Please Don’t Show Up At My Dinner Party In Your Pyjamas

The trouble with we Capetonians is that we’re so immensely pleased with ourselves for living in one of the world’s top tourist destinations (try and find a B&B or hotel with a room in December) that some of us seem to think we’re rather above manners and common courtesy. We can be flaky, we have a flat-topped mountain. We can be late – have you seen Clifton 4th? In fact, we’re so fabulous we can not show up at all, and guess what – you’ll invite us again. And if we do deign to honour your invitation, there’s every chance we’re going to show up in tracksuit pants and Uggs because, fuck it, we have the
winelands, and we’re too cool to care.

While I love this city and its inhabitants more than the sky, we are a bit like those upper class Brits who wander down to breakfast with filthy jodhpurs and mud in their hair. Lady Muffy Tittlegob doesn’t need to make an effort because she’s third cousin removed from Prince Charles, and anyway, she inherited Shropshire. Even though no-one in the world knows (or cares) where Camps Bay beach is, that irrelevant detail doesn’t temper our smugness one little bit. And, unfortunately, this sometimes translates to something not unlike arrogance. A few weeks ago I attended a dinner party at the home of a Swedish couple who have made Cape Town their home. Since I know hosting a dinner party in Scandinavia is quite a formal affair, and nothing like here (where if you arrive at the allotted time your host will be at the Spar buying rolls and you might or might not eat six hours later), I knew it was important to be punctual and to scrub up somewhat.

Sure enough, when our hostess made her entrance with salon hair, spiky heels and an LBD, I was immensely relieved to have donned a black pant and used my ghd. Not so much the other guests who clearly weren’t au fait with the ways of northern Europeans, and while our host was the epitome of charm and good manners, I cringed with embarrassment as guest after guest showed up looking like they’d fallen off the couch, grabbed their plakkies and got caught in a wind tunnel before arriving at the front door. And I love me a plakkie and a tracksuit pant when I’m at home or DVD Nouveau, but when somebody has spent an entire day (or more) shopping and cooking, cleaned up, lit candles and made everything beautiful for you, her guest, the least you can freaking do is give yourself a spritz of Burberry and put on a nice shoe.

Worse still – the invitation was for 6:30pm. By 8pm one of the couples still hadn’t shown up nor rung to say they were delayed, so we were shown our places and invited to start. At 8:30pm, while the main course was underway, the doorbell rang and these two graced us with their presence. Not an apology was uttered as the table had to be rearranged to accommodate them (she had changed the seating so that there were no gaps). Sis, guys. That is just not okay. It’s worse than bad-manners – it’s sheer disrespect. And I was mortified by the shocking behavior of my kind.

If my husband, a chiropractor, doesn’t SMS every single patient the day before to remind them of their appointment, they don’t show up. They’ll call three days later, offer a weak excuse or none at all, and reschedule. Or call five minutes before to say it’s actually not going to ‘work’ for them today. These gaps in his working day cost him big time, but he loves his patients and wouldn’t dream of charging them anyway – as he probably should. We’ve had one or two occasions where we’ve both been exhausted and not in the mood but fixed up the house, shopped and cooked for friends and acquaintances only to have them call, one by one, to cancel.

And the worst story of all is of a friend who was newly broken up and depressed over New Year’s Eve, so she decided to cheer herself up and remind herself that she still had people who loved her by hosting a dinner at her new house. She spent a fortune shopping, decked out the table and cooked all day for her ten guests. You know how this is going to end, right? Not one person showed up. Not one. Just. Beyond. Hideous.

So, here’s the thing (and believe me, I’m also guilty of being indecisive and non-commital, but I’m working on it): if you’re invited to something, don’t say ‘maybe’ and then wait to see if a better thing comes up. Say yes, and then if Jay-Z and Beyonce personally invite you to a shindig on their yacht, you will go to the Spur with your gran if you’ve already made that arrangement. Don’t accept someone’s invitation and then leave two hours later for another event. It’s such bad form. And if someone invites you to dinner at their home, for heaven’s sake, arrive on time and change out of your onesie. Put on a lip, bring flowers and show a bit of respect for the person who’s been missioning all day to feed your face. It’s really not asking a lot.

