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