How to Survive Mingling at Parties and Modern Table Talk, According to the Truly Rich Lady
It was the middle of the week, and I found myself in unfamiliar territory: an ultra glossy dinner party filled with young people or, to be more specific, younger people.
Because we are friends, I will now admit the following: I only look young, but I am not as young as the creatures who were flitting about in lively ensembles that only made sense in movies, but somehow were working in the real-life setting of celebrating...uh, what was it?... Heroic Pets That Save Other Pets!
I grew up in a household that hosts magnificent parties. My parents are master entertainers or, really, just suave talkers, and thus, by extension (being forced to attend endless exercises in socialization), I am also well-versed in the art of small talk.
Father could sway the opinion of the entire room with a clever play on words and Mother could liven up the spirits of not-in-the-mood guests by deploying her many charms, part of which is an inimitable style that revolves around feathers.
Legends say Father and Mother used to do a medley of love songs for guests who stayed after midnight. The don’t this anymore. The romance of parties has fizzled, giving way to this scene on the narrow balcony of a hidden away resto-pub-club-breakfast joint. The elegant swans had retreated to their bedrooms so that who we were left with that night were beings that follow a new set of rules.
Old Rule: You must maintain eye contact.
New Rule: You can look away.
Get the hellos right, and the rest of the night will go splendidly. That means a handshake deployed with a greeting and eye contact. The handshake must be solid, the greeting warm, and the gaze direct. When all these are executed well, you are saying, “I am present right now and happy to meet you, person who wears gold foil as a coat.”
Old rules command that eye contact should continue, even when your eyeballs are itchy or even when your new acquaintance brings up Mandy, her pure breed Lowchen, who has been stricken with a dramatic stomach virus.
Looking into the eyes of your companion expresses your wholehearted agreement about how her pet was not very considerate when it decided to get sick days before an already-planned vacation to Grenada.
Well, you can throw that rule out as, in my observation, young people nowadays possess manic eyes that flit about, from you to their phones to the young lady who, in more superior clothes, just walks into the room.
“Excuse me, Zih-zih,” said my young balcony companion that late night. And just like she disappeared.
After an hour, she reappeared, picking up where she had left off about Mandy. It was as if leaving had not been the height of rudeness. I looked away when she started to describe the contents of her sick dog’s stomach, and she did not mind at all. She was taking a photo of the centerpiece, a cat made out of dried vegetables.
Old Rule: Do not talk about politics, religion, nose jobs.
New Rule: Do talk about things that matter, including nose jobs.
Talking about politics and religion is like passing a death sentence on a party. With volatile subjects, there runs the risk of the beautiful dinner leading to fisticuffs or, much worse, becoming a very uncomfortable meal with mimes. No one is talking because they are so mad about politics and religion!
The plainer topics of the weather (“It’s so hot right now!”) and traffic (“Traffic is terrible!”) or an exchange of compliments about clothes or an inquiry about babies are much more acceptable even if they are as boring as toenails.
However, in my observation, the young people nowadays do not shy away from taboo topics. In fact, they love to express their very important opinions with the fiery passion of someone who is not an expert on political strategy or religious history or anything really. (I am not sure what these people do.)
It is also fair game to discuss, at great length, medical operations such as a transformative rhinoplasty: why she did it, how she did it, how much she paid for it, and, most important, how it changed her life so much. “I feel like my true self now,” said one pretty thing as she showed us very graphic photos.
Old Rule: Be genuinely interested.
New Rule: Be the most interesting.
Which brings us to the biggest change in the rules of civilized socialization: You should do your best to be very interesting, because it should be all about you. Really!
While traditional socials always lead to an inquiry about what the other does, their work, hobbies, passions, and favorite Netflix shows, it doesn’t usually become a platform to share a detailed account of what you did last Saturday.
The best players (aka the winners) are those with the bubbliest personalities and the most outlandish stories: What’s that? You were just in Mykonos swimming with dolphins when a shark came out of nowhere and you had no choice but shield the dolphins from harm by punching its nose with a float? Amazing.
And what’s that? You were stopped multiple times at the airport because people thought you were a highly tanned Natalie Portman. And you also did not dissuade them from this false notion? Wow!
And, what’s that? What did I do last Saturday? I slept. Don’t mind me, please. In fact, don’t look at me!
More Tips from an Older Person
Enlist a minder.
There are just so many of these new people. You will need someone from the inside who will repeat in your ear what their names are. She will be your guiding light through the night. She will also talk to you. If you lose her, you might die.
Find a friend.
If a minder is unavailable, commiserating with someone who is in a similar boat is an option. It will be easy to spot her. Like you, she will be older. Like you, she will be confused. Like you, she will be only interested in food.
Phone a friend.
If that is not possible, you can always call someone and tell him how miserable you are. This is a temporary salve as phone calls tend to end. But maybe, after 20 agonizing minutes of hanging out beside a plant that is having more fun than you, your phone rings. He says, “Look outside.” There, under the moonlight, is your prince ready to save you.