How do you know when it’s time to go home? As in before you wear out your welcome? Maneuvering the Emily Post of good dinner guesthood is challenging enough when you grow up with the rules. It gets downright tricky when you’re on someone else’s cultural turf.
We had dinner with friends the other night, and during the after-dinner tale-swapping (sobremesa, we call it here in Chile), one of the couples told about the years they lived in Costa Rica and how confused they were the first time they had guests for dinner and everyone left as soon as dessert was finished about 10 PM. With time they came to understand the culture of dining Costa Rica style, but they confess to spending quite some time scratching their heads over how they had managed to offend everyone so quickly.
“In Germany we invite people for dinner at 8:30, and then we spend hours chatting afterward,” they told us. In late-dining Costa Rica, however, everything happens before dinner, and dessert is the cue to go home!
Chileans would most likely have gotten up and left with the Costa Ricans, perhaps nodding that “Ah! so it IS true that Germans eat and go to bed early… Now what do we do with the REST of our Saturday evening?”
Here in Chile dinner happens late. 8:30 is pretty early for dinner–kind of like in the US inviting anyone under 60 to come at 5:00 PM. Most dinner invitations are for 9:30–or maybe 9:00, but guests are expected to make a night of it and hosts will be offended by anyone who makes a move for the door before midnight (which might still be considered on the verge of eat-and-run early).
Guests arrive–some on time, most a fashionably 10–15 minutes late, and some will straggle in up to an hour late (though we usually know who those are going to be–I don’t recommend you be one of those!).
Drinks will be served–wine and pisco sours will be offered, along with a picoteo (appetizers), and somewhere around 10 or 10:30, people will move to the table for a leisurely dinner that may well last until midnight or later.
In more formal situations, hosts may then ask their guests to move to the living room for after-dinner drinks–whisky often appears–or maybe dancing, depending on the crowd. In less formal situations, the hosts will clear the table and glasses are refilled for an extended conversation long into the night. This is my favorite–the conversation is always livelier and more intimate around a table than lounging in arm chairs.
So how do you know when it’s time to go home? In Chile the most typical clue is coffee. When the coffee comes out–often with chocolates, it’s time to take your cue. And don’t expect this much before 2 AM–and don’t be surprised if it’s later (age is a big factor here, but not always).
All of this is subject to personal variations of course. An offer of “el estribo,” for example, couldn’t be much clearer: one last drink for the road…
What’s your experience with “time to go home” cues?
Flip side of the question… what to do with guests who just don’t know when to go home?