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Simply Entertaining: Anonymity at parties is for wallflowers

Thursday, September 06, 2001

By Mary Miller

Have you ever been dragged along to a party and then been left to stand mannequin-like beside your friend/date/husband/wife while he/she chatted away to other guests, with nary an introduction? First-rate hosts and pick-of-the-litter companions know that making guests comfortable is key, and it all starts with introductions.

Don't let an introduction (or the lack of one) make you squirm. When introducing others, present young to old, men to women, students to teachers, new friends to old friends. The person with lesser status, per se, is introduced to the person with more. Base the formality of your introduction on the formality of the event.

At one time, it was considered essential to then reverse the introduction. For example, "Mary Miller, I'd like you to meet the queen of England. Queen, this is Mary Miller." No need to be repetitive anymore. One intro is enough.

Many would say, "Who cares about these silly rules, anyway?" Well, maybe the rules don't matter, but making guests feel comfortable does, and stumbling over introductions make people ill at ease. The bottom line is, whether done properly or not, just do it.

When introducing yourself to another, simply say, " Hello, I'm ________" in a confident and steady tone. If you get no response, it's OK to ask, "And you are . . .?" Avoid Yos, Whassups, or Heys. Then extend your right hand for a firm (not doughy) handshake. Make eye contact and smile. This works both for first-time introductions and for re-introductions when either you've forgotten a name or you think you might have met the other person before.

Re-introductions can always be followed with, "I think we might have met before" just to cover yourself. Don't confuse this with the infamous "Don't I know you from somewhere?" pickup line.

Proceed with small talk about the event or with a simple question. Don't ask, "What do you do for a living?" It can quickly make guests feel superior or inferior. Avoid politics, religion and other sensitive subjects during that first conversation. If you're lucky, things will naturally progress from here. If not, make a beeline for the punch bowl.

What if you forget a name? There are three ways to handle this, according to Alex J. Packer, author of "How Rude! The Teenagers Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and Not Grossing People Out" (a must for all parents of teens).

Be honest, bluff or cheat. The honest route is "I'm sorry, but I can't remember your name." Don't make the other person feel unimportant; just make yourself sound scatterbrained, Packer suggests. I know honesty is best, but the feminist in me cringes at the scatterbrained act.

Bluffing is another choice. "I'm sure you two must know each other" falls into this category. Usually those involved take it from there and introduce themselves.

Finally, you can cheat. Pretend to hear the doorbell. And take off to let them fend for themselves. The ultimate goal is to make people feel at ease even if you're not.

If the introducer hesitates over your name, help out and introduce yourself. Don't stand there and watch others suffer. And if your date forgets to introduce you within a few seconds of a conversation with someone new, reach out your hand and do it yourself. Embarrassed, he or she won't forget the next time.

If you've never had a proper introduction to tofu, this is a good way to start.

Chickpea Dip

1 tablespoon cumin seeds
19-ounce can chickpeas, drained
4 garlic cloves, peeled
12 ounces soft silken-style tofu
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leafed parsley plus additional for garnish

In a dry, small, heavy skillet, toast cumin seeds over moderate heat, shaking pan, until the cumin is a shade darker. Transfer to a plate to cool. Drain tofu.

In a food processor, puree chickpeas, garlic, tofu, cumin seeds, lemon juice and 1 tablespoon oil until chickpeas are smooth. Stir in parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle dip with remaining tablespoon of oil and garnish with parsley. Serve dip with pita toasts and/or crudites. Makes about 3 cups.

Adapted from Gourmet, August 1999

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