If we're going for a technical definition, being "classy" simply means you're of a certain social and economic status, and that you carry yourself with refinement. Yet if your experiences have been anything like mine, you might have found that some very "classy" people lack a lot of "class." Not to be misunderstood, I think that it's important to learn social graces, to pursue an education (even if not a conventional one,) to do your best to provide for yourself and family, and to care about how you look. But I believe class has much more to do with respect and courtesy for self and others, as well as knowing how to prioritize someone else's comfort, pleasure, and even sometimes reputation, over your own. In other words, instead of trying to place yourself above others, class is about holding your personal standards while making others feel like your equal. When you think of it in those terms, you won't have to read a book on manners, (though I suppose it couldn't hurt.) You won't have to wear stuffy clothes, give up hosting casual sports and burger nights with your buddies, or lose your sense of humor. This isn't about becoming a different person or pretending to be something you're not.
Since you know the aim is to make someone feel comfortable and help them enjoy themselves in your home, you simply focus on things like...
- Showing a sincere interest in your guest. Ask questions, and then follow-up questions.
- Refraining from unloading your problems. If it's one of your closest friends, that's another story, but you wouldn't want to complain to your average guest, because they've come for a good time and you don't want to make them feel awkward.
- Adapting to the styles and preferences of your particular guest. For example, I know some of my friends feel most special when I keep things very casual; if my house and I are slightly disheveled, it's okay and sometimes maybe even desirable; they feel like they can relax and have a more enjoyable experience and more intimate relationship with me. For others, making the extra effort to wear pearls and set the lunch table with cloth napkins for their visit lifts their mood because it makes them feel important.
- Building up you guest so they feel good about themselves. This doesn't have to be anything over-the-top, if you're not a natural at giving praise. In fact, you don't even necessarily need to offer verbal compliments (though I think it's a plus.) For example, if you heard them say last week that they love peppermint hot chocolate, serve peppermint hot chocolate at their next visit. Simple gestures like that send a powerful message that you care.
- Speaking in a positive way in general. Hosting is something we do to celebrate and have our spirits lifted. Few things will kill this faster than a lot of negative talk and gossip.
- Making sure all guests feel included. If a more introverted guest seems to have gotten lost in the conversation, try to find a natural way to pull them in.
- Overlooking a guest's impropriety. We don't need to prove our good taste by calling attention to someone else's lack thereof, right? So if you're serving a formal dinner party and someone asks for salt when it's not already on the table, jump up and say, "You bet! I totally forgot to put some out!" Who cares if your guest has implied your poached garlic soup is bland? You're secure enough to take it with grace, right? :)
- Welcoming guests at the door and seeing them to the door at the end of their visit.
- Subtlety and temperance. Anything that's too loud, whether it be exaggeration, obnoxious language or jokes, clothes that are too revealing, lack of impulse control (such as drinking too much,) or attempting to attract too much attention, is enough to strain the mood of the evening.
- Setting a tone of ease. If you're tense or stressed, your guests will feel tense and stressed. If someone says something awkward or inappropriate, do your best to keep your smile and help the mood to recover quickly. If you're the host, people will look to you to know what they should expect. Avoid putting on airs. Instead, laugh, be yourself, and have a good time.
- Humility. The classiest people I know seem to have a quiet confidence. They feel no need to advertise their qualities and accomplishments. When hosting a special event you already put yourself on display to some extent, so it can be all the more important to point focus toward your guests.
What does a classy host look like to you?!