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Wine and Cheese etiquette
September 25, 2005 7:30 PM   Subscribe

I have been cordially invited to an informal wine and cheese party.

I'm a new grad student, and I received an email the other day from one of my professors cordially inviting me (and a guest!) to said wine and cheese party, taking place at his and his wife's house.

My question is this. What should I bring? It's described as "informal", so I doubt I need to dress in full-on evening wear. So I'm not too concerned about that. But should I bring a bottle of wine along? Should I bring any sort of gift?
posted by vernondalhart to Society & Culture (40 answers total)
 
As an afterthought, am I supposed to reply to the email? It didn't request an RSVP, and it was emailed out to a list of students, not just myself.
posted by vernondalhart at 7:32 PM on September 25, 2005


Sure, reply to the email, something like, "Dear Esteemed Professor, thanks! Can I bring anything?"
posted by gleuschk at 7:40 PM on September 25, 2005


When in doubt, a decent bottle of wine, a good cheese, or a tasty dessert are welcome at just about any party.

But, yeah, just reply and ask what you can bring. Easy enough!
posted by Dr. Wu at 7:44 PM on September 25, 2005


If you bring a bottle of wine, then the worst that can happen is they don't find it up to their standards, in which case they'll say politely say thank you and, taste aside, think you're a considerate person. If you don't bring wine, they might think that you're an inconsiderate person. It's hard to tell what other people's expectations of other people are. Therefore, I'd err on the side of being too considerate, and if you're the only person who brought wine, so be it.

Also, what gleuschk is probably the best way to go about it. And I'd only not bring something if they absolutely insisted on it. Otherwise, even if they say something like, "it's not necessary," I'd still bring a gift.
posted by billysumday at 7:44 PM on September 25, 2005


Bring a bottle of wine. Something foreign and European so that if you only spend $10-$15 on it, they professor will never know (unless they're really, really into wine). Good graces and a conversation starter with a professor that can help you out later on is at least worth that much money.
posted by my sock puppet account at 7:45 PM on September 25, 2005


Yeah, gleuschk's advice is pretty good, methinks. Academia tends to be pretty informal about these things, and mathematics doubly so — you won't be looked down upon because you use the wrong fork, or ask about whether you should bring anything.

So did you accept the more academically desirable program or the financially better one?
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:52 PM on September 25, 2005


Take a BC wine. Many are world-class, and they should be reasonably-priced.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:54 PM on September 25, 2005


Ha. You have a good memory, Johnny Assay. I took the most academically desireable one - I live in Vancouver, BC now. It's nice, and I am really happy with the department here.
posted by vernondalhart at 7:59 PM on September 25, 2005


ALWAYS bring wine. Always.
posted by tristeza at 8:00 PM on September 25, 2005


Am I the only one who thinks that wine is not an appropriate gift for a wine and cheese party? I'd think that the hosts are providing wine and bringing your own implies some level of inadequacy on their part. Bring them a small thank you gift, sure, but something they've specifically mentioned they'll be serving seems like a bad idea.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:09 PM on September 25, 2005


If in doubt, bring wine. A simple rule of thumb that will serve you in good stead over the years. Think of it as the price of admission. It needn't be expensive wine unless your last name is Kennedy or Gates.
posted by jellicle at 8:10 PM on September 25, 2005


Flowers or dessert are as appropriate as wine in my book. And in this case, where they probably have specific wines picked out, possibly more appropriate.
posted by cali at 8:19 PM on September 25, 2005


Bring flowers, or a blooming potted plant (chrysanthemums are in season now). They're not too expensive, they won't get in the way, and they're a nice thanks-for-inviting-me gift. Don't bring anything hugely expensive or showy (red roses, orchids).
Unless specifically asked, don't bring a bottle of wine.

If you haven't already, RSVP. It's kind of strange to send out a bunch of emails, recieve no reply, then wonder if anyone is going to show up. Also tell them if you are planning to bring a guest.
posted by Lycaste at 8:20 PM on September 25, 2005


Reply back and ask. Unless your department has a supremely messed-up culture, I would expect this to be your prof's treat, and intended as such.

