Paris Dinner Parties
My friends and I often complain in San Francisco, that no one entertains, no one gives dinner parties, no one seems to invite anyone over. I used to entertain a lot when I was married, and give lots of dinner parties, and I rarely do anymore either, but when I do (usually friendly evenings of Mexican food, or the poker parties I love, with pizza, roast chicken, and wine, and only once in a great while a more serious dinner party, maybe once or twice a year), I find that no one reciprocates and invites me back. The excuses of my friends are legion, “We don’t entertain anymore, it’s too much trouble/work, it’s too expensive” or they just don’t feel like it. It is one of the big differences I find between my life in Paris and my life in the States. I find that people in Paris have friends over for dinner a lot, whatever their socio-economic level, or marital status. Whether single or in couples, French people have friends over to dinner a lot. Even bachelors manage to do dinners at their homes in Paris, whereas in the States that’s a prime excuse not to entertain, if a man is single, and I don’t know a single bachelor in California who gives dinner parties, whereas all my single male and female friends invite friends over for dinner in Paris. Bachelorhood is no excuse, and I am really impressed by how graciously people entertain in Paris, even if they don’t have a lot of means or aren’t perfectly set up for it (they don’t use that as an excuse!!). And it’s one of the things I love about my Paris life, getting invited to people’s homes, meeting their friends and new people, or hanging out with people I already know, having long political or intelligent discussions, and sitting around a table, talking into the wee hours. I love it!!!
Everyone entertains differently. A female publisher I know (married to a banker) gives beautiful, elegant dinner parties, with a fascinating mix of people, usually 20 people, at 2 tables of l0. She always hires a caterer, the food is delicious, the people are interesting, and everyone has a great time. That is top of the line as dinner parties go. Another single woman friend gives dinner parties for ten, and usually hires a funny little old lady who makes home style food, and it is always a cozy evening at her table, with people I like to meet and some I’ve seen before. She also gives ‘hot chocolate parties’ on cozy winter afternoons, when everyone is bored (EVERYTHING in France is closed on Sunday, so there is very little to do, and people are happy to have something to do on a Sunday. I often give Sunday brunches for that reason, to break the monotony of a dreary Sunday, particularly for single people who are alone). I know several people who give very elegant dinner parties, but I am always filled with admiration for those who manage it in more challenging circumstances, which shows some real effort and creativity on their part. I’m also touched that people feel a need, or a desire, to reciprocate socially in France. If I give a dinner party for a dozen people in Paris, ALL of them invite me to dinner at their homes, within several weeks after. In the States, no one does. These days in the States, when people have no help at home, they seem to prefer going to a restaurant with another couple, but they just don’t seem to invite groups of people to their home to dinner, even if they can easily afford to. It makes invitations to them seem very one-sided. You invite people to your house, and make some effort to do so, and they don’t invite you back. Three of my (single) daughters love entertaining, and give casual dinner parties often and love to do it, but they all comment that none of their friends invite them for a dinner party at their house. It seems a shame to me that the pleasure of entertaining friends seems to have become a lost art. And I think that eventually, for lack of reciprocal invitations, people eventually stop making the effort. I do most of my entertaining now in France, because it just isn’t fun entertaining people (in the States) who never invite you back. There is more give and take about it in Europe.
The two people who most impress me in Paris, in how they entertain, are two men I know, one is single/divorced and has been for many years, and the other is married, with two children. People always love to invite bachelors to their dinner parties, and it’s so nice to see one who makes the effort to invite people back!!! The single one recently invited me to an impromptu, last minute dinner at his house. He said he ‘threw’ it together at the last minute, and I was really impressed at how capably and beautifully he did it. I think he invited me to reciprocate for a couple of gatherings I had invited him to. He lives in a relatively ordinary apartment, with a small kitchen, and when I arrived, the table had been very nicely set with place mats (nothing fabulous, just nice), nice plates and glasses. He had invited 10 guests, all very interesting people (a well known journalist, a politician, an artist, an interesting mix of people, 5 women and 5 men), and he had made a simple but very good salad, had his butcher make some sort of meat dish that was easy to cook, and had made potatoes to go with it, and then served a delicious store-bought peach pie for dessert. He made it all seem very easy, made no fuss about it, the food was good, very good, even if not cordon bleu, and he made it all seem incredibly simple. He cooked and served it himself, the table looked pretty, and the guests were terrific to talk to. It did exactly what a dinner party should: it got together a group of fun, interesting people. He fed them with very little fuss, even though it cant have been easy to organize all alone, and he made it seem absolutely effortless. One didn’t get the impression that he had been slaving over it for 12 hours, it was good to eat, everything looked nice, and we all had a good time together. It was perfect, and the kind of thing that anyone can do if they make a little effort. And he said he had organized the whole thing the day before. He has a busy, stressful job, but still managed to get to his butcher and baker, toss a salad, stick the meat in the oven, make the potatoes, and serve the pie. And presto magic, a great evening was had by all. I had a terrific time!!! And I was touched to be included and that he made the effort to entertain us all.
