Every once in a while, I go to a formal dinner. This is not usually an annual occasion; in fact, before this year, I hadn’t been to a formal dinner since I was seventeen and about to graduate from high school. I have been to a total of five formal dinners, and the sad fact remains that I still don’t know what to do with myself when I attend one.
Number one, I’m horrible at the whole “mingling” thing. Unless I’m there with a ton of people I know really well, you will find me hunkered down in a corner, adopting the wallflower position—leaning into a corner, munching on cheese and crackers and pretending to look like I’m having a good time. This was not the case in high school, where I knew everyone and they knew me, so I had something to talk about with everyone. In college I know almost no one. Not sure why this is, but I’ve accepted it and have taken my place as a nonentity in crowds.
Number two, once we finally move along to our assigned seats at those daft little round tables, I feel like I’ve got two left feet and nothing but thumbs. In my attempt to gracefully scoot my chair out of traffic, I inevitably will bump the table and end up spilling something on someone’s menu and/or clothing. Also, I never know what to do with the surplus of plates and utensils on the table. One fork, one knife, and one spoon are more than what’s needed to transfer food from plate to mouth, but for whatever reason, fancy-schmancy occasions seem to demand two extra forks and one more knife and spoon, all in different sizes. And the plates! There’s a plate for the salad, a plate for the dinner roll, a plate for the butter to put on the dinner roll, a plate for the main course, a plate for the plate for the main course. There’s even a darling little plate under the teensy tea-cup that’s supposed to hold your coffee. I don’t think even Emily Post herself could explain to me the necessity for all these eating surfaces.
Number three, formal dinners are kind of awful if you go to them alone. It helps to go with a friend (or an understanding date) so that in case you make some kind of social blunder, there will be at least one person at the table who won’t hold it against you. Alone at the table, it’s easy to feel like you stick out like a sore thumb, and conversation with strangers isn’t easy for everyone. I mean, I can manage to make new friends and to have a good time, but it’s hard to get along with people before I know exactly how to make them laugh. If I can figure out what tickles the table’s funnybones, then I’m set. If not, I’m just the odd chick at the table who keeps making obscure film references. And is using the dessert fork for her salad.
That’s the cynical side of me talking. In all honesty, I enjoy formal dinners as an occasional treat, especially if I get the chance to go with someone nice who makes the evening fun. But I’m glad I get to look forward to a career as a writer, where most of these formal occasions will be happening in my head.