If you bring a bottle of wine, then the worst that can happen is they don't find it up to their standards, in which case they'll say politely say thank you and, taste aside, think you're a considerate person.

If you ask, and I tell you to bring just your appetite, and you show up with a bottle of wine anyway, I wouldn't think you're considerate, I'd think you're a dink who doesn't pay attention, or an ass who thinks that I routinely lie to people to their faces. If they say to come without wine, don't insult that statement and their implicit generosity by bringing some anyway. Assume they mean what they say.

If you're sincerely uncomfortable showing up without bringing anything, bake a bread or some cookies and bring that. Nobody resists challah or focaccio.

An email of thanks afterwards would be welcome, I'm sure.
If you want to give a real gift, thank your prof, and tell him/her that you'll do the same for your grad students when you're out in the world.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:41 PM on September 25, 2005


If they say to come without wine,

Rather, if they say to come not bearing gifts...
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:41 PM on September 25, 2005


Definitely bring wine, but if you're not sure, flowers is usually an unexpected (esp from a guy) but welcome alternative.

One of the misunderstandings around wine-as-gift is that it somehow suggests that the host should SERVE the wine you bring. Any etiquette book will tell you that the host is under no obligation to and probably shouldn't serve the wine that is brought - it is to be considered a personal gift, not something to add to the stash for the evening.
posted by mikel at 8:42 PM on September 25, 2005


Based on my attendance at a few grad student wine and cheese events, I'm with jaquilynne and say don't bring wine. If this is a grad student social, doubly so. If it's a smaller event at your prof's place with just a few people you might want to bring something. RSVPing and asking "can I bring anything?" will clear up the confusion, in any case.
posted by jessamyn at 8:42 PM on September 25, 2005


It really depends on the professor (are they generally older & more established?)?

As the invitation says, it's informal so it's an opportunity for the prof to get to know their students. As other have said, do a nice RSVP (but don't be too obsequious).

I never did like the *idea* of bringing wine to a wine&cheese (esp. if the host knows their wine and chose the complementary ones to their cheeses).

Maybe drop by Goldilocks at W. Broadway and Burrard and pick up some dessert. Alternatively, if you know your coffee, bring a half pound or a few ounces of some good whole beans (NOT starbucks or other franchises - Legato in Kerrisdale has an ok Blue Mountain in stock). If you are, or familiar with, "ethnic" food, maybe bring a small sampler of something. Likewise if you're handy in the kitchen. Also - these will all depend on how many people you expect to show up. If there are *lots* of people, go with something for just the prof & partner, if there are just a few, go with something that you can share.

As you said, you're a new grad student - the professor *has* should understand the financial situation that you're in.

Yeah, I'm in 'couver and at UBC - may I ask which prof/department?
posted by PurplePorpoise at 8:42 PM on September 25, 2005


I agree. Unless it's BYOW, don't take wine to a wine and cheese party. Take a box of fancy cookies or chocolates or something like that.
posted by sevenless at 8:46 PM on September 25, 2005


Do you know any of the other people it was e-mailed to? Are there any older grad students in that list who you might know, who have attended an event like this before. You could ask them about it, even if you don't know them very well (it might even be an angle to start conversation, because if you're new, you probably haven't met a lot of people in your department yet?)
posted by easternblot at 8:50 PM on September 25, 2005


PurplePorpoise writes "Yeah, I'm in 'couver and at UBC - may I ask which prof/department?"

Department is Mathematics, and the professor is Dale Rolfsen. He's teaching a 600 level seminar course on Geometric Group Theory that I was encouraged to take by my supervisor.

As for the rest of the rather conflicting advice on the whole "wine/no wine" issue... I'll email him back, and if all else fails I'll try pick something else up on my way there.
posted by vernondalhart at 9:15 PM on September 25, 2005


Take some good chocolates.
posted by Good Brain at 9:16 PM on September 25, 2005


I'd say don't worrry about bringing anything unless specifically asked. It doesn't ever hurt to bring a bottle of nice wine as a gift, but I come from hospitable folk who would never think of throwing a party that didn't have the bases covered. Converseley yet paradoxically, I tend to bring-my-own if I intend to drink. Sad to say, I have met people who do actually throw parties without having anything much laid out for their guests, counting on guest contributions just to get through the evening. I hate to make a basically racist comment, but this is something I've only ever seen white people try to skate by with.
posted by scarabic at 9:19 PM on September 25, 2005


Good grief - if everyone brought their own bottle, either you would waste a lot of wine, or you'd all be rather tiddly.

