Q: In gatherings of more than a few people, I always feel gawky, at a loss trying to talk or listen to people on both sides of me. I'm rude, or feel so, either to the one talking to me or to the one left in silence on the other side of me. This is true when I'm at a table or standing. Others appear to be at ease; I am not.

I hate big formal parties of any kind -- how do you include everyone on all sides? I leave feeling as if my head were on a Lazy Susan and as if I really haven't been able to make anyone happy to be with me.

A: The big formal party has a big formal rule to cope with exactly this problem. It is called "turning the table." When you sit down, the hostess is supposed to open a conversation with the gentleman on her right, and the entire table turns like dominoes; halfway through, she reverses everyone. When there is a breakdown, stranded guests are supposed to attach themselves boldly to the appropriate partner, or they must affect an immense interest in the wanderings of their peas around their plates.

Should you be forced to talk to both, lean back a bit in your seat, but then, at the first opportunity, call out to someone on the other side of one of your neighbors and draw him into the conversation so you may soon desert that neighbor for your other one.