The other man whose entertaining skills I really admire is a young man in his 30’s, married to a writer/journalist, with 2 young kids (aged 2 and 4, and are expecting a third), and he is starting his own company and really works hard.They have a very nice apartment, some really interesting art, and I always meet interesting people at their home too, from a variety of backgrounds and countries. In this case, the young husband cooks the dinner, serves it, keeps an eye on the kids and gets them to bed before we sit down to dinner. He loves to cook and the dinner is always delicious (better than any caterer), and for years I thought he had someone cooking in the kitchen and he just served it. Not at all, he does EVERYTHING, a real one man band, taking care of 2 young kids, cooking the dinner and serving it, and he probably only gets home from work shortly before he does it and the guests arrive. And once again, the charm of the evening is that he makes it feel effortless, he is part of every conversation, fully focused on his guests, and doesn’t make us feel as though he is slaving away at it, but that it’s easy and he enjoys it (and I know myself, cooking for a dozen people can be far from easy, and I am not an artful chef to say the least, which is why I either hire someone to cook, or serve pizza, salad, store bought roast chicken, and ice cream. And sometimes those evenings are the most fun!! If you don’t have help, people are very forgiving of what you serve, and just grateful that you make the effort!!). Entertaining doesn’t have to be difficult or fancy. But in the case of both these men, I am REALLY impressed by how easily and gracefully they do it. And they seem to keep in mind that the important thing is having fun with the guests and having a good time. They both remind me that you can entertain friends without driving yourself (or them) crazy, keep it simple, and provide an evening that people really enjoy coming to. It makes for such a warm, nice evening when you get invited to a friend’s house, or even someone you don’t know that well. It opens new doors, introduces you to new people, or gets you together with old friends you like. You don’t have to have a fancy chef, or even a caterer, or a fancy home set up for entertaining. You can serve pizza if you want to, but the great thing is assembling 10 or 12 people, or even 6 or 8, and sharing a lovely evening, and even inviting someone who invited you recently. I think we really have a lesson to learn here from the French, in the warm, easy, hospitable way they entertain at home, with such seeming ease. (It’s just not the same when you meet at a restaurant, and much more impersonal). It’s something I really love about France!!! It’s a real inspiration to me to see how people entertain in Paris, and maybe it will inspire you too!!! Love, Danielle
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I know exactly what you mean about people not hosting dinner parties anymore. My wife and I are known as the party people among our friends because we both love to cook and create a wonderful evening for our friends. It is our way of really making them feel special and to let them know how much they mean to us.
Every year, around October or November, we have our annual “Fall Feast,” where we invite about 20 or so good friends over, seating them around two tables, with a huge buffet of food we worked an entire week to prepare. Everyone enjoys it and they are always the memorable event of everyone’s year. We started doing it the year we were married, 10 years ago. That first dinner we had 25 people in our tiny one bedroom apartment. We didn’t even have enough chairs for everyone to sit at once, so there were people on our living room floor, but they all had the best time and practically begged to be invited the next time we did it. After that, the event became well known, and everyone always feels so special when they make the list, which we try to change up a bit every year. It’s funny how much people come to rely on us for our hospitality, and you’re right, they don’t always reciprocate, and sometimes that is a little frustrating, but we never stop doing it because we get more out of it than we put into it. I just wish they would realize how enjoyable it is to give back, even if they can’t cook or have the space to give as large a dinner party as we do.
So we also started giving two other parties too, one in December and another in January, and although these are usually pot luck affairs, they are equally enjoyable, and sometimes even more so. We play games, invite eclectic groups of friends, and simply have a marvelous time. Last year we had Chinese, French, Spanish and South African and English friends over, and it was a truly international affair. We didn’t know how it would go at first, but everyone had such a fantastic time getting to know one another, and by the end of the evening, everyone had made new friends, and they always ask us when we’ll get together to do something like that again.