79 thoughts on “Please Don’t Show Up At My Dinner Party In Your Pyjamas

  1. SO true – well done Susan, about time someone spoke about this very irritating Cape Town past time. Like you, I love this city like one of my children, but this behavior is just unacceptable (now I sound like I’m reprimanding my children!)…. Ps you must come over for dinner soon ;)

  2. I am not so fussy with regards to dress code….I am an artist and very often arrive with paint on my clothes or something, so I can’t really be fussy if others don’t dress up, BUT , I get so irritated with last minute cancellations and ducking out of dinner coz something better has cropped up. I see RED. Even if you kids are ill or something similar…..usually you have some kind of idea at least half a day before you have to rock up… contact the host BEFORE they have slaved away or done a big shop.. DONT leave it til the last minute….aaaaahhhh. I have had many tantrums for this nasty habit.

  3. Susan, it appears you need to teach your friends, colleagues, associates etc. how to treat you as it is obvious, in this post, no one else has. Think rewards, penalties, respect, manners, integrity, consideration; you know, the things we teach our children. No big deal, just common courtesy. And don’t apologise, it’s what they should be doing.

  4. Spot on!!! so well said!!! you are now one of my favourite people in Cpt! me as a foreigner can not grasp the flakiness of people here and the disrespect for an invitation! People say yes to 3 or 4 invites on the same day and then later on decide which one they are going to depending on where their friends are going to be! Shame!

  5. Thank you for giving me (a Cape Town expat) a brilliant final few moments at my desk this evening in a cold and grey London. Your observations about the Cape Town/South African experience are so spot on, insightful and funny! Smiling all the way to the gym in a few :-) Keep it up!

    1. This was totally my favourite comment of the day! You made me grin like a Cheshire cat. So fun that I’m being read by South Africans abroad! Love that. Hope you gave the treadmill what for. Thanks for writing! :-)

  6. Oh and PS, while the casual dress sense is definitely a Cape Town thing, the whole FOMO phenomenon is not. It’s alive and well in London too! 3/4 events on one evening? Not a problem, decide on the night based on the weather/mood/crowd….Drives me mad when friends do that!

  7. Ah, so refreshing to hear this from a local. Love your “Spur with Gran” v “Beyonce private yacht” analogy. Brilliantly put. You either can make the party or you can’t / don’t want to. Just say so. Then stick to it.

    …and Cath, I agree. Usually, as a parent, once can tell just how sick your child is long before your host has gone shopping, let alone started cooking.

  8. Fascinating! Sounds a bit like Ukraine, but not showing up for New Year’s party is plain cruel! I’ve become so Swedish, such behavior would kill me.

  9. This drives me bananas! As an import to CT (from beyond the Hex River Valley) this is one thing that really pees me off about “proper” Capetonians. It’s totally unacceptable and just plain rude!

  10. Thanks for the article! I especially love the part where we will invite people back even if they snub us. Its like being in an abusive relationship. You would think that Cape Tonians being the enlightened lot that they claim to be would be less fickle and not mesmerized by every passing fad.
    My solution is to get involved in activities where don’t need to invite people. You come if you want
    and its your lose if you don’t! Come and join the growing Salsa community ;) hehe. Passionate about fun. Real people!

  11. Susan, you hit the nail on the freaking head (so nice to coincidentally bump into your blog, by the way – instead of on D’s deck in the Waterkant). I have lived here for 9 years and I could publish a moerse book comprising 3 volumes with all the downright crappy excuses for last minute cancellations I have been presented with since 2004. And then the indecisiveness. I hate the “let’s wing it” from the bottom of my heart. I despise “let’s see how we go”. I vomit on the “Let’s speak closer to time”.

    I am one of those who tells people straight that they are being inconsiderate @holes, and I will question them next time we have an appointment. “You will pitch this time, right?”.

    I have been told I am way too hard, and that I should confirm to SA culture. IMHO it has nothing to do with South African culture. This is Cape Town culture. This wouldn’t even occur in the mind of my Jozi-based friends.

  12. Good one Susan….i say send them each an invoice if they don’t pitch….life’s too damn expensive to have “maybe” friends….lekker man lekker… ;-)

  13. Or bringing extra dinner guests unannounced! I had invited a guy who I was under the impression liked me, who didn’t show. When I inquired as to where he was (because the European in me will follow up and demand where my dinner guests are), he said ‘they’ were running a bit late. I asked who ‘they’ might be and he said ‘my girlfriend and me’. First surprise there, but fine, all good, but in the end they never showed.
    Same evening my co-worker rocked up with his mate, who I didn’t know where to fit in my tiny place, already drunk as they had spend the whole day drinking at various festivals already. Bleh.

