Monday, April 15, 2024

Dear Dot: Etiquette Advice For Everyday Life

Dear Dot: Three days before Christmas I was invited to dinner at my cousin “Doreen”…she wanted to do a “family” dinner since a few of us live in the same city.  We grew up two hours away in a very small town, but a few of us moved for better job opportunities.   We rarely see the family in our same city so my boyfriend and I decided to attend.   I emailed her to say how fun and what could I bring. She said she had it all covered. We showed up with a bottle of wine…there were 6 of us and my other cousin also brought wine. Doreen made a yummy pot roast with veggies and we had a great meal and it was fun catching up. Immediately after we finished dinner, Doreen brought in the desert and announced she was going to do the dishes…I offered to help after dessert but she insisted she do them right them “to get them out of the way”. We sat at the table for 20 minutes, then ate dessert…honestly, she was gone for almost an hour…when she came back, we were ready to leave. She got huffy that we didn’t want to stay and talk, but we had said we had to leave by 10:30. She sent me an email afterwards complaining we up and left after dinner. I think if she wanted to visit, she should have waited to do the dishes…I offered to help! What could have been a fun time now has turned into a sour memory…am I wrong?

Oh, honey. Isn’t that what we all want? A nice family dinner followed by the racket of clinking dishes and picked-over pot roast being scraped into the compost? Isn’t dessert best accompanied by the sounds of water turning on and off and the sight of an empty hostess chair? And the snippy email? The perfect finish.

My mother always said that the best way to get rid of guests was to start doing dishes: The dinner ones, the dog’s … didn’t matter.

But why do that when your guests are people you invited in the first place and they brought wine?

Clearing the dishes and then leaving them in the sink to soak leaves you free to soak up the compliments on your cooking, drink a little more, gossip a lot more and maybe even slip outside for a cigarette with the granddaughter.

Wanna know why God made dishwashers? Dinner guests, gossip, wine and Camel-carrying granddaughters. According to my mom, anyway.

The only thing to do here is understand that your cousin Doreen is a clean freak, or one of those people who hates to wake up to a dirty kitchen. You can’t change that. What you can do the next time — and there should be one, since you’re family, which is all that matters — is insist that she stay put.

This, like most things, can be easily done with love: Tell Doreen you want to spend a little more time with her before you have to leave. “Sit, honey. Tell me how you are.”

If she gets up to clean anyway, well, you should just help clear and then clear out yourselves, no dummies you.

Don’t be mad; just send her some rubber gloves for Christmas. Stuffed with Hershey’s kisses.

Dear Dot, A casual friend invited me to a dinner party she was hosting. She is supposed to be a great cook and we have a few interesting friends in common so I said yes. After asking, I showed up with a good bottle of prosecco to be a good guest. There were eight of us and I only knew the host and one other person. I had a blast in the first 45 minutes… two people were really interesting and there was chemistry between me and another guest. The host moved us to a beautiful table next to the kitchen and explained how she had spent two days prepping for the dinner and really thought we were going to enjoy it. We all expressed our appreciation as we enjoyed three courses. The food was delicious…but once we sat down, the hostess got irritated when we talked about anything other than the food. She assembled the food for each course and we had to watch and listen…she would shush us if we wanted to talk to another guests. Honestly, it felt like I had signed up for a cooking class not a dinner party. After dessert, we were dismissed as she had to “clean up”… she was clearly annoyed. I ran into her at our spin class a few days later and she commented that having 8 to dinner was a total waste as people wound up talking to each other and not focusing on the food! I thought that was what a dinner party was about the people.

Oh, honey. Was her name Julia Child? No? Giada deLaurentis? No? Then why hold a cooking class, and hold your guests hostage? Girl needs to chill out.

Even Martha Stewart, the Nazi-est kitchen queen to ever roast a rump knew when to shut her gob and let people just enjoy the food — and each other. (You little minx.)

Clearly, this woman has a self-esteem tureen that will never be filled. There is something missing there, and cooking for a crowd seems to fill it. She should be working in a prison cafeteria if she wants a captive audience.

Almost every hostess wants to know how the food is, if it needs anything, is it hot enough. But when you have a table of wonderful, interesting people, all you need to do is ask once and trust that they will know enough to pass the salt. Even better if they make a pass at each other.

All you needed was one happy guest a drink or two ahead of everyone else (you know the type) to tell Chef Lady that everything was wonderful and there was NO WAY they would ever be able to recreate her skills. And what was the worst thing anyone here has every cooked?

In other words, start a conversation that she will never get back.

Tureen filled, she might have cracked open that Prosecco you brought, poured herself a glass, looked around the table and seen that she had assembled the finest feast of all: Friends. Hot ones, too, it sounds like. (You little minx.)


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