Miss Manners: Holiday meals should not be about dividing the spoils

November 27, 2011

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I love my leftovers! But now that the holiday season is here, and the first feast has been cleaned up and the remainders crammed into the refrigerator, the question arises: What is the protocol for offering leftovers to guests?

My mother used to send everyone home with a care package, no questions asked. I have had guests (close friends or relatives) who have taken back the remainders of items they brought to share. I have also, occasionally, had guests ask, “May I take some XYZ home if there are leftovers enough?”

Am I obliged, as the host, to offer guests the opportunity to take something home, without making them feel obligated to do so? Or should I assume that anything left is mine to continue feasting on in the upcoming days?

GENTLE READER: That holiday meals — indeed, almost any meal with guests — end in squabbling or sulking about the disposition of the leftovers appalls Miss Manners.

Isn’t Thanksgiving supposed to be about thankfulness for what you have, not angling for what you covet? Is hospitality not its essence, and so should it not be characterized by sharing and goodwill? Is there not enough to eat at these feasts that people are so anxious about where their next meal is coming from?

In the absence of the spirit of goodwill, which ought to produce gracious behavior spontaneously, Miss Manners will spell this out:

Nobody should ask for anyone else’s leftovers. The hostess can offer hers — your mother was generous, but not everyone may want them — but this is certainly not required. Any guests who contribute to the menu should leave anything left over that has been transferred to the host’s pans or platters, but can take or offer whatever is left in the containers they brought.

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Holiday Advice: More tips for surviving the season

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DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I were at a wedding reception. A business associate and my husband and I were talking. His wife came over and started to flirt with my husband. She reached across me and her husband to look my hubby in the eyes, saying he would take good care of her if she got divorced. My husband is not that kind of attorney.

She did this THREE TIMES. What should my husband have done? What should I have done? I GRABBED his hand and PULLED him away. I was so ANGRY at him. We left the wedding. I think she was so DISRESPECTFUL to me and my husband.

How should my husband have responded so she would have stopped after the first time, or how should he have avoided it happening in the first place? She was not close enough to touch him. He saw her coming.

GENTLE READER: Madam, please. Get a grip on yourself. You are screaming.

If you think you and your husband were treated disrespectfully, what about the lady’s husband? If this is not how he found out that his marriage was floundering, he still may not have cared to have it announced this way to his colleagues. And what about your lack of respect toward the people whose wedding you left?

Your inability to sympathize with your husband for being the target of outrageous behavior sounds like a separate problem. Miss Manners cannot imagine how he could have seen this coming, but if it happens again, he could say quietly, “Sorry, I don’t handle divorces.” What you could have said is, “Oh, really? Are you getting divorced?”

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

@ 2011, by Judith Martin

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