Be the Perfect Party Guest

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Mingling With Ease

Q. I run into an old friend I haven't seen or spoken to in years at a mutual friend's annual bash. We fill each other in on our current lives during a nearly hour-long conversation. I'm ready to mingle with the other guests at this point, but she's babbling endlessly. How do I move on without offending her?

A. What you need to do in this situation is wave your white flag. "The white flag is what they use in car racing to let you know you have one more lap," says Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk (Small Talk Press, 2002). "Start with an exit line, such as, 'In a few minutes I have to wrap this up because I promised Maryanne I would get to talk to her, and I'm afraid she'll take off.'"

If your long-lost friend doesn't take this hint, you'll have to resort to raising a red flag. "If she's still rambling, then two minutes later say, 'I promised Maryanne I was going to talk to her today. It was great seeing you,' and then walk away," says Fine.

However, don't use excuses, such as, "I need to use the bathroom," or "I need to get to the buffet table," and never make it to these destinations because you stopped to chat with someone else. If you do this, you'll definitely insult your chatty friend.

Q. I've been invited to a summer party. I assumed it called for casual attire, but when I get there the men are wearing suit jackets and the women are in dresses. My partner and I look out of place -- to say the least -- in our denim shorts and T-shirts. What can we do to save face at this point?

A. Getting caught with the wrong attire is a social faux pas worse than getting caught "double dipping" your celery stick in the onion dip. To save face at this point, you have two options:

1. If you have a sweater or jacket lying around the back seat of your car, you're in luck. "If everyone else is in a dress or sports coat, add a softly-styled shirt/jacket and you won't look so out of place," says Judith Rasband, director of the Provo, Utah-based Conselle Institute of Image Management, a national company that prepares educational materials and programs relating to personal appearance.

2. Your other option is to come up with a good Jerry Seinfeld-like humorous one-liner poking fun at the situation. "Put on your best smile, and make some flip comment about today's fashion confusion when it comes to dress codes," Rasband says. "The worst move you could make would be to abruptly leave the party. Show your confidence by staying."

That's exactly what Erin Bergan, 27, assistant director of admission for DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, did when she walked into what she thought was an informal work mixer with jeans and a red T-shirt that featured a pig holding flowers and the phrase, "Please Don't Eat Me, I Love You." "Some of the professors thought I was trying to make a vegetarian stand. I just thought the shirt was funny," she says, noting that other party guests were wearing business casual attire. "I just laughed it off and made a humorous situation out of it. It actually made for a conversation piece, and got people talking to each other."


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