I agree with the people suggesting you ask what you can bring - you can't go wrong like that - and if the reply is "oh, just turn up", you get bonus points for bringing some flowers anyway. But don't take wine unless it's explicit that it's expected.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:19 PM on September 25, 2005


Am I the only person here who would be incredibly irritated to receive a potted plant from a guest at a wine & cheese party?

Bake some focaccia and make some bruschetta or something if there are fresh ingredients lying about.
posted by hototogisu at 9:36 PM on September 25, 2005


To the one and only wine and cheese party I've been to, I brought a few bottles of Mad Dog 20/20 and some American singles. But then, it wasn't a professor-hosted get-together for grad students, it was a bunch of undergrads, just getting together. The wine and cheese was more like an excuse for a theme, and only a few people took it very seriously (and they weren't much fun, under the circumstances). If the group would be cool with it, and you are the type that might be expected to do such a thing, go for it - grab some Thunderbird and generic cheddar and head over. Should make for a much more interesting party...
posted by attercoppe at 9:38 PM on September 25, 2005


I have a completely different understanding of what bringing something to a party means. If you emailed him, he would for sure say not to bring something, because instructions to bring something would've been in the invite--telling you to bring something would essentially be tacky. However, bringing something for the party and bringing a gift are completely different things, and I doubt the professor would think you were "a dink" if he emailed you not to bring something and you still did. It's the difference between a polite thank-you gift and, say, an entree for a potluck dinner. But I would also agree with those saying not to bring wine or cheese (and potentially not even a food to be served that night). I liked the suggestion for an ethnic food, chocolates, a tasty homemade food object, or flowers/a plant. Those all have class and are a good thank-you. (I've always wanted to have a cheese or chocolate tasting party. Expensive!)
posted by artifarce at 9:45 PM on September 25, 2005


The idea is to present your professor with a modest gift as a token of your appreciation for the invitation. Wine is the most common gift in these situations. As Mikel noted, the host is under no obligation to open the wine that evening. If the professor is knowledgeable about etiquette he'll know this, so he won't open it that night. I'd be leery of taking food. Any wine drinker will tend to like a decent wine, it's hard to predict what kinds of food someone likes (or is allergic too). So, unless he replies to your acceptance note with a stern admonition to bring nothing, take something.

I would give him the wine and say something like: "My mother would never forgive me if I showed without something to thank you for inviting me." Only a complete ass would think less of you then.

Oh, finally, make sure you send him a thank you note afterwards. It is always nice to receive one after you've hosted an event.



As an aside, is the flowers suggestion a regional thing? I've never heard of giving flowers as a thank you to a host. Frankly, I would feel rather awkward doing so. (Potted plants are house warming gifts, or something you give your grandmother on Mother's Day.)

Hototogisu, I wouldn't be annoyed. I would be perplexed. Then I'd smile a bright smile and thank the guest for his/her thoughtful and clever gift. It is the thought that counts, isn't it?
posted by oddman at 9:51 PM on September 25, 2005


It is indeed the thought that counts, and I wouldn't be irritated at the person so much as the situation itself. My complete aversion to having to deal with decorative living things would lead me to think of it more as an affliction, and not a gift ;-P
posted by hototogisu at 10:04 PM on September 25, 2005


If you emailed him, he would for sure say not to bring something, because instructions to bring something would've been in the invite--telling you to bring something would essentially be tacky.

That hasn't been my experience in academic in-the-department settings, but my experiences have been in fairly collegial places. I have asked that question many times, and have sometimes been asked to bring stuff.

However, bringing something for the party and bringing a gift are completely different things, and I doubt the professor would think you were "a dink" if he emailed you not to bring something and you still did.

