October 4, 2013 6:54 pm

Party gifts for babies and how to place guests at a dinner party

If I see boring types looming, I prepare myself to be obnoxious

David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of ICorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters

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David Tang

My wife and I have been invited by a couple of friends here in Pasadena, California, to a 100th-day celebration party for their first grandchild. I’m not familiar with the tradition and would like your advice on the meaning and history of the event, and an appropriate present to gift. (They are both prominent Asian antique dealers; she is Chinese.)

It is 100 days because of the “feng shui” belief that the child will live to 100 years old. In fact, there is usually a prior celebration for the newborn baby after 30 days. For both of these occasions, it is the normal Chinese practice to use “red packets” with money inside as gifts. Money is important because it is used to defray the expenses of the celebration, which always takes the form of a banquet, as opposed to the much cheaper western practice of a “reception” consisting only of drinks and perhaps a few canapés. But we Chinese never see the point of standing around talking and drinking instead of sitting down comfortably and tucking into a 10-course dinner. So if you ask me, I would stuff a couple of greenbacks into a red packet and offer it to your friends. The Chinese wife will be impressed by your knowledge of the red packet. Occasionally I am accused of being vulgar in giving money as a present. But I ignore these aspersions because every time I have done it, the recipients, especially the non-Chinese, always grin like huge Cheshire cats. Only recently, I gave my English mother-in-law, on her 70th birthday, a robust red packet stuffed full of readies. She loved it and expressed admiration for its simple practicality. And let us never forget that pleasing one’s mother-in-law is no mean task. So money makes the in-law go round.

. . .

I recently gave a dinner party for a friend. Placement was as ever absolutely key to the whole evening but on arrival a guest changed her placement openly and while sucking a lemon – because she “did not want to sit next to x as he has nothing to talk about”. Thus we had a husband and wife sitting next to one another. Should I have objected more vociferously than I did?

I don’t at all mind having couples sit together because one doesn’t have to make an effort with one’s own spouse or lover or partner. This practice also reduces the probability of being sandwiched between two bores – the curse of any dinner party. But I can understand your irritation from seeing one of your guests openly changing her place at table. The effrontery is not so much the fastidiousness of your guest, but rather the direct implication that you have got things wrong – or, worse still, have tedious guests. Hurting the vanity of the host is not the proper behaviour of a guest. I am, however, considerably more relaxed than you because at any of my lunches or dinners, I don’t really care where people sit as long as they are happy – after all, isn’t that the aim of all entertainment? Mind you, I am rather an intolerant guest, and if I see boring types looming as my neighbours, I prepare myself to be obnoxious and on one or two occasions have disdainfully uttered to the bores: “I must tell you that I find your conversation totally resistible.” At other times, I sham having lost my voice so that I don’t have to talk at all. But it is important that one acts this out properly, perhaps by quietly hawking a few times or contriving a few throat coughs.

. . .

Questions for your agony uncle:

a) Is it OK to go sockless when wearing a suit?

b) Wallet – in hip or breast pocket?

c) Wristwatch – battery, automatic, manual wind, or none? Or pocket watch instead?

a) It is highly unpleasant to look at any sockless person, especially with a suit because it would highlight their naked ankles and possibly hair around the bottom of the shin. Both of these are as “no-no” as Nanette! In any case, isn’t the prospect of sweating in a pair of leather shoes altogether rather unsavoury? It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to smell the consequences.

b) A wallet in a hip pocket would make your trousers look odd because hips on trousers are usually fairly tight, and therefore putting anything in would create unattractive bulges or strange-looking contour lines.

c) Nobody carries pocket watches any more. For those who do, they are usually pompous types who want to show off their gold or silver chain. However, I am prepared to make an exception of Hercule Poirot.

Email questions to david.tang@ft.com

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