Tomorrow night the husband and I are going to a party. A proper glam one with a marquee and a DJ. Can you imagine my excitement? As I am well versed in the Kiwi etiquette I duly rang the host to ask what I could bring. All New Zealanders reading this should be nodding sagely at my appropriate behaviour. My English compatriots will be wondering what the hell I had in mind to bring to someone else's party (apart from perhaps lashings of booze). Let me enlighten you. When you are invited to someone's house for dinner in these southern climes it is customary to offer to bring something to add to the meal. "Yes we'd love to come, shall I make pudding?" would be a standard response to such an invitation. The offer to make pudding/salad/whatever is usually gratefully received. So when you are dining out, instead of kicking back and thinking how brilliant a night out of the kitchen will be you are back under the spotlight to rustle something up which will be under the scrutiny of more eyes than just those of your ravenous husband.
The first few times I invited friends over for dinner I was almost offended when someone turned up with a random dish to add to the menu I had already planned and cooked. I was shocked that they had had to put in some effort when all I wanted them to do was turn up with a bottle of wine, drink plenty of the stuff, eat the food I'd cooked and be fun company. Having been here for a while now I can fully appreciate this joining together of effort. For a start, New Zealanders are delightfully, singularly unsnobby. If you offered to make pudding then turned up with a slab of ice cream and a pack of maltesers then no one would bat an eyelid. They'd be just as grateful for your contribution if you had spent the last few hours sweating over a handmade millefeuille of frothy cream, buttery pastry and mascerated strawberries. These days I hang somewhere between my fairly strict, British upbringing and my more relaxed, adopted New Zealand approach. If someone brings food or offers to make something then I gladly work it into dinner. However there is nothing I love more than to spend an afternoon mucking about in the kitchen knowing that when my guests arrive no one has to do anything more than eat and enjoy themselves. I hasten to add I'm not a Nigella wannabe salaciously licking meringue off my fingers (although I do love the woman).
Back to that phone conversation asking what I can bring to the merry gathering. The answer? Absolutely nothing. Perfect. Tomorrow evening I can shovel spaghetti on toast down my children, slather on a bucket load of make up and divert my attention to wrapping up a gorgeous engagement present for the happy hosts.