Friday, September 25, 2009

The Art of the Australian Dinner Party

There should be a system that allows us to collect credits for feeding Lou, which we can then apply to Dave and Bill and Steph.
Dinner Party Debt - Readers' Digest, Australia

Dinner Party Guests
This is a community services announcement.

Being Australian and living in the U.S., I'm often asked questions about life in Australia. 85% of the questions revolve around the weather, the most common being, "What's the weather like in Australia?"

But occasionally I get deeper questions and it is such questions that, if I were a mathematician, I could plot as correlation frequencies, on a map - as there's a definite correlation between the type of questions, and geographical location of the questioner.

As I am mathematically-challenged, words will have to suffice.

The "geographically-south" questions are mostly about socialism. Actually, they aren't really questions. I categorize them as such as I answer them. They are really statements. Examples: "It must be DREADFUL to have been born in a socialist country." "Australians worship the Queen of England and pay taxes to Great Britain". "It must suck not being able to choose your own doctor."

More Dinner Partiers
As you go north, either north-east or north-west the questions become more interesting (as well as more grammatically correct). Examples: "Why do Australian women put up with the men there?" "Why do Australians travel so much?" "Do you have a president?"

I usually brush people off with a monosyllabic reply, which is, I suppose a bit rude. So now I will try to make amends.

A feature of middle-class life in Australia is the DINNER PARTY. If you visit Australia for any length of time, you will no doubt be invited to one.

An Australian dinner party consists of three to six couples, although singles are always welcome. It's drinks at 7:00 - 7:30 and the meal some time after. "Some time after" can mean anything from 8:00 p.m. to 11p.m. depending upon how much wine the hosts have drunk.

Once I went to a dinner party where the hostess went out to buy some ingredient she'd forgotten, and while out, actually FORGOT she was having a dinner party, and did not return for several hours, by which time her guests were so inebriated that they'd forgotten who she was. Things have a way of resolving themselves - amazing.

Dinner Party Guest
Australian dinner parties normally last three to four hours and take place around a table. There's no leaving the table after the food has been consumed - the last course is always very late as by the time mains are served, the hosts have begun to relax and are in no hurry to leave "THE DISCUSSION".

The "DISCUSSION" normally resolves upon some current affair (news) of the day, such as unemployment, illegal immigration, or U.S. politics. Usually the majority of the guests take one stand, and one couple will disagree. That's what makes it "fun".

Dinner Party Host
If you are in the minority at a dinner party, prepare to be RIDICULED. You may even find yourself leaving, sobbing your way to the front door while the host stays put at the table saying, "how come I never realised X was so politically suss?"

Choose your dinner party with care - if you do not like being temporarily ostracized - I say "temporarily" as the ostracism never sticks - do not attend. However, if you are the odd one out, you will for sure be invited back again. After all, you contributed to the life of the party.

If you are a fence-sitter type be prepared for TROUBLE. People will point at you, ask you what you think. They will NOT take no for an answer.

It's best to have very firm views. Make them up as you go along. No one will care.

Of course you can always elect NOT to go to dinner parties. If that's your preference, then life will be like living in Manhattan, where there are no dinner parties to speak of.

I have lived in Manhattan for fifteen years and have been to only one dinner party. People in Manhattan don't do dinner parties.

The one dinner party I went to was ten years ago, and most of the invited guests had done the Manhattan thing of "cancelling". "Cancelling" is a GOOD THING in Manhattan, and much preferred to TURNING UP, as it shows you are BUSY.

Cancelling is NOT a GOOD THING in Australia. Turning up is mandatory.

Miscellaneous tips for attending Australian dinner parties

  • Bring Jacob's Creek wine but don't let anyone see the label. Hide it in a dark place and forget about it
  • Quickly survey the guests and work out who is "It". Stay away from that person and disagree with him/her at every opportunity
  • Don't tell sexist jokes if women out number men. Otherwise it doesn't matter.
  • Say you voted Labor in the last election.
  • Admire the renovations even if they are non-existent

If all this is a bit much, prepare yourself by renting, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Lots of tips there!

So you can see, there's nothing to it.


Anonymous said...

Now I know why I left Australia.
The antithesis of the Australian dinner party, is a party with U.S. MiddleWesterners. Behavior such as you have described would be considered extremely rude in Ohio, Illinois or surrounding states.
Which do I prefer?
Perhaps it's only the 'better' educated Australians who are quick to show their superior intellect, but then the U.S. equivalent is the Graduate Student Party.
Are Australians all graduate students? Faculty?
Who's afraid of Australian guests would be a great title for a short story. But then, I'm sure it's been done over and over and over.

Bill Critch said...

Why do Australian women put up with the men there?"
"Why do Australians travel so much?"
Both very good questions.
Another would be, "Why, when Australians visit do I worry if theyare EVER going to leave?"

Vanessa said...

We've started the Aussie dinner party tradition here in the UK. Can't beat it!

Anonymous said...

Brilliant! I loved this story. Thank you!
Wanna come to a dinner party?

Anonymous said...

I love it. They don't do dinner parties in the south either. You just can't beat an Aussie dinner party.

Anonymous said...


I've had better experiences of Ozzie dinner parties and now live in the US.

When I lived in Adelaide I went to lots of dinner parties that were great. We dressed up (formal), the hosts excelled in showing off culinary skills, we danced to the Stones & John Mayall(Greetings From LA).early 80's
These dinner parties consisted of mainly the same group who were into the arts and antiques.
I went to one in the adelaide Hills that lasted all weekend in a big country home.The lady who threw the dinner party had a craft supply store in Adelaide.Everybody knew and liked everybody else.(as far as I could see).
Any excuse for another party. I recall one fellow was going overseas and many parties were thrown for his departure and also arrival back home.He owned an antique store on Unley Road.
It was great!!!

Anonymous said...

Cancelling the dinner party means a death in the family or something similar... you do NOT cancel to show off that you have a heavy social guess what.... no-one cares about any of that shit in Australia! You go, because you know you will have a 'fat time' and a few laughs and make friends, despite probably disagreeing with their politics. Love it! KS> Australian in London, 2001-2011

Anonymous said...

Thank you! It was so lovely to read this - it makes me homesick for Australia. We have had lots and lots of Aussie dinner parties here in the US - though we realised we needed to tone down the sarcasm and fun-making.

Kylie Not Minogue said...

My husband and I, both from Adelaide, have taken it upon ourselves to introduce the concept of the dinner party to our friends in the South. Some get it - hours of sitting, eating, drinking, laughing and making grand, ill-informed statements. Others seem to be confused by the absence of hotdogs, hamburgers, tv and back slapping.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, there are plenty of dinner parties in Manhattan.

We just don't invite Australians.

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pavlova8 said...

Love, you haven't lived in Australia for ages, the Australian dinner party isn't what it used to be - that's both good and bad.

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