Potluck Pest

This is where this situation is probably headed.

This is where this situation is probably headed.

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

A mutual friend invited my friend and I (and several other ladies) to her cabin for the weekend.  The cabin owner thought the theme of the dinner should be Mexican and my friend offered to make chicken enchiladas.  I offered to make chile rellenos and the cabin owner stated she would make tacos.  The other attendees were bringing a salad, dips, etc.  My friend had a separate conversation with the cabin owner and told her not to make the tacos (she didn’t think it was necessary and belonged with her enchiladas). She later told me she will also make beans and rice which is the proper thing to serve with her enchiladas.

Issue:  My friend makes it very plain she thinks potlucks should be organized by the hostess and the menu should be very strict and match.  She hinted she didn’t think my rellenos belonged either.  I told her it wasn’t her party and she shouldn’t be telling the hostess how to handle.  I also told her one of the other guests was helping with the tacos and now what would they be bringing?  I don’t normally like beans and rice – never eat them in a Mexican restaurant (although my friend is a great cook and everything is usually good) and i personally enjoy eating potluck cooking from other individual’s kitchens.  I think my friend is showing poor etiquette by telling the hostess what to make/not make and would like your opinion.  She believes she knows the proper etiquette for all dinner parties because her sister owns a high end store in the San Francisco bay area.
Should I care?  Does it really matter who is right?


Mexican Food Muddle


Our Take:

Jaya: Wow, this is more thought than I’ve ever put into a potluck.

Victoria: Hahahaha. Yeah, I mean, there are definitely two theories on potlucks.

One is that the host/ess guides the attendees on what to bring and that can even be like, assigning dessert vs side vs apps or whatever. Down to being very specific about theme and whatever each person should bring.

And then the other is that it is a free for all.

Jaya: Right

Victoria: And like… it doesn’t really matter, it’s kind of up to the hostess. And so for a guest to try to steer it is supremely rude.

Jaya: It honestly seems like the hostess had a handle on doing the first type? There was a theme, everyone else divied up the entrees/apps evenly

Victoria: Exactly. And um tacos and enchiladas go to together fine, this person is a loon.

Jaya: Yeah the whole point of potlucks is you have options!

Victoria: Also your sister owning a high end store in San Francisco doesn’t make you an arbiter of what potlucks should be like. Or etiquette. Declaring yourself an etiquette expert on the internet makes you the arbiter of what dinner parties should be like, obviously.

Jaya: So yeah, she’s clearly wrong here. However, does that matter? Would it be worse to confront her about this? Personally, I probably would say something. Even along the lines of like “hey chill out we just want a fun dinner at the cabin.”

Victoria: Yeah, or something like….”Jane the hostess, seems to have a handle on things and you should probably just let it go.” I mean part of the thing about group trips is it’s not always going to go your way and you have to compromise about mealtime (and everything, basically) and if the rest of the group is going one way…you just need to go along with it.

Jaya: Yeah, especially if it’s enchiladas v. tacos. This isn’t someone insisting on steak when half the cabin is vegan. Like I seriously can’t imagine a scenario in which someone has made enchiladas and another person puts tacos on the table and I’m like “well this is just not done.”

Victoria: Hahahah right?!?! It’s extremely nutty. And the question writer should care about this because clearly she is headed for a weekend away with an obnoxious control freak and should prepare herself for it. And yes, say something to your friend. And if you feel like it would help, say something supportive to the hostess

because it’s super annoying to be being really generous about inviting people to your cabin and then having them try to micromanage all your plans when they were fine plans to begin with.

Jaya: This is hard because the friend in question seems to be having a lot of independent conversations with people trying to orchestrate things, which is a sly move to keep everyone else from ganging up against her.

But, if this is a situation where everyone is on an email chain, an email in support of the original menu, or something generally positive with phrases like “let’s not overthink it” could be useful.

Victoria: Oooh yes, good call!



ED: Thanks to our question writer for this great question! If you have an etiquette question, please write to us at info@uncommon-courtesy.com!

