One of my mother's biggest complaints about cooking large family dinners was "Everyone is always in my kitchen!" Where else would we be? That's where the action was; where the food was.
When I started entertaining it was the same: everyone congregated in the kitchen. There were lots of offers to help, to taste, etc. They were all graciously acknowledged and declined, as was expected. Afterword there were more offers to help. These were, briefly, accepted from close friends, otherwise laughingly declined: clean-up was for the next day
When we lived in Andorra we entertained and were entertained often. I never saw anyone's kitchen. And no guest ventured into mine.
The majority of our friends were British ex-pats. They had lived in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Kenya, Nairobi, etc. Most hadn't lived in Britain since their childhood, so I don't know it these are British traits or ex-pat traits. I do know it was an adjustment for us open-arms, American types.
When we were invited to something, whether it was afternoon tea, pre-dinner drinks or a dinner party, we never knew anything about the event. It just wasn't discussed. We didn't know if we were the only invitees or with a group of 20; if it was a warm, cozy chance to have lively discussions or formal, stand-up and polite conversation only. We could be playing golf with 6 other people, including the future host and have no idea if we would be seeing some or all of them 3 hours later.
We were a bit less proper in Minnesota/Wisconsin.
In Andorra, the host/hostess of the event worked. The cook was in the kitchen cooking; the bartender was in the bar tending. The guests were in the living room/lounge enjoying themselves. When dinner/tea was served everyone adjourned to the dining room. During dinner, in between courses, the hostess served and removed, the host poured wine. Several hours later, when everyone was relaxing over a final port the hosts would actually be allowed to have some fun. There was never, ever, ever an offer 'to help'. When you were the hosts you worked, when you were the guests you didn't.
Don't misunderstand, everyone always had a great time and it wasn't the least bit stiff; just proper.
One friend did confide to me that "Entertaining was so much easier when we lived in Singapore and had 'staff'!" Ya think?
Another cultural difference between the Brit's and Americans (the French houses we've been in have been more open) is the issue of doors. Every room is completely enclose by walls and has doors that are kept closed. If it's a small house, like the one we had in Ireland, you enter into a small hallway. The hallway has doors leading off, all of which are closed. If it's a grand house, it's the same; just a bigger hallway.
In the U.S. Great Rooms were popular; large open-plan rooms that encompassed the kitchen, dining area and main living area. One big room; no doors. At the very least the kitchen/dining room/living room were partially open to each other, divided perhaps, by a partial wall or archway.
We used to have a friend stay at our house to dog-sit in Andorra. The first thing she did was walk around, closing doors. We came home and opened them up again. Because Andorra is all steep mountains, houses are tall rather than wide. We had a spiral staircase of 45 steps going up the center with rooms off it on seven levels: no hallways but lots of doors.
(Side note: When we moved into that house one of the movers asked me if something went in the bedroom on the left or the right. It's a spiral staircase….going up ALL of the rooms were on the left. Coming down they were on the right. Unfortunately, this question/answer came after many trips to the top and he failed to share my humor. Oh yes, all of the rooms were also at ground level…. somewhere)
Come to think of it, if no one was ever allowed in my kitchen (I'd have to get a door) I could have everything catered and take all the credit…..did I miss something in Andorra? Did they really have 'staff' and were keeping it a secret? Why am I always the last to know?
Do you say 'to-may-to' or 'to-mah-to'? I say 'to-mahyh-to' ….or, sometimes, 'ta-may-duh' ….