Time to turn again to the pages of “Emily Post Mealtime Etiquette” for a look back at what was proper in the 1960s, when this handy tome was published.
Chapter 7 is titled “The Considerate Guest,” and includes these nuggets of wisdom:
When you are a guest, you have almost equal responsibility with your host and hostess for the success of the occasion. For regardless of how carefully plans have been made, and with what detail host and hostess give their attention to the gathering, an inconsiderate guest can spoil the enjoyment of all present by either deliberate or unconscious rudeness.
General Responsibilities of the Guest
Acceptance of an invitation is a tacit acceptance of your responsibilities as a guest. These include, among other things, participating in, but not monopolizing, the conversation; helping to keep the conversation away from controversial subjects and malicious gossip; being pleasant to all present regardless of whether you are having a private feud with someone in the group; and finally, knowing and using ordinary good manners, both at the table and away from it.
A general knowledge of basic rules of etiquette will equip you for most of the dining situations you will encounter.
It goes without saying that when you are invited to a meal of any kind, your personal appearance will be given attention. For a spur-of-the-moment invitation, you may have only the opportunity to be sure of having clean face and hands, clean fingernails and freshly combed hair. Children trained to give attention to these details for every meal at home will have no trouble remembering them when invited by a playmate’s mother to “stay for supper.” If the invitation has been extended well in advance of the meal, it will compliment your hostess (or host) if you come carefully groomed and attractively dressed.
At almost any event to which you are invited, it is almost better to arrive late than to arrive early. You may arrive up to five minutes before the time stated on your invitation, but to arrive earlier is to be most inconsiderate of your host and/or hostess. Those few minutes that they have before guests are expected to arrive can be most precious in seeing that everything is well in hand.
If you are invited to a sit-down meal, you should try to arrive at about the time stated. However, you may arrive up to 15 minutes late without being guilty of really great inconsiderateness to your hostess (or host). This timing is also appropriate for intimate teas. Buffet meals allow for greater elasticity in serving, and therefore you may arrive up to a half-hour late without offending. Large teas and cocktail parties allow for the greatest leeway in the time of both arrival and departure. You may arrive and leave early, you may arrive early and stay for the full time stated on your invitation, or you may arrive late, if you wish. It is important that your timing be coordinated with that of your invitation. Sometimes, when space for entertaining is limited, the guest list is staggered so that not everyone is invited for the same hours. You can embarrass your hostess by remaining too long.