Mindy Kaling’s Views on Wedding Registries

I mean, Thailand seems nice and all... [Via]

I mean, Thailand seems nice and all… [Via]

I recently listened to the audiobook of Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me? which was delightful. I always recommend, for celebrity memoirs and essay books, if they read the audiobook, you should listen to it rather than read because the words sound SO GOOD coming out of their own mouths. Especially check out Leah Remini’s reading of her book about leaving Scientology. It’s amazing.

Back to the point though, Mindy has this great section about wedding registries that perfectly encapsulates my feelings about honeymoon registries (even though I will begrudgingly admit they are FINE to have. And there ARE certain circumstances like- you live in a completely different country than where your wedding is taking place and where all your guests live…but)

“There are few things that I have more ideological problems with than the concept of the “honeyfund.” Hear me out: I love the idea of giving my newly married friends a meaningful present. But I don’t love being asked to be an investor in a crowd-funded honeymoon. Here is why: it’s not especially emotionally rewarding to know that I paid for three of five nights of a yurt rental in Big Sur. It’s so transactional. Sure, everyone knows all wedding registries are essentially transactional, but at least they are transactional about objects, not about people and experiences. I know you say you have too much stuff in your apartment and what you really want is a killer honeymoon in Thailand. But I feel like, if you have every material good you want, you’re probably doing well enough to plan a honeymoon that is within your means. Because a honeymoon is, after all, a sex vacation you’re giving yourself after a massive party in your honor.”

She just puts it so well, you know? She goes on to talk about how a physical gift feels like a “souvenir of your affection” and is more about your relationship with the bride or groom or both than their relationship with each other. Which I feel like is part of the core of the issue of why many people still dislike honeymoon registries even though they’ve been a pretty common thing for a good ten years now (though, I suppose, there are plenty of people who go more than ten years at a time without attending a wedding.) People really do have sentimental attachment to the THINGS that they give to people. And I think that for people who don’t experience sentimental attachment to gifts given to others, it’s very hard to understand. But like, it definitely gives me a little thrill to see a friend using something I gave them for their wedding in a way that hearing them talk about the honeymoon I chipped in for doesn’t. And I think its equally okay to feel that way and for other to people to feel like they’d rather have a honeymoon than a set of china. But I think when etiquette fights break out, it’s because of a lack of empathy between the two sides.


Dealing with an Unwanted Houseguest

If only it were this charming in real life.

If only it were this charming in real life.

I recently had a houseguest who came uninvited and just would not leave! He was a mouse, though, who I first saw as little flashes in the corner of my eye. Nah, I said, it must be my imagination. Then I finally saw him with his beady little eyes and twitchy little nose. I broke the news to my roommate gently, “I don’t want to alarm you but I have seen a mouse…”

As compassionate (and squeamish) people, we decided to go with discouragement first, rush ordering some Mouse Away spray from Amazon Prime. As I was spritzing the perimeter of our living room, I discovered Sir Mousey’s treasure trove of snacks- a forgotten roll of rice cakes left in my roommate’s storage bin. Since she was asleep when I made my discovery and we wouldn’t see each other for at least 48 hours I felt I had no choice but to send her an email so she could deal with the situation post haste. Often the realm of passive aggression, the roommate email is sometimes the best way of sharing bad news- “Hey, so sorry, wouldn’t normally write this in an email but I won’t be home tonight and the mouse has pooped all over your stuff and you’re probably going to want to deal with that sooner rather than later.”

The news got worse. After a weekend mostly out of the apartment, I returned to find that she had done a massive clean of her room and discovered that the mouse had made a nest out of the hay she keeps for her bunnies- in her LLBean Boot. A couple of days later and we have finally purchased lethal traps and hope to have the matter resolved shortly.

In the meantime, I have written a poem in honor of our bewhiskered friend and offer my apologies to Robert Burns for the blatant ripoff:

To A Mouse

Small, crafty, cowering, timorous little beastie,
Oh, what a panic is in your breastie!
Please run away so hasty
With your hurrying scamper
From behind that laundry hamper
Where I see you hiding basely.

