A friend once advised my wife: ‘never choose an end seat at a party. If the lady next to you doesn’t talk, you are finished. At least if you are between two people, your chances for a successful conversation are improved’. She wasn’t assuring an interesting conversation, just some conversation.
I for one have become choosy about which parties I go to. Although a lot of importance is attached by many hostesses to a lavish spread, my first vote goes to the company. (Unfortunately in family get-togethers there is nothing like choosing the company or having an option to decide.).
Unlike ladies, the problem among men sometimes is not one of silence but nonsense. Parties are meant for having a good time. Although different people may look for different things when giving or going to parties, most would agree that conversation is an important aspect in all parties. Of course food is around which it is centered and to some guests food becomes the only aspect. It is said that when Calvin Coolidge was Vice-President, he was invited to many dinners. Always he was the despair of his hostess because of his utter disregard of the art of conversation. One lady felt that she had solved this problem by placing him next to a lady who was known to be a brilliant conversationalist. After failing to elicit any response from the silent Mr Coolidge, in exasperation the lady acidly asked, “You go to so many dinners. They must bore you a great deal.” Calmly Coolidge replied without lifting his eyes from the contemplation of the plate before him, “Well, a man has to eat somewhere.” Another time a prominent Washington society woman was sitting next to him at a smart party. “Oh, Mr President,” she said gushingly, ‘you are so silent. I made a bet today that I could get more than two words out of you.” “You lose,” the President replied. The problem is, not all silent guests are that important or that witty.
This reminds me of a recent party. As the ladies and men were sitting in two separate groups, a few ladies wanted to join the men. The hostess took the opportunity to request some of the men to join the ladies. Only one rose to help the hostess in her desperate effort to make the guests mingle. He walked confidently towards the ladies and 10 minutes later walked back frustrated. He was telling his wife, “I talked, passed compliments, asked questions, told them jokes but couldn’t get one word out of them. I give up!”
Of course not all ladies are quiet and not all men want ladies to talk. Dr Johnson, I am told, was one day in conversation with a very talkative lady, of whom he appeared to take very little notice. “Why, Doctor, I believe you prefer the company of men to that of the ladies.” “Madam,” replied he, “I am very fond of the company of ladies; I like their beauty, I like their delicacy, I like their vivacity, and I like their silence.”
Conversations don’t always have to be stimulating and can’t always be witty. A significant part of some conversations involve describing other conversations that we’ve had with mutual relatives or friends or anyone. And it’s fascinating to watch a story being refined or altered or slanted through repeated tellings. Actually according to one Francis Lockier “No one will ever shine in conversation who thinks of saying fine things; to please, one must say many things indifferent, and many very bad”. Some can be very amusing by narrating stories against themselves. And for just returned vacationers the only aspect of their travels that is guaranteed to hold an audience is disaster.
As there are all sorts of people having diverse expectations, and it is not possible to tell the hostess that your acceptance will be based on who the other guests are, you might have to respond based on your past experiences. Or resign like Coolidge “A man has to eat somewhere”!