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If we consider the book of Genesis, the first written record of guests, then it had to be those three angels who showed up unannounced at a barbecue hosted by Abraham. Centuries have passed, from the babble of small-talk at tribal gatherings, to the tinkle of martini glasses, and only one thing remains unchanged.

Neither guest nor the host can be relied on to behave like angels. That’s why, from the very beginning, human beings have established rules for social behavior, guidelines to eat, mix, and mingle by. They include directions on how to greet the hostess, what present to bring, and which utensil to use when approaching the buffet table. Some of the rules still come in handy, others are hopelessly out of date. Trouble is no one ever tells you which is which.


Sally Quinn, a reporter for The Washington Post, and author of “The party: a guide to adventurous entertaining”

Jesse Browner, Author of “The Duchess who wouldn’t Sit Down: An Informal History of Hospitality”

Martin Booe, a contributor to the Los Angeles Times Magazine and to Bon Appetite.