  14. Had such a chuckle reading this on the tram (I’m a Capetonian living in Switzerland). So true. Really had to pull my own socks up living in the country which practically invented punctuality! Still shocked when I invite guests for 7pm and as the clock strikes there they are! What!? “African Time” is a difficult habit to kick apparently…:)

  15. Really do agree with your point of view. If I invite someone and they say , We don’t know what we are doing yet, then hey, you have’nt got anything planned. You are free to accept my invitation! If you don’t want to accept my invite then says no, I can stand it. Just don’t keep me on the back burner in case nothing better comes up. It is insulting, rude and I will certainly not regard you as a true friend if you do this to me (ie you’re off the invite list).

  16. Right about Capetonians. I’ve lived in a few cities around the world and find people here almost sublimely ill-mannered. I think it’s a rule of thumb that the prettier the environment, the more arsey the people. Rainy old Glasgow, for example, has some of the friendliest folk I’ve met anywhere.
    And wrong about my home county of Shropshire. Lady Muffy Tittlegob didn’t inherit it, my uncle Tarquin did.

  17. I really enjoyed the article, but somehow, I am inclined to disagree with many of the esteemed commentaries before me on this blog, the beauty of cape town is also the non-comittical attitude of the people. I also sometimes don’t want to commit to anything and like keeping my options open. We are all different let’s enjoy and respect the idiosyncrasy of the place and its people. And come on when you organise a dinner party on New Years Eve, people want to have a party and not be stuck at some house…….but I also understand that it can be annoying to put on a dinner party and the guest don’t rock up…….

  18. Anyone leaving home in a ‘track pant’ should be tasered, unless, of course, they are akshully going to the Gym. People wearing ‘Crocs’ or ‘plakkies’, well, a suitable punishment escapes me, but I am sure that Karma will prevail.

  19. Oh Susan…don’t think you’re alone in your views…I currently live and work in Dubai and the exact same thing happens here???if you invite people for dinner at 8 pm, most only arrive an hour or an hour and a half later. One Christmas lunch, scheduled for 2pm, a friend rolled in at 5pm because she had been at the gym and had lost track of time.
    I don’t believe this behavior is uniquely Capetonian or even South African but rather an epidemic of bad manners and bad behaviour which seems to be the norm these days. I personally find it abhorrent but other people do not seem to share my indignation…I have come to expect this behaviour
    as part of living in Dubai, but It still gets to me at times! People are also
    famous for saying that they will attend a party/dinner and then just never arrive…I felt such sympathy for your friend who had invited people for a New Years Eve dinner and no one arrived…shocking…let’s hope that she
    is no longer friendly with those people.

    I recently discovered your blog and I am making my way through each post…amazing writing and I feel a little more homesick with each one I read…thanks for sharing.

  20. Hi Susan, I found this post and the comments fascinating. I’m a Capetonian and have lived here most of my life, but I don’t recognise any of this. FOUR invitations in a night?! Is this the norm for the Camps Bay and City socialites? Out here in lowly southern suburbia, we’d be happy with one or two per month. Don’t these people have children they want to spend time with? Don’t they enjoy an evening on the couch with a good ebook?

    I’ve always been punctual to a fault and most of my friends (Capetonians and others) wouldn’t dream of pitching up more than 20 minutes late without ringing first. Certainly they’d have the common courtesy to inform us as soon as possible if any sort of emergency meant they couldn’t make it. But I suppose the key word here is ‘common’: down here we commoners respect one another and are considerate to others; up there in the rarefied air of socialites and butterflies one finds the other kind of ‘common’.

    Anyhow, it is certainly not a uniquely Capetonian trait. Years ago when I lived overseas I had a French girlfriend. She drove me mad with her total disregard for others wrt punctuality. I’d be ready and twitching ages before her. She hit rock bottom and left me wanting to find a hole to fall into, when we were invited to a party to celebrate the ‘birthday’ of a couple’s newly adopted baby. The party kicked off at 2 pm at which time my girlfriend was probably having a nap or something. Throughout the afternoon I pestered her to leave and eventually she was ready to go at which stage I said ‘We cannot possibly go now.’ ‘Oh, don’t worry, they won’t mind.’ So we rock up at a kid’s party FOUR hours late, just as the last guests are being shoved out the door and the clearly exhausted new parents are on the verge of collapse. She has a total awareness failure and blithely wanders in and sits down on a couch. Now, that was embarrassing and painful for everyone except for my dear ex.

    ps Susan, would you reconsider the font you use? I like Georgia – it’s clear and easy to read – but I don’t know why you’ve made it light grey instead of black. I find it difficult to read as it is.

