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Thanks for inviting me

August 14, 2003|Adamo DiGregorio and David A. Keeps | Special to The Times

Emily POST, Miss Manners and other etiquette queens have made a cottage industry of writing the rules for gracious entertaining. When it comes to being the grateful guest, however, the quaint custom of the hostess gift gets short shrift: If you're visiting someone, just don't show up empty-handed; the longer you're staying, the more you should spend.

Flowers, chocolates and wine are as appreciated as the guest who volunteers in the kitchen, but all these things remain such fleeting pleasures. The best way to thank someone for their hospitality is to help them make their home an even nicer place. And it's as easy as ABC:

Avoid the purely decorative. Even if you've visited before and think you know the decor and color schemes, you never want to give something the host will feel compelled to put on display -- unless, of course, it is something of yours they covet.

Buy something they probably wouldn't buy for themselves. The best gifts don't need any explanation; they are part of the secret language of friendship. A silver yo-yo can't help but bring out the kid -- not to mention the kids -- of even the moodiest friend. Retro wooden door-hangers that say "At the Beach" or "Walking the Dog" instead of "Do Not Disturb" (or, God forbid, "Bless This Mess") make any place feel like a 1920s seaside hotel. Even something as generic as a candle can simultaneously acknowledge your and your host's shared aesthetics and esteem -- especially if you let it slip that it's a limited-edition (available only at Barney's) woodsy fragrance by John Galliano for Diptyque, the French company that helped ignite the couture candle trend.

Consider your plans. A good hostess gift is something that everyone can enjoy during the visit. Planning on spending time al fresco? Bring along a fly swatter so chic it can pass for Modernist sculpture, or a sleek set of rechargeable lamps that cast a soft and steady glow in the highest of winds.

And with Fitzsu Society's fold-and-lock origami paper plates and plastic "sporks" (one side's a spoon, the other's a fork), the time you'll save doing dishes can be spent playing cards or putting together an album of photos from your last visit.

For the truly ambitious, the Italian company Nucleo has created a grow-your-own kit for cultivating a grass chair. Just slide together the corrugated cardboard pieces to form a Modernist lounger, fill with dirt, sprinkle with seed (or sod) and water. Promise to mow it and you're sure to be invited back soon.

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