Miss Manners: Potluck is fine if made clear in advance

January 1, 2012

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Rarely is it that I find myself in disagreement with you, dear Miss Manners. However, I take issue with your taking to task dinner and party guests for bringing “hostess gifts” in the form of food and beverages. And that you further discourage the “potluck” practice of everyone bringing something for the meal.

Perhaps being so successful and talented has blinded you to the fact that many others have not been as fortunate or industrious. Especially from the vantage point of Washington, D.C., where I presume many continue to fiddle and entertain lavishly while Rome burns.

Perhaps we common people will be much happier if we can continue to afford to socialize by bringing along something for everyone to enjoy rather than everyone sitting and eating alone in their own homes because they cannot afford to entertain.

Now excuse me, I have to go make a salad to bring to my garden club’s fall dinner.

GENTLE READER: Must you declare class warfare on cooks whose notion of hospitality is to provide full meals for their guests?

And anyway, don’t you have the argument upside down? In religious texts, we learn about the virtue of the poor who freely share what little they have, while those who can afford more stint on hospitality.

Cooperative gatherings, such as your garden club dinner, were not under discussion. When Miss Manners isn’t obliged (it’s a residential requirement) to accompany the destruction of Our Nation’s Capital on the violin, she happily participates in such a group.

The issue was dinner parties for which the guests are unpleasantly surprised by being given catering assignments, or at which hosts are dismayed at being expected to serve courses replacing those they had planned.

There is no legitimate financial angle here. Unless we are speaking of those who always expect others to feed them and never reciprocate, it costs no more to take an occasional turn serving a full meal than it does to have to contribute every time one goes out. Presuming a social circle of five households and meals of three courses, it actually would cost less.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is there a limit on the appropriate time to express sympathy for the loss of a loved one? A friend of mine lost a dear family member months ago. Unfortunately, we live far apart and have not met in person for longer than that.

At the time of the death, I sent her a letter, but I was wondering if I should still express sympathy for her loss in person when I see her in a few weeks. Or is it perhaps better not to say it — perhaps she doesn’t want to be reminded?

GENTLE READER: It is not “being reminded” that upsets the bereaved. They have not forgotten. On the contrary, what disturbs them is that others may have forgotten.

Nevertheless, Miss Manners cautions you to pick your moment carefully. Your sympathy should be expressed privately, and not in a context, such as a social occasion, that would imply that your friend ought not to be out enjoying herself.

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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