Q: I am caught between two people in a question of holiday meal etiquette. When my mother, the host, asks my longtime boyfriend whether/how he’d like a certain food, and he responds that he doesn’t like something, she reacts with shock.
She drags out her exclamations of surprise, even when she has already been told about a certain food quirk. “I’ve never known anyone who doesn’t like such-and-such!” she cries out, as if there must be something wrong with him. “You want such-and-such PLAIN? Oh-kayyy …” she says with raised eyebrows.
At our last holiday meal, this made him very uncomfortable, and his conversational skills were somewhat lacking for most of the visit. His subsequent one-word answers, looks of annoyance and little sarcastic witticisms didn’t help.
I feel conflicted. Sometimes being a good guest means taking a few bites of something you don’t really like. But being an adult should mean that you can choose what goes into your body.
I’m sure my mother just isn’t thinking when she reacts like this. It can’t be fun to be a host who knows that one guest won’t eat some of the offerings, but it can’t be fun to be a guest who is asked what he likes, only to be treated like he’s a weirdo when he answers.
I have tried to smooth things over as well as possible. When my mother asks me for holiday meal suggestions, I mention foods my boyfriend will like, and when these awkward back-and-forths take place, I try to distract from my mother’s shock or laugh it off. It occurs to me that for the next meal, I could ask if I can bring a dish or two that I know my boyfriend will like.
I feel like all the pressure is on me to keep everyone happy. My mother and my boyfriend are wonderful people (especially when apart), but lately I’ve been fantasizing about taking a trip away from both of them for the rest of the holidays, obviously not a realistic option.
A: These people are speaking different languages, and Miss Manners is afraid that you will have to translate.
Your beau understands your mother to be asking for a critique of various dishes, perhaps with the thought of learning his likes and dislikes so she can please him in the future.
This is not the case. Your mother is asking for compliments. That is always a bad idea, and it would be good if you could get her to stop, but Miss Manners does not hold out much hope.
You might head her off if you could persuade your beau to issue a compliment, a general one or, failing that, an enthusiastic response to something he does like. Perhaps you could teach him a little speech, such as, “I was never a sophisticated eater, Mrs. Neffen, but you are a wonderful cook and I’m learning.”
Too hard? Tell him to put something, anything, into his mouth quickly, smile at her question and say a long, drawn-out “Mmmmm!”
Judith Martin writes the Miss Manners column with help from her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, MissManners.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.