Thursday, September 2, 2010

Reader Comment: Rude Guests

Dear Etiquette Guy-this is written to express my dismay at having worked hard to share a meal with people and found that I was just insulted and hurt by what I witnessed and heard at the dinner table. Your input is welcome of course.

Signed,

A disappointed host.

Do You Have Any Ketchup?

This is a question no host/hostess ever wants to hear as he or she is about to serve a well planned and well executed dinner. Nor is it a question to be asked during the meal. It seems that some people do not get the opportunity to eat breakfast, lunch, supper or dinner "out." By out I mean in another person's home or even in a restaurant or other eatery. We lapse and before we are even aware our table manners no longer exist.

If you are invited "out" please think about how you know you ought to behave. Don't blow your nose into a well used handkerchief at the table with everyone eating. If you are served something that you do not care for, don't eat it and don't comment about your dislike. If something is served with a serving utensil use the utensil to put the food on your plate. And use the cutlery provided to consume your food. If you do not care for the assortment of tea offered, politely ask the host/hostess if there might be another variety available. Again keep your critiques to yourself. What we do in commenting about our dislikes is to bring too much unnecessary baggage to the table. If you insist on behaving badly, stay home. What everyone must think about is that there is a lot of work that goes into creating a meal which the host/hostess wants to be pleasing to all guests. Ah, there's the operative word: you are a GUEST and for this reason alone you ought to be on your best behavior. Leave the quirks, idiosyncrasies and bad manners at home if you have accepted an invitation particularly if you ever want a return engagement.

Dear Disappointed,

Thanks for taking the time to make your observations. Being a gracious guest is indeed very important. Preparing a meal for friends and family is energy consuming both in terms of time and money. A special party takes a lot of planning as we all know. As an invited guest, if you have any food allergies, be sure to let your hostess know well ahead of the party. And remember that an allergy is not just a dislike, but a potential serious medical situation. A good host will take great care in designing a menu, whether it be for an afternoon tea party or a more formal dinner (or an informal one for that matter), to please his guests. I do disagree with asking for another variety of tea other than what is offered. It’s not far from asking for ketchup. As a guest, sometimes it’s best to simply be thankful for what is provided. On the other hand, a good host wants to please and will most likely ask his guests if there is anything else anyone would like or need. That is the time to ask for a condiment or sharper knife, etc. It is also a great time to be enthusiastically appreciative. Give a fun toast thanking the host and hostess for the chance to be together. If the party is for a special occasion and the assembled group is not likely to ever be together again for a special anniversary or birthday and people have traveled great distances, give a toast to “this magic moment in time” as a close friend of mine does.

If there is something served to you that you don’t like, try moving it around the plate a bit. At least that way, it looks like you tried it. And, you are quite right in stating that you should not comment about your dislikes. Meals are times where lively discussions and happy thoughts are exchanged. Guests should avoid controversial topics such as politics and religion, although that is nigh unto impossible so close to this most exciting US election, where I think people in Canada are more interested in that election than their own. However, there are plenty of topics for dinner table discussion and of course having an interesting group of people together, there are sure to be life stories and anecdotes to share with the other guests.

If you have a coughing or sneezing attack, excuse your self from the table until it has passed. I am famous for my 14-sneeze episodes. I know when it’s happening and simply excuse myself and go to the washroom. Coughing and sneezing at the table is not only disruptive but is disrespectful of other guests who don’t want your germs on their food. And be sure to wash your hands well before returning to the table. Coughing and sneezing is the fastest way to spread germs during the flu and cold season and shaking hands is next. Be considerate of others at the table and everyone will have the enjoyable time so wished for by the host.

A gathering of people is meant to bring us together as polite, well mannered individuals. Just follow a few sage bits of advice about proper etiquette and you will be invited back and no host will be disappointed.