I always remember something you wrote at the beginning of your novel “Family Album,” a quote from the Bible that says that “God places the solitary in families.” Well, since it is just my wife and I and neither of us can get together with our families for one reason or another, we try to make our home a haven for people who are single or alone or separated from their families for various reasons, people who are old, and some who are very young, and plenty in between. These friends have filled the gaps and become our “chosen” family, the family we’ve created by surrounding ourselves with folks from every walk of life, who enrich our existence and make us feel wanted and loved. It’s been a real joy to create this kind of bond and to spread that kind of unity and joy with others as we can. So we continue to have our parties, even if people don’t reciprocate, but I like to think that eventually someone will, and on occasion they surprise us and invite us to share a meal with them.
Thanks for sharing your memories of Paris, and of your friends. Hopefully others will think about it and start hosting parties again, because the only things that really matter are the bonds we make with other people and the friendships we foster. When we’re all old and reflecting on our lives, those are the things we all really remember, and sadly, sometimes are the regrets we have if we don’t make many connections with others. But I hope you and I both have plenty of happy, joyful, loving memories with the people who populate our lives.
[…] This week Danielle Steel has written about “Paris Dinner Parties“. If you ever have the opportunity to attend one you will become intrigued as well. I […]
Manners and breeding—-perhaps those in Europe have been brought up with traditional manners,passed down from their parents. They seem to have been lost on those in the states, particularly those in SF Bay Area where I, too, have the honor of living…..
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I fully agree! I feel like you have somehow read my mind, because I was just thinking the same thing within the past month. My husband and I are always the ones to entertain in our circle of friends. People seem to have a great time when they are here. They write us e-mails telling us what a great time they had at our home. However, they never seem to reciprocate. I told my husband that after years of entertaining, I’m starting to feel somewhat used because I feel like everyone now assumes that we will entertain them. I no longer have the motivation to entertain anymore because of this reason. So sad!
Hi Danielle, I am like you millions of fans that can’t get enough of your books. If you are ever in Reno, Nevada I would love to have you join me and my crazy friends (Karen & Vicki) for dinner. Over the last 40 years we have had some wild adventures. There is something about the chemistry between us that creates hilarious fun! I am a retired school teacher and I tell my friends that the naughty kids on the playground always find each other. Are you ready to laugh so hard that your face hurts?
Thank you for writing an interesting blog.
Great post Danielle
I’m from Australia and now live in a regional semi rural area. Originally from Sydney, I found that my friends in the city regularly throw dinner parties, low budget but high in fun. Now that I live in a semi-rural area in the outskirts of the suburbs, NOBODY does it. Everyone keeps to themselves until it’s a big event, like a 50th birthday, or an engagement .. and then they get so drunk and disgusting! Quite vulgar. I think it has to do with the distance between houses – usually the blocks are over an acre and getting from one end of the road to the other can take time! but then it just might be that those people just don’t like people and prefer the company of trees. Who knows!
I really like your blog entries, I’m planning to get back to the city when my son is ready for tertiary education.
I have wondered about this very same issue. In Texas where lots of folks live in “very large homes” people still prefer to entertain in restaurants which I find so very, very impersonal. People give you more of themselves when you are in a safer and cozier environment, such as your home. Quite recently I have been invited to several events at restaurants for various celebrations, each of which required that you pay your way. Of course everyone is certainly entitled to their method of entertaining, but I do not include those events as entertaining (from my lexicon), I think of those as paid meetings, you are not really a guest, you are a member of a group.
I enjoy all aspects of entertaining, and I have been entertaining for more of my life than not, but not everyone is so enthused. Yes, as you noted, everyone wants to commune, but without all the work. But it doesn’t have to be much work as you have noted in your blog piece, but I think often folks get intimidated & because they may not be able to reciprocate in the way their recent host has entertained, they pull back from any effort at all. Well, I say, do your own thing, use the resources that you have, we want to commune with you in your style & at your place, we certainly dont want to find that every event we go to are the same… that’s the beauty of it, bring what you have to the table to share, your culture, your friends, your food, your place… and do what I do, friends that come over to criticize your baseboards do not remain on the invite list for long. Studies have shown that one’s longevity is increased when we fellowship together often… so let’s get back to the dinner table…get those parties started. See my other thoughts on the issue at my blog: http://frugalfetes.blogspot.com/2008/02/so-whats-stopping-you-from-entertaining.html
[…] This week Danielle Steel has written about “Paris Dinner Parties“. If you ever have the opportunity to attend one you will become intrigued as well. I […]
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