1950s Archive

Viennese Memoir

Ein Lunch Debout

Originally Published October 1958

About four hundred thirty-five years after the discovery of America, the Viennese began to accept the fact by allowing a few well-chosen Americanisms to slip into their language. This process did not result in their using fewer French words; it only meant that some very recherche trilingual combinations came forth. Everyone might live according to Seinem Code d'Honneur, but the most popular way for a hostess to stay smartly abreast of the times, in three easy words, was to give Ein hunch Debout—preferably early in the season.

The French words were always pronounced properly, but the English ones were frequently unrecognizable. Lunch became anything from “Lontsch” or “Loonsh” to “Lünch,” complete with umlaut and a hard cb. No matter how serious the mispronunciation might be, Ein Lunch Debout was infinitely smarter than a Mittagesson Assis or a Stand-up Déjeuner. It was also in many respects the ideal way of entertaining; the hostess did not have to check silver and the table leaves against her guest list, nor did she have to stoop to the dreadful indignity of renting red velvet and gilded chairs. As long as she had enough floor space, if her dining room would allow thirty-six people to stand and move about gracefully, and if there was still sufficient room for the footmen to circulate with ease, she could give Ein Lunch Debout, This occasion had a further advantage: No guests could stand for as long a period as they could sir, and the lunch would break up promptly—which a Lunch Asm could not be depended upon doing.

Standing was absolutely compulsory—the invitation clearly stated Dabout. It was unheard of for a guest to capture an attractive lady and take her off to two comfortable chairs in a quiet corner of the Bibliotbèque. Such liberties with etiquette were Americanisms that Vienna simply did not accept; hence they could not possibly occur.

At a luncheon where the guests were seated, the menu usually bulged with innumerable side dishes and accompaniments. Depressing displays of cutler and glassware made the guests wonder whether they would he home before evening. The main course might suddenly involve the guest with an icy sherbet on his left, a cup of steaming bouillon beyond the sherbet (despite the fact that the meal had started with a soup three courses earlier), cucumber salad in front, a compote on his right, and a footman behind. Beyond the compote, his wine glasses were only just within his reach. In order to leave room on the table for all the side dishes, guests had to be seated so far apart that (they either had to raise their voice or lean alternately to the right and left, at a dangerous angle, in order to make conversation—in three languages, if possible.

Frau Baronin, a bome hostess, knew perfectly well that Ein Lunch Debout was the answer: four courses, no side dishes, no knives, no complication—standing room only. In fact, it became a leisurely moving about from group to group, a circulation of conversation. A guest could shine with a single new story repealed for the benefit of each new group and, at the end of the Lunch, there would not be a single guest who could go home and report to all of Vienna, within the hour, “She Stated me next to that unmöglicb Parvenu (impossible upstart).”

A fine line was also drawn between a Buffet Luncheon and Ein Lunch Debous. At the Buffet, the hostess had to arrange an impressive display of food and, if she did not provide formal seating, she had to accept the fact that her guests would search out their own. They had been known in a pinch to make do with her priceless spinet or to use her fragile étagère as a sort of shooting stick. The Lunch Debout stood in the cleared dining room, was served from the sideboard by the staff without previous ostentatious exposition, and the guests went home when their legs ached, a development that usually coincided with the coffee-drinking.

The thoughtful hostess always planned her Lunch Debout to follow one of the pleasant pastimes in which the Viennese indulged in the middle of the morning. It could follow a Philharmonic concert, the opening of an exhibition, a recital, or one of the delightful dancing classes (hat met at eleven each day. Here, too, the discovery of America made itself felt—although there was no question of public acceptance, habituées could arrange for private instruction in the Charleston from the more talented members of Austria's aristocracy. Of course,

any talents that might be discovered in this direction were doomed to go un-applauded; at best they could be whispered to a friend. Doing the Charleston, let alone doing it with a stranger, was the sort of thing no one would want Mother to hear about.

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