If you’re one of my five non-Mennonite readers, you might be nervous about coming to the Drunken Menno Virtual Cocktail Party because you don’t know Mennonite cocktail party etiquette.
You might be wondering: “what should I wear?” “Should I bring something?” “Do I need to speak plaut dietsch?”
Happily, some of the standard cocktail party etiquette issues are resolved by this being a virtual cocktail party. Were it an in-person party, you would need to angst over your wardrobe like the rest of us, trying to be fashionable but not too fashionable and dealing with the perennial Mennonite existential fashion question: is it ok to look like a Mennonite when going to a Mennonite party? There’s no easy answer to that one. Lucky for you, this isn’t that kind of party.
Likewise, you do not need to give the host a gift at this event (though I am surprisingly gratified by “likes” on the Facebook page and Twitter follows). In the normal course of affairs, we all stress over whether to bring a bottle of wine when invited to a Mennonite party or dinner (if cocktail is in the title of the event, it’s a pretty good bet that such a gift will be welcome).
And, not to worry, this event will be held in English.
Though it’s hard to predict exactly what will happen at the virtual cocktail party, if you ever get an invitation to a Mennonite party to be held in person, here are a few things to note:
Unusual Behaviour that is Perfectly Acceptable at a Mennonite Social Gathering
- Sunflower seeds may be eaten in the shell, with the entire morsel placed in the mouth, the seed separated from the mouth and the shell spat out onto the kitchen floor. There is nothing rude or uncouth about this behaviour among Mennonites. If you can’t stand the shells, stay out of the kitchen.
- Dutch Blitz and/or Rook cards may appear at any moment and without warning. Either game normally begins with a hearty argument about the rules and some people may refuse to play if the consensus agrees against their rules. The most gracious guest has learned all the variations and pretends not to mind playing by the rules of the more junior players.
- Singing can break out. Depending on the crowd, this could be four-part hymn singing, or a hipster Menno with a guitar and a penchant for folk songs. Despite the way this disrupts conversation and kills a party mood, the singers are never hushed. I suggest you head for the kitchen and grab a handful of sunflower seeds if you spy a pitch pipe.
Good Conversation Topics for Mennonite Party Small Talk
- Nothing beats the old classic: start every conversation with a joint inquiry into how you are related by blood or by conference. Of course, if you aren’t Mennonite by birth, marriage, or by conversion, you might want to avoid this one.
- Famous Mennonites. It’s a good idea to do a bit of research beforehand. Some Mennonites don’t know about Matt Groening’s Mennonite heritage but they’re always happy to hear it. We love our Mennonites in the arts, sports and journalism. I wouldn’t mention the politicians if I were you.
- Thrift shop finds, canning and DIY projects. If you recently built a communal bread oven in your back yard with nothing but materials scavenged or found in local thrift shops, a humble discussion of the project will attract around you a small crowd of admirers
Topics that may or may not be a good idea depending on the crowd
- Whether the new hymnal project will finally use inclusive language for #606. This is a very old controversy and might stir up a good debate among people over 50. There is, however, a grave danger that the whole crowd will burst into a twenty-minute rendition of the piece if the conversation is raised. Do not use this one if a pitch pipe has been spotted in the room.
- Churches that will or will not secede from MC Canada or MC USA. In the right crowd, setting up wagers around the probabilities of particular Church splits is all just fun and games. Admittedly, it’s hard to find this crowd but if you do, run with it.
- Humour. Some Mennonites are fond of puns; others like a certain brand of barnyard humour. You cannot assume that the Mennonite party-goers will catch your references to popular culture. Sexual innuendo will also typically fly under the radar. Don’t even try a double entendre.
Mennonite Buzz-Kills to Avoid like the Plague
- Clothes, technology and whether we are all rebels because we don’t “look Mennonite.” There are only two ways this conversation can go: a. your companion can launch into a very long explanation of the distinctions between Mennonite groups that will take the rest of the evening; b. you will annoy your companion who just doesn’t want to get into it. Peruse the Menno internet before heading out the door.
- “How are you — really?” Every gathering has one or more earnest Mennonites who are intent on asking you about the state of your soul. They will try to get you into a secluded corner and then entice you to plumb the depths of your spiritual well-being. Scan the room for likely suspects and stay clear.
- Exegesis. Most etiquette guides suggest staying away from religion and politics entirely. If you’re careful, a little bit of politics may be ok, and a certain amount of religion is almost unavoidable. But if it moves to biblical interpretation, you’re going down a rabbit hole that won’t bring you to wonderland.
If you are a guest at a Mennonite cocktail party, you should probably just drink whatever your host offers you. Despite the “cocktail” party moniker, wine and beer are the likeliest alcoholic options on hand. One of the simplest cocktails takes a crisp white wine and adds a dash of a fruity liqueur. If your hosts make their own chokecherry or bumbleberry liqueurs, you might be lucky enough to find yourself served a house version of a kir. I have an aunt who regularly produces little bottles of such nectar.
But I’ve run out. So here’s a kir made with a raspberry liqueur. ‘Cause I’ve never met a Menno who didn’t like raspberries.
A Commonplace Kir
- 4 oz chilled dry white wine
- 1/2 oz raspberry liqueur (or your aunt’s homemade fruit liqueur)
Pour ingredients into wine glass. Stir. Enjoy.