Last Saturday over lunch a friend who used to run one of Hong Kong’s biggest hotels told us about a tradition he observed in some parts of China whereby, at the end of a formal dinner, wedges of fresh orange are served up to the guests. While a piece of this sweet, juicy fruit is probably a very nice way to cleanse the palette after a heavy meal, here the serving of orange has a different meaning – it’s a message to guests that the evening is over, and that they are to gather their things more or less immediately and get the hell out. Because while it’s been a lovely evening, your host is tired from spending an entire day cooking duck while you lay on the beach, and while she would love the pleasure of your company at some later date, right now she has no desire to see any more of your face.
It’s so entrenched and accepted there that nobody would dare shirk convention and request one last glass of Drambuie. Dinner guests get straight up from the table, put on their coats and, like well-mannered little lemmings, scurry away en masse. Now, as someone who likes to host dinner parties and now and again spends entire days cooking, if not duck, then something equally time-consuming, I think the orange tradition is excellent and that the Chinese are onto something very clever. In our culture we have no way to tell the guy who started out being fun but now is wanting to open yet another bottle of red that we’re tired of the sound of his voice and that he must call for a taxi already.
So – in order not to be rude – more wine gets opened which means that the host has to exit the room every few minutes to slap herself awake, and then wash dishes till 2am while second-wind guest snores away in his bed. And there’s something a bit unfair about that. You’ll always have that one person who doesn’t seem to notice that you’re yawning so widely you could swallow the chandelier, and it kind of puts you off next time you feel like having a shindig. So, let’s make like the Asians and start our own orange tradition. When I bring those wedges out – even if you’re just warming to the topic of Uruguay’s economic crisis – you need to make like a tree. Because, while I love you enough to invite you around, your time here has come to an end.