When Americans don't have a lot of clothes or furniture, their home, wardrobe, and life is deemed sub-functional. In Paris, stuff gets in the way. Our friends love to congregate in the kitchen or on the balcony, and they prefer standing to sitting, perhaps because it facilitates greater gesturing with a wine glass. We borrowed enough Eames chairs for everybody- our apartment seats 16 already- lugging them four Metro stops to our place. Much to Kar and Toffel's delight, nobody used them. With views like these, people happily sit on the floor.
Here are a few tips for hosting (or attending) a fun Parisian party:
- Relax. Hostesses don't seem to care- nor do they apologize- if their apartment isn't perfect, the food doesn't turn out right, or they don't have oyster forks. Going-out tops don't exist in Paris; day to night style is the same. It's better to be casually dressed than overdressed.
- Make food that reheats well. Parties here are informal, unhurried affairs spanning hours, and guests are typically late (see below). Tell your friends 8 o'clock, but forget serving dinner before 10 pm. Parisians prefer small bites for uninhibited conversation.
- Select fine cheese. This is one thing no French person skimps on. Wine can be cheap, food can be little more than a bag of Vico chips and Picard, but cheese must always be excellent quality and well-presented. Cathare is popular. Remember, cheese must be served as a separate course- it's dessert, not an appetizer- and everybody loves raclette.
- Serve apéritifs. We keep olives, almonds, cherry tomatoes, bulk chips and tea on hand for unexpected guests. Don't rush- let guests snack before each course.
- Don't arrive empty handed. Our guests are generous and bring everything from Veuve Clicquot, whiskey and tequila to chocolates, tea, flowers, and a box of Pierre Hermé macarons with a cat on it. If you put a lot of effort into hosting, people will respond in kind.
- Buy enough bread. Don't think because you bought Poilâne or pain de campagne, you don't have to serve baguette. You do, and don't forget butter and rillettes. Other suitable accompaniments: foie gras, cheese, confits.
- Stock a liquor cabinet. One mistake I made at my first party was not having different drinks for different parts of the meal. You'll need a light apéritif (Lillet and Pastis are traditional, but dry champagne is fine), rosé for people who don't drink red wine, eau pétillante (Badoit is common), red and white wines, and a digestif.
- Don't be afraid to say no. Everyone I've met here enjoys a nice argument. Nobody minds if you tell them to take their shoes off or smoke outside. So far, only Americans made a big deal of that sort of thing in my home...
There are two rules I hear are changing in French society- 1) arrive late and 2) don't cater to dietary restrictions. Maybe it's just our friends, but most French people we know are considerate, punctual, and willing to eat gluten-free.