARTIES??????????? I THINK I FUCKING DID, YEAH!!!!!!!!!

The Rigmarole of Tidying Everything Away to Make a Big Table

Ah, shit, you've made the mistake of having a dinner party at your own apartment, the least-equipped place for this sort of thing on earth. Do you have a tablecloth? Come on. No. Of course you don't. Did you email all your roommates to say this would be happening and to keep the kitchen clear? You did, but Rob forgot, but he'll mainly be in his room skyping his Canadian girlfriend. Do you… even know how to make rice? Why have you done this? Why have you invited this hell down on yourself?

"Yeah I said bring wine, but… yeah, I guess that'll. Yeah."

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You Have So Inevitably Been Seated Next to an Incredibly Boring Man Named Stewart

Doesn't matter what time you turn up to this thing, you're always the second person there, because someone's friend from college is already stretched like an eagle across the corner settee, arms extended over both sides, slowly sipping wine, and greeting you with a soft nod of "Hey." Is… are we the only people here? Me and this weird Stewart guy? Ahh. Ah, fuck. Ah, I've got to sit next to him.

Stewart is the kind of dude who, when there's a lull in conversation, breathes so deeply through his nose that you can hear it and goes: "So… what do you do?" Stewart is putting you on the spot about some news story about Europe you've pretended you read about on BBC News and is sincerely asking your opinion. Your opinion is "extraordinary," Stewart says, then turns away. Stewart is recounting a college memory that is clearly very important to him because it's taken him 20 minutes to tell it so far, but is neglecting to explain to you who a single person involved is, so you're just drinking wine in silence and trying to resist checking your phone. The hosts have to plate dessert up together, which just leaves you, alone in a room with Stewart, for the next ten minutes. No. You're better than this. Tell him you need a shit and go and check Instagram in the bathroom for a bit.

To Nose or Not to Nose

While you're in there, you can of course amuse yourself by looking through the medicine cupboards, because nothing is as entertaining as learning one of your friends has topical eczema. Ah, what's this… someone needs to change their razor head! Should I tell him, or should I let him continue to shave himself pink and raw every morning? I think I shall… not tell him. Ooh, a single slightly wet condom packet. Latex-free? Wonder who has the allergy. Guess I'll never know. Guess I'll never, ever know.

Preparing for the Kind of Disturbing Cook a Friend You Thought You Knew Turns Out to Be

There are two types of cooks who will invite you to a dinner party: Heston Blumenthal–esque odd people who do something mad with a sous vide and tell you that a sauce you're eating that tastes quite a lot like passata with a bit of celery in it "actually took 18 hours to make"; and people who serve you a large amount of food served on an enormous wooden platter with a load of half-torn basil leaves over the top, who if you compliment the food will simply smile a beaming, cultish grin, all teeth no frowning, and say a single word, an incantation to the gods: "Jamie." Jamie's got us all twisted. Jamie's got us all hitting the flat side of a blade over a clove of garlic and saying "bosh." Jamie's got us slowly running thin waves of pasta dough through a special Jamie-branded pasta machine. If you go to someone's house to eat, you are eating Jamie. You are tearing a piece of bread from the larger loaf and trusting that when it enters your mouth it becomes His flesh. Jamie. Jamie, Jamie, Jamie. Jamie.

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Ah, OK: A Cat

You are in your 20s, and you've been invited to someone's house for dinner, which means you are essentially being invited to someone's attempt to play at being an adult before taking a full run at doing it properly, and that means they have a cat with a curiously adult name who they treat like it is their actual child. "Ah, here's Ludo!" they say, as a cat stomps across your lap. You try to stroke him, but he just flops his head on your hand, falls over sideways, and hisses at you. "Don't mind him. He doesn't like strangers, do you Ludo?" Ludo has dived into your backpack and fished out your keys, and is now running across a high windowsill with them, threatening to drop them out of it. "We speak to Ludo in French and English, ne nous Ludo?" Ludo does a really brisk savory shit in the bathroom, and the smell floods the house. You find one of Ludo's whiskers in the main course. "We love you, Ludo, don't we don't we don't we?" The cat just stares at you, man. What the fuck is this guy's problem? Man. Hope the actual kid they end up having is less of a dick than this.

The Weird Bit Where You Don't Know Whether This… Do We… Make the Call?

Every other time you have been in this house, it's been at 1 AM at the earliest, at the headache-y bit on a night out where you're all kind of pumped and the blood is going faster and the sweat sticks your T-shirt to your chest and you all get a little blue bag of beer and maybe some share-size bags of chips and then Make the Call and stay up until 7 AM minimum listening to nü rave on YouTube and doing frankly appalling quantities of coke. Only… I dunno, man. I've had a really large amount of gravy. Should we—? Only, I'm kind of watching my money this month. I dunno. Should we—? I dunno. I dunno: I'll leave it up to you. I'll leave the decision up to you. Yeah. No, I'm not— I'll leave the decision up to you. And then you end up doing loads of coke and washing it down with wine, don't you? You filthy little dog.

That Bit Where You Have to Put a Scarf on and Kiss Everyone Goodnight for Some Reason and Pretend You Are Ever Going to Do This Again

Civilized nights end with civilized goodbyes, which is why your friend's girlfriend who you've known for four years and never had more than a 20-second conversation with before suddenly wants to give you a full-on actual hug and kiss goodbye, then really sincerely turns away from you and says both to the room and no one in particular, "We should do this again some time." Should we? You're battered on wine, and you've got a see-through plastic bag full of foil-wrapped pork with you, but did you have a nice time? I suppose you did, in a way. I mean, it's no "going to the pub and chatting shit for hours and getting steaming," but it's OK. Do you want to do this again? Let the question sit in the air a second, allow it to settle. The first person to blink loses. The first person to make the move is the one who—ah, fuck. You've just said, "Maybe we can do it at my place next time!" and someone has brightly said "IT'S A DATE!" and the next morning at 9 AM sharp you get a "Head hurt? Ha ha me too. Here are the next seven Tuesdays we have free—let me know what's good for you?" and that's it, now, you're going to have to panic-learn how to mash a potato. You only have three plates. You didn't think this through at all, did you? You didn't think this through at all.

Follow Joel Golby on Twitter.


*Seriously, do you realize how much a Le Creuset casserole dish even is? Have you ever googled one? One hundred and forty clams, my brother. If anyone makes you food in a Le Creuset casserole dish, you must get on your knees and orally thank them while they mutter, "Of course, it'll last a lifetime, so really it's an investment," over and over again until climax.