Miss Manners: Guests may well wonder why the host won’t eat what’s served

January 17, 2012

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it rude for a hostess to serve dessert to everyone and have none herself?

Maybe I’m oversensitive because I’m watching my calories, but this has happened to me twice recently. Both women are thin and have no dietary issues. One claimed that she didn’t care for the dessert, and the other had another glass of wine instead!

GENTLE READER: If the hostess doesn’t care for the dessert, why is she feeding it to her guests? Doesn’t she care for them, either?

The general rule is that one is not supposed to notice what goes in or does not go in to other people’s mouths. But that is directed at hosts; guests have to watch the hostess to know when to dig in.

Miss Manners, who does not travel with an official taster, would confess to being nervous about digging into a dish that is not touched by her hostess.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am at a loss with what seem to be mismatched cues when I am visiting someone’s home and it is time to leave.

The situation: I am over for lunch or dinner, we have had a nice chat, and it is clearly time for me to head out. I start making going-away noises — “It’s time to be going, its been lovely” and so forth — and, after a moment or two, stand up.

The hosts continue sitting. I continue to talk to them, they continue to talk to me without rising, and after a couple of minutes more, it is very much time for me to be gone, but there I am still.

What seems to be happening is conflicting sets of cues for behavior. They are waiting for me to be gone, but I am subconsciously waiting for what my mind tells me is the appropriate trigger to actually start walking away, which is one of the hosts standing up with me.

It’s almost Pavlovian. In my subconscious, their standing signals that it is appropriate to walk to the door, and their continuing to sit that they are asking me to stay and keep talking.

Yesterday, this went on for more than five minutes until it became apparent that my hosts, who are close friends but whom I usually see at my place, were dying for me to head out so they could prepare for a child’s party later that day. So I let myself out the front door while they stayed on their couches in the living room.

Did I somehow internalize an idiosyncratic norm that the hosts always stand up and see the guests out? What is the more standard range of norms? Is there a well- established formula for what to do when the norm is not followed?

GENTLE READER: So what did they use in the way of a signal to let you know that they were dying to have you leave? Miss Manners shudders to think.

Wouldn’t you think it would be easier to learn a few common social signals than to put up with a house full of unhappy squatters?

Yes, hosts are supposed to rise when their guests get up to leave, and to see them to the door. Exasperated and desperate hosts have occasionally been known to rise before their guests in the hope of prompting them.

Your only hope of release, as you have discovered, is to say, “Oh, don’t bother getting up — I’ll show myself out.”

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

2012, by Judith Martin

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