    1. That’s funny, it shows up black for me. It comes with the wordpress template, I’m afraid – can’t be changed, but I’ll upgrade soon and it’ll all look a bit different. Thanks for struggling through anyway :-)

  21. Am a South African living in Germany, and we have the opposite problem: if you say dinner is for 8pm, you have a queue of guests knocking at your door at 7:59. There is no casual 8 for 8:30 concept here. However, they are well turned out (Germans are preppy – who knew?) and never without a gift of wine, flowers or something thoughtful for the children.

  22. I thoroughly enjoyed your article, and can totally relate to it. I am a fifth year student at Stellenbosch University, and this practice has become all too familiar. You organise an event, invite friends over and then wait until they arrive 30 minutes late, with no hint of an apology. Your opening sentence really threw me off “The trouble with we Capetonians”. I am not sure if you intended the “we” as a tongue-in-cheek thing, but I felt its ripples through the rest of the article. Anyway, I am tend not to invite people back who show little regard for manners and timeliness.

  23. Loved this article! I actually find South Africans as a whole (well at least Durbanites where I grew up) incredibly punctual. We were always on time growing up. My husband and I moved to Sydney 7 years ago (now in Brisbane) and people would show up 1 – 2 hours later with no apology. We couldn’t believe it! We soon learnt to make the invitation for 6pm instead of 7/7:30pm.

  24. This is the only country I have been to where I always show up to a wedding with two outfits, ever since the first I attended here in 1997 where I turned up in a freshly pressed suit and hat, only to be sat next to a lady wearing jeans and a suntop.

  25. So glad I’m not the only one who feels so strongly about this kind of thing.
    It seems everyone experiences this at some point. It’s crazy to think how many people just don’t give a sh*t!

  26. You’ve captured this brilliantly!! Thought I was being a grumpy stickler with my mutterings about bad manners and people being self-absorbed in this department. Seems I’m not the only one that finds this annoying though :) Great insights and funny too.

  27. The fact that SA is one of the world’s top tourist destinations has nothing to do with it (as there are many other destinations in the world who do not have this cultural phenomenon). I believe this arrogance can be explained by the fact that a majority of white South Africans are not descended from well-mannered classes of European society. Hence their lack of etiquette.

  28. Too true! Show a little respect!

    Yet another great blog Susan!

    Seb, as Susan points out – it’s often the upper-classes in Europe who are the most ill-mannered (‘cos why should I bother? Mumsie doesn’t mind…’). If that’s part of what you mean, I agree, though I expect it’s not what you did. Feeling entitled and above it all produces this effect in many spots, and in SA I DO think the Cape is the spot where such a sense of rudeness is commonest.

    A friend once said she dislikes Cape Town because the sense she has of Capetonians was that “they’re so self-satisfied, it seems like they take credit for the natural beauty of the place!” LOL. I say this as a, now-naturalised, Capetonian – there may be something to that!

  29. I agree wholeheartedly. I have just duscovered your blog and now, thank you, doubt I will get much work done today. I have a few friends that I have not spoken to in months due to them not pitching up for invitations. It does seem to be a South African thing to have zero respect for anyone else’s time or effort.

  30. Oh god that’s so me. Hence I never commit – I never say yes, I hate going somewhere I have to dress up. Wrong but true.

  31. I wear my Pyjama pants everywhere and I get great comments about them :) Primarily because when I traveled the world I always had to dress to a certain standard even in a dingy club. I now own a club and it is come dressed in whatever you feel comfortable in.
    There are some Capetonians who have lost the art of manners but I believe it happens everywhere as it is the age we live in…. The real Kaapies are still good.

  32. Oh my word…this is brilliant!!!! I laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe! You really should write a book. I’m also a health care professional with my own practice, so totally relate to the whole thing of people just cancelling at the last minute, or not showing up…and I also love my clients too much to charge them anyway! Please write a book.