I can only speak for me, but I'd see it as a little weird and maybe creepy unless the person were foreign (in which case, okay, that's just their culture). I wouldn't shout that to your face or anything, but I wouldn't actually like it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:06 PM on September 25, 2005


I third the box-of-chocolates suggestion; it's certainly what I'd do.

Does that make me bride-of-sevenless?
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:41 PM on September 25, 2005


Does that make me bride-of-sevenless?

Or son or daughter--they're all related as far as I can see.
posted by sevenless at 12:18 AM on September 26, 2005


Definitely bring something. Chocolates, flowers, cookies, tapenade, etc. If you opt for flowers, go for cut flowers. I always feel guilty when I don't have time to care for the potted plant or room to keep it or what-have-you. I could keep it as a centrepiece, but I already have a centrepiece and this would throw me off course. However, I live in a small urban condo. People with houses may be more flexible.

I like to bring shelf-stable edibles (like tapenade and crackers, chocolates, or nice cookies), because they serve two purposes. They can be a personal gift for the host to enjoy later. However, if the host has underestimated the number or voraciousness of guests, then the edibles can be served.
posted by acoutu at 12:47 AM on September 26, 2005


Take a bottle of wine and a smallish gift for his wife for example, box of chocolates, flowers.
posted by Chimp at 1:26 AM on September 26, 2005


Reply to confirm your attendance, but *don't* ask what to bring. It puts the ball in their court in such a way that they might politely indicate that you don't *need* to bring anything.

It's a wine and cheese party. Take cheese. Maybe wine. But dfinitely cheese. Take cheese. It's a cheese party. Take your favourite cheese if it is at all unusual. If not, be adventurous, but not *too* adventurous -- something people will like. But for God's sake take cheese. Not flowers. That would be weird. Never underestimated a good smoked cheddar.
posted by nthdegx at 5:27 AM on September 26, 2005


Some people have understood and others have misunderstood, so I'll clarify a bit: you are NOT bringing something to be consumed that evening. BYOFood and BYOBeer are fine for poor undergrads but you're an adult now, and the host will provide all the appropriate fare for the evening. You are bringing a personal gift for the host who has put himself out hosting a party for you. The host should take the wine you brought and set it aside somewhere, not pull the cork and start pouring. It is only a coincidence that this is a wine-and-cheese party - you would also bring wine if this were a beer-and-chips party or a vienna sausages-and-fondue party or anything else.

Potted plants are imposing upon the host an obligation to take care of something indefinitely. What kind of gift is that? Why not bring him a puppy or a pony while you're at it?
posted by jellicle at 6:33 AM on September 26, 2005


As someone who consistently kills potted plants, I'd also stay away from them. If you can present cut flowers to the prof's wife with a "Thanks for letting us all invade," that would be my suggestion. Otherwise, chocolates or cookies or some other low-maintenance item that won't seem to be competing with what the hosts picked out for the evening.
posted by occhiblu at 9:07 AM on September 26, 2005


Flowers. Absolutely not wine or cheese- you'll either come across as arrogant or uncultured, neither of which apply to you.
posted by mkultra at 10:03 AM on September 26, 2005


Don't bring anything. I agree with jacquilynne and ROU_Xenophobe.

Also, "Something foreign and European so that if you only spend $10-$15 on it, they professor will never know," well if they're having a wine-based party I'd think they know wine. And European? 75% of wine in this country is foreign and thus familiar. If you really think you should bring wine, there was a great article in the NYT about great wines under $10. Also you can never go wrong with a New Zealand Sauv Blanc. Had to get in a plug there.

I think bringing something for the prof would make it more formal than he intended, and really be an uncomfortable moment. I'd expect my career friends to bring something, not struggling students. Seriously. A party with a prof is not the same as any other party. I bet this party casual, and the wine is just to facilitate conviviality. The point is to actually be social and not to contemplate the wine and cheese. I don't think you should worry about anything and just bring yourself.
posted by scazza at 11:47 AM on September 26, 2005


What Jellicle said.
posted by oddman at 3:37 PM on September 28, 2005


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