Dear Miss Manners: My husband and I have been together for over 40 years. We both are accomplished cooks and greatly enjoy hosting nice dinner parties for four or six guests. We have accumulated fine china, sterling silver and crystal over the years, and we enjoy setting a beautiful table and creating good food.
However, over the years, many of our guests have said how much they enjoyed the evening but that they could never reciprocate, as they cannot entertain in the style we enjoy providing. We respond that we love hamburgers on the grill, too, and that just getting together is the primary enjoyment.
Although our invitations are always eagerly accepted, and our friends seem to greatly enjoy the evening, even repeat guests over the years have failed to reciprocate. My spouse suggests we just “dumb it down,” keep the sterling and crystal in the pantry and provide more simple fare. I do not agree, as this would greatly reduce our enjoyment in entertaining, but perhaps our more formal style has become obsolete in today’s casual world. By the way, many of our friends are well-off, with beautiful homes.
Do we compromise our standards and give up what we enjoy doing? Or do we continue to be the frequent dinner party hosts and seldom, if ever, the guests?
Please tell your spouse that you need not “dumb down” your parties just because other people are rude.
Yes, Miss Manners knows that many will take exception to this, but she will remind them that your friends seem perfectly happy to enjoy your finery, even if they are baffled by how to entertain formally themselves. Decent people do not entertain merely to show up others. If your friends cannot find a way to reciprocate within their means, it is their problem, not yours.
Dear Miss Manners: We host my husband’s sister and her husband for dinner at least once a week. Both of them have terrible table manners. While it bugs me, I could ignore it if it weren’t for how it affects my children. When their aunt and uncle are over, the kids’ own manners regress.
When I tell the children not to chew with their mouths open or to ask politely for more food, their response is always, “But Aunt Jessica doesn’t have to do that!” or “Uncle Brian didn’t say please!” Each time, the adults at the table look chagrined. (But not enough, it seems, to change their ways.)
Jessica and Brian are adults and I have no interest in parenting them or making them feel unwelcome at my house. Is it rude to respond to my children by saying, “I’m not their parents?” If so, is there a polite way to make it clear that the behavior is unacceptable from my children in front of people who are doing those same rude actions?
“Well, these are our rules.” Miss Manners suggests that you practice saying this without overemphasizing the “our” — or making eye contact with the true offenders.
New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, missmanners.com. You can also follow her @RealMissManners.
© 2023 Judith Martin