Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Social Graces

Photo by Barney Taxel, Taxel Image Group
I recently experienced the most impressive example of genuine and gracious hosting, perhaps the finest, truest expression of the concept in my life. And it came about as the result of an epic fail.

Our friend R and her husband S had us over for dinner with another couple. She had promised a special meal, featuring a main dish from her Southern heritage — but guests contributed too. After a first round of drinks and a smoked trout appetizer, we convened around the table for the gazpacho I brought. Wine was poured, laughter prevailed and conversation continued when R disappeared into the kitchen to cook the entree, which could not be prepared in advance. S cleared bowls and stayed to help her.

And that's when something went terribly wrong.  She would not provide details, but the food could not be saved or served. She came back to the dining room and announced that there would be no main course, said she was sorry and that this had never happened to her before. But she didn't utter one other negative word or further apology for the rest of the evening, which lasted until well after midnight.

While we discussed the possibility of getting a pizza delivered, R produced their leftovers from the previous night to augment the tomato salad that the other guests had made. So we ate what we had, which included her perfect homemade pie, enjoyed more wine, told stories, listened to records and had a wonderful time. 

Whatever R was feeling inside about the dinner disaster, didn't show on the outside. She set the tone, an oh-well, let's-get-on-with-it attitude and we took our cue from her. Instead of making everyone uncomfortable in the face of her embarrassment and distress, she kept the party going and focused on her guests rather than herself.  That is real hospitality and a lesson I won't soon forget.

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