One of my favourite ‘grown-up’ things to do in Sydney these days is to entertain guests as the host of an Aussie-style dinner party. During my first au pair arrangement in Australia, I became aware of the very distinct idea of a dinner party. Somehow it seems to be differentiated from ‘having friends over’ or ‘having a get-together,’ as there are cultural aspects that have been present at each one I’ve attended that I find worth mentioning.
At an Aussie dinner party, the host is not quite the center of the show in the beginning. Their job is to get everyone all set and snacking while the final touches are being put on dinner. Each dinner party I’ve been to (and hosted) has started with a cheese board. It’s a big thing in Australia, even on menus at shows and restaurants! Guests have an assortment of crackers, small wheels of cheese, and dips to choose from. I like to add grapes or nuts to mine. I noticed that dinner is typically not served until the cheese board is clean. There is no rush to get to the main course, and often there is quite a bit of conversation and games before it is served.
While guests sometimes provide dessert, it is not as expected as it is for them to bring wine. At my study abroad orientation learning about Aussie culture, we were told it was customary to bring two bottles of wine to a dinner party, and that was almost exactly right! Each time a couple is attending, they bring two bottles of wine, and anytime a single person comes, they bring one bottle. I’ve seen a person here or there bring a case of beer instead, but even people who don’t drink seem to bring wine. No one shows up empty-handed, even if you insist you have enough to go around.
After dinner and dessert, it is all dependent on the group what activities everyone may get up to, but people definitely like to hang around for a while. During my au pair dinner parties, families with children would even bring pyjamas for their children and one parent would give all of the children a bath and get them ready for bed while all of the other adults kept the party going. Aside from conversation, the host picks the activities. I usually have cards and games for guests while I have seen others host ‘jam sessions’ with singing and instruments, or even just have music, drinks, and conversations. Politics are not quite ‘taboo’ in Australia, and people will quite bluntly ask where you stand on a variety of topics; this topic has been known to dominate quite a few dinner parties I’ve attended. There is never offense, but rather the earnestness to understand others’ points of view which I find to be a wonderful thing.
To sum it all up, if you ever attend an Aussie dinner party, just remember to bring wine and your appetite! The rest is easy, and they are always a great event to experience. 🙂