If I planned a military ball, we would never sit down to dinner. For one, I’m wearing so many pairs of Spanx that my esophagus closes up shop for the night. Water? No thanks. I’ll have a shot from this oxygen tank instead.
For two, when I do try to eat in a formal gown, I tend to drop something down my cleavage -- like the cutlery. Or the centerpiece. Or maybe a very small, very young Marine who has never seen so much exposed cleavage in his life.
And for three, nothing -- absolutely nothing -- makes people more boring than sitting them down with perfect strangers at the eight-top table they use at balls.
I’m serious. These tables are conversation killers. They are the perfect size to force you to shout across the table trying to be heard, invariably dragging your bosom through the pumpkin soup and making you wish you had never been born.
We think about this stuff at SpouseBuzz. Not only do we want you to feel beautiful, but we want your military ball to be one of those nights you remember as fun and romantic and special as the rest of the world thinks they are.
Believe me, your neighbor is looking out her window watching a gorgeous creature in uniform help you and your gown into the car and chewing on her own gizzard.
You owe it to her to have a good time.
So how do you conquer that eight top table full of perfect strangers? We have some starter tips right here:
How to Have Fun With Strangers at the Ball1. Don’t sit down. At most military balls, they make the call to dinner just as the cocktail hour is ending. Find your table, but don’t sit down yet. Nothing is worse than being first at a table and sitting there all alone for half an hour. Lingering behind your chair allows you to greet other people and get drawn into conversation with those around you.
2. Be the first to say "hello." I’m a friendly person. I make conversation with a crack in the sidewalk if I have to. But once I was at a military ball and was so irritated with my husband that I was at the table fuming and I didn’t even make eye contact with the couple who sat across from us. I’m pretty sure they thought this was insulting (cuz it was) and it created a big black cloud that hovered over our table all night. Sigh.
3. Compliment people. No matter how cool they look on the outside, everyone feels a little awkward around so many strangers. Find something to like about everyone at your table. It reminds you to stay positive.
4. Make the introductions. You can always tell when a servicemember has spent time in Washington, D.C. These are the guys who will stand up from the table and walk around to introduce themselves to the couple across the table. Since the tables are an awkward size, you won’t be speaking to this person all evening. So exchanging a few words before everyone sits down eliminates that Berlin Wall feeling.
5. Look for the extrovert. Grab any random guy in uniform and I betcha he is an introvert. He did not want to come to this event tonight. He is grumpy about some part of his uniform. And he hates strangers. That’s why they ought to skip the centerpiece and seat an extrovert at every table. You need one person who loves being with strangers to keep the conversation going. If you are not this person, figure out who is the extrovert at the table and be a good partner to them.
6. Avoid the conversation killers. Nothing kills the conversation at a military ball like asking, What do you do? Or What does your partner do in the military? I’m sure you mean well. And I’m sure that all you are looking for is some common ground. Somehow that question is translated into What is your rank? It makes people bristle and start looking over your head to find someone better to talk to than you.
The question Do you have any kids? does not really win friends and influence people either. Remember one in five military couples doesn’t have kids and it bores them when you ask.
7. Ask about their day. Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk (which you can download for free online) says that the best question to start a conversation with a stranger at an event is What did you do today?
It is the world’s most open-ended question. No matter what they say, there is a conversational follow-up. If they tell you they mowed the lawn today, you can talk about how much rain you have had this year. If they talk about their daughter’s gymnastics meet, you can ask how old she is and whether the parent can also do a back handspring. If they say they spent the morning in the veterinarian’s emergency room spending two grand, you can say, “Hey! Me too!!”
8. Go with geography. In a group of military folks, you can never go wrong with Where are you from? Which begs the follow up question: What made you want to join the service? I also get good results from asking What was your best duty station? And, If you could be stationed anywhere, where would you live?
I also like to ask people if they have been stationed here long and what they like most about it. I’ve heard the best restaurant tips at balls -- thus I know where to get the best crab soup in the entire state of Virginia and you don’t.
And then there's ...
9. How did you meet? Every couple has a love story or an engagement story or a wedding story. I have found people are charming on this topic. And men tell the story in a totally different way than their wives. Makes me laugh every time.
And if that doesn't work ask ...
10. Did you go to your prom? Since everyone is dressed up to the nines, somehow the subject of prom fits in nicely. There are things going on at people’s proms that the principal and the government know nothing about.
11. Check out the food. At a military ball, you are doing well if the food is hot. Sometimes it is even a little strange -- which helps the conversation. Guessing what that orange dressing could possibly be can offer all kinds of ice breaker. It also leads to What is the best meal you have ever eaten? And What is the most mysterious food you have ever had? When talking to active duty members, best to ask this question over dessert.
12. Ignore mean people. Sometimes at a table you will have the couple who are just about to file for divorce and are only present because they were ordered to attend. Or you have a spouse who hates the military and wants to talk about that so much that you wanna pop a Xanax. Resolve to ignore those people. They don’t matter. Really.
13. Ask your darling to dance. The most important words to say at a military ball are the ones that ask your partner to dance. To tell them they look wonderful. To say that you had a nice time and now you want them to take you home. We all have our moments in military life. Let this be one of yours.