  33. Are we not talking about integrity here? People who say they are going to an event, and then don’t go, are lacking a fundamental character trait.
    As far as dress code, people normally dress in a manner in which they feel express themselves. Of course, this is fine. That being said, if your host is expecting you to dress a certain way, dressing otherwise shows a lack of respect for that person. Same goes for arriving late I guess.

  34. This has inspired me to not be shy about being clear before inviting people round that if they do this, I WILL a) make it a personal mission to drive to their houses and deliver them a slap and a copy of this article and b) not invite them the next time and publicly post as many pictures of the people who DID show having a good time as the Internet will handle.
    It also explains why so few of the friends I’ve made here are actually from here – as the locals have done this, I’ve slowly crossed them off any future lists.

  35. Well said. I moved from Cape Town to Joburg 5 year ago and you cannot compare socializing in the two cities, which is bizaar if you consider that in Cape Town I was surrounded by life long friends and in Joburg I was a newbie. People always look at me funny when I tell them I moved from Cape Town to Joburg but I actually really enjoy having my weekends planned by Tuesday and never wondering who may or may not arrive at dinner parties. You can live in the most beautiful city in the world- which Cape Town is- but if no-one cares to arrive at your heart break new years eve party- its a pretty kak place to be.

  36. It’s not only a Cape Town thing. I’m currently living in Sydney (returning to Cape Town soon, thank God), and have entirely given up trying to arrange any dinners or parties. It’s impossible to get anyone to say a simple yes, it’s always “maybe” or “I’ll let you know”. Then the ones who have confirmed either don’t show, or text to cancel 30 minutes after the start time.

  37. So cool to read this blog and it’s comments. I wrote a very similar article which I sent intothe paper a couple of years ago, but it got heavily edited and did not reflect the true extent of my frustrations. I also touched on peoples apathy with regard to replying to messages, not just socially, but in business too. I was having a horrible year looking for employment, made worse by the fact that I couldn’t even get a “Thanks, but no thanks” answer from anywhere I applied. Shockingly I have found it happens in reverse too, when you inquire with someone about their services and get no response. Are they doing so well that they can just ignore potential clients.

    I never saw any feedback from mine, so I am glad to see so many people chipping in on the comments. If enough people feel strongly enough to start calling out on the culprits of this behaviour, perhaps we can start to turn it around.

  38. Freakin awesome post. It’s about time someone called slacker capetonians out on this. Having grown up in durbs, lived in JHB and now in CT, we are being driven insane by lackluster responses from “friends” to invites and the number of last minute cancellations has us teetering on the brink of social depression. Are we really that horrible to be around?!
    Thank you, thank you, thank you for letting us see it is not only our friends who seem to have such bad manners, let’s start the social etiquette revival in CT!

  39. I had forgotten how bad Capetonians were living in the UK.. My wife and I went back to Cape Town on holiday and organised a braai (months in advance), and invited loads of people.. Only one other couple (other than family) showed up. Everyone else had excuses and wanted to meet another time.. We were only in cape Town for a short while and couldn’t meet everyone separately so that is why we organised the braai.. I was pretty upset by that as most people either cancelled last minute (after saying they would come) or just didn’t pitch.. In the UK you have to organise everything so far in advance as people are so busy.. but at least if they say they’ll come, they do!

  40. Also true of kids’ parties. The new fashion seems to be to add “regrets only” to the rsvp part of the invite since hardly anyone replies anyway. And still in a class of 25 there will always be those same two or three kids who don’t pitch and who’s mom never replied despite repeated attempts to contact said mom. Keeping in mind that entertainment for a kid’s party is often per head. Which is why I have my parties at home and organise my own entertainment. Yet every year I still invite the obvious no shows because it’s not their fault that their parents have no manners!

  41. Brilliant and well said. I felt like doing a dinner for my birthday a few years ago. Sent out invites. Made certain it was clear – You have been invited to a dinner party, Please let me know if you are bringing the kids so I can cater for them. And yes, not only arrived an hour late – seafood lasagne ruined, they asked if I could hang on serving while they popped off to MaccyD’s as there little cherubs do not eat this sort of food…..it drives me nuts….I host quite a few formal dinners, and I have had people arrive and cocktail wear and jacket and tie affairs in jeans, slops and a tie and this is at R600 a head dinners at a 5star restaurant….some people only mothers can love.

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