Two years ago I got invited to a fundraiser dinner for some reason and one of the guests, looking to make small talk, asked me what my dream was. I replied, “I’m naked in a toy store and all my teeth are falling out”. Nobody laughed, and I did not make any new friends at my table. Disheartened, I excused myself from the table and went to pick at the buffet.
I hated this scene for more than just one reason. First of all, what a waste of a great joke. If you don’t think that joke was funny, you are stupid. Second, why did I allow the response (or lack thereof) of five or six strangers to dig so deeply under my skin? I didn’t know any of these people and certainly wouldn’t be seeing any of them ever again, as a fundraiser campaign for a small school in Cambodia is not a regular part of my weekend repertoire. And I wasn’t the odd man out; the other guests at the table didn’t get along well with each other either – yet they were all smiles while exchanging phone numbers and Facebook info as the evening came to a close. The one person I did know at the event did the same, but later told me she couldn’t stand most of the guests at our table and had no intention of contacting them. I even managed to upset the event organizer just before I left by mistaking her 25-year-old friend for a 40-year-old. I’ll take the rap for that one.
Anyway, the moral of the story is this; if you are planning a formal event of any kind, one with a dress code, a guest list or a gift registry, consider the following before you invite me. Believe me when I say that this will be better for us both.
I probably won’t wear the proper attire
I don’t mind dressing up; in fact, I enjoy it when I can put together my own ensemble using the clothes I already own. I have a decent Japanese suit with a slim cut that complements my frame and, from a distance, tricks the eye into believing I am physically fit. I have a few nice ties and although I’ve been sporting the same dress shoes for eight years, the scuff marks aren’t noticeable unless you’re paying close attention – and if you’re the kind of person who pays close attention to things like that, I don’t need you in my life.
What I don’t like doing is spending money on articles of clothing I won’t be wearing regularly; if the event requires something I do not already own, such as a white tie, I will go to great lengths to avoid buying one, even if I end up borrowing a cream-colored WWII-era tie from somebody’s grandpa. We both know the tie doesn’t match my suit or the dress code, but here I am, at your party, taking the last piece of maguro nigiri from the buffet table. I’m equally stubborn in my work attire – money spent on work clothes feels wasted to me, which is probably why I have three pairs of Nike Dunks, but all my students ask me why I wear the same sweater to work every day.
I don’t like being assigned a table
You know who needs assigned seating? Middle school kids. You know why they need it? Because middle schoolers are so chemically and hormonally imbalanced that they would be considered legally insane if they exhibited the same behaviors at any other stage of life. Do you know what would happen to a 40-year-old man if he locked himself in his room, sobbed uncontrollably and talked to the posters on his wall because someone made fun of his haircut? Straight to Bellevue Psychiatric.
Middle school students need structure, but there comes a time when the hormones start to level out, and the world doesn’t seem so insane, and you get to choose your own seat. Finally, I could strategically choose a seating arrangement that allowed me to talk to my friends and also stare at whichever of my classmates had sprouted the biggest boobs - a practice I still employ to this day. I’ve grown accustomed to this freedom and it is not something I want to relinquish at the age of 30. Not everybody gets along, and tension is bound to arise when a table of six to eight adults who have nothing in common other than a single mutual friend are forced to sit and eat together.
Drunken networking is the worst
In Japan, important business deals are often made over copious amounts of booze. A relatively passive and reserved culture, alcohol allows most Japanese to reveal their true thoughts and establish a higher level of trust between potential business partners. But I’m not Japanese, and I’m not a businessman either, and I’d rather drink with just about anyone on Earth than a bunch of Tokyo salarymen all wearing the same suit.
Networking and social engineering are essential skills, and who you know really is more important than what you know – I get that. But right now I’m six whiskeys deep, and you’ve been filling your own sake cup for the past three hours, and while we can exchange business cards if you want, we both know that neither of us is going to contact the other. Also, I don’t have a business card.
Nobody likes my stupid jokes
That little anecdote at the beginning of this entry really happened, and I have found myself in similarly uncomfortable situations at just about every formal dinner I have ever attended. It isn’t to rebel or make a scene or hurt anyone’s feelings, but there is something inside of me that constantly wants to test the limits of what I can get away with in a formal setting. It’s an experiment with no grounding in science or reason; I just want to see what will happen. Typically it manifests itself in the form of an off-color joke or comment met with scowls and silence from the other guests at the table.
I’m flattered if you invite me to your wedding, work party or neighbor’s bar mitzvah, and if you put an honest effort into the invitation, I’ll make an honest effort to show up. Just know that it might get a little weird, and as soon as I get home I’m going to write about all of it.