29 September 2013

How to entertain house guests

Guests usually take the train from London, and before we pick them up I remind Hugh that, for the duration of their visit, he and I will be playing the role of a perfect couple. This means no bickering and contradicting one another. If I am seated at the kitchen table and he is standing behind me, he is to place a hand on my shoulder, right on the spot where a parrot would perch if I were a pirate instead of the ideal boyfriend. When I tell a story he has heard so often he could lip-synch to it, he is to pretend to be hearing it for the first time, and to be appreciating it as much or more than our guests are. I'm to do the same, and to feign delight when he serves something I hate, like fish with little bones in it. I really blew this a few years back, in Normandy, when his friend Sue came for the night and he poached what might as well have been a hairbrush. Blew it to such an extent that after she left I considered having her killed. "She knows too much," I said to Hugh. The woman's a liability now and we need to contain her".

His friend Jane has seen some ugliness as well, and though I like both her and Sue, and have known them both for going on twenty years, they fall under the category of Hugh's guests. This means that though I play my role, it's not my responsibility to entertain them. Yes, I offer the occasional drink. I show up for meals, but can otherwise come and go at my leisure, exiting, sometimes, as someone is in the middle of a sentence. My father has done this all his life. You'll be talking to him and he'll walk away - not angry, but just sort of finished with you. I was probably six years old the first time I noticed this. You'd think I'd have found it hurtful, but instead I looked at his retreating back thinking, We can get away with that? Really? Yippee!

- David Sedaris, New Yorker, 3 June 2013
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