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
And justifies your ill opinion
Which makes you think
That you belong indoors
And makes me you abhor.

I have found the evidence that you steal;
Making rice cakes your poor meal!
Hay meant for bunny’s bed
Makes the thoughts stir in your head.
But when you use it to make your house,
Then we are sorry, Mr. Mouse.

Your small house, too, in ruin!
Its feeble walls an LLBean Boot!
And nothing now, to build a new one,
You may think me quite a brute
To have cleaned it out
But you must leave, and there’s no doubt.

You saw the streets laid bare and wasted,
And weary winter coming fast,
And cozy here, inside a closet,
You thought to dwell,
Till crash! We couldn’t pause it.
You, we had to expel.

That small bit heap of straw and hay,
Probably took you many a day!
Now you are turned out, for all your trouble,
We have bought a mouse trap, on the double.
To finally put an end
For our peace of mind, we must defend.

But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

You had thought you had found a welcome home!
To find you will enter your catacomb.
But oh! I backward cast my eye,
And wish I had never lost my cat.
Who would have prevented me from having to spy,
A mouse upon my mat.

How to Socialize When You Are Broke

If all else fails, suggest some free activities such as jumping over a bonfire. []

If all else fails, suggest some free activities such as jumping over a bonfire. [Via]

I don’t know how it happened, but this month I just…blew out my budget and ran out of spending money. It happens to the best of us from time to time. However, just because you are broke right now, it doesn’t mean all your friends are and they still want to hang out with you! But how do you navigate this tricky situation where you can’t do the usual cocktails, dinner, or a movie (I live in NYC and going to a movie is like $20 now!)?

You speak up!!! Not speaking up about these things is how people get themselves into massive debt trying to keep up with the Jones. So a friend texted me and was like “let’s hang out this week!” And I hemmed and hawed for a bit and then finally responded that I’d love to, but it had been a really crazy month and I was out of money, but if we could do something very low key, I would be down.

Of course in these situations, these people are your friends and they want YOUR company, so naturally, she came back with, oh, sure, why don’t you come over to my house and we can have wine and snacks and it will be great.

I think we so often worry that talking about money is rude, or people are going to judge you or not want to hang out with you if you can’t afford to do fun stuff. But, if they really are your friends and decent people, they will be more interested in working with you than against you.

The Ultimate Vacation: The Grand Tour

On man's Grand Tour [Via]

On man’s Grand Tour [Via]

As the summer draws to a close, I’ve been thinking about how the idea of a “vacation” is a relatively new idea for most people- prior to the invention of the railroad, travel was extremely slow and expensive. And before the industrial age, few people could leave their farms or other work for even a short period of time. However, one group was able to travel for pleasure- the sons of the wealthy upperclasses- who codified their youthful trip through Europe as The Grand Tour.

The concept began as early as the 1600s and continued until the mid 1800s when regular travel became easier. This wasn’t a quick jaunt either, young men would spend months or even years on their trip. And this wasn’t Europe on $5 a Day. These young men were very wealthy and carried letters of introduction to stay with their aristocratic peers at castles and manors across the Continent. It’s traditionally associated with the British nobility, but was also undertaken by North and South Americans and some other Europeans.

The idea was for a post college graduation trip to see the classical world that they had studied (back when mastery Latin and ancient Greek were the hallmarks of the classical liberal arts education). Italy was the prime location to go and study the art and architecture of Rome, Florence, and Venice. In a time before museums really existed, it was only the aristocracy that had access to a lot of the famous works of art because they could appeal to their peers who owned them to let them in for a look. Inspired by seeing these classical artworks, many gentlemen set out to acquire some of their own. They were also inspired architecturally to create their own grand estates back at home in the style of the ancients, which gave rise to the Neoclassical period of architecture.

Other key destinations in the Grand Tour were Paris (to improve one’s French, the language of sophistication at the time), Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and Holland. Of course, it was not all about the serious study of art and architecture. Grand Tourists made plenty of time for wine-ing, dining, and partying with all the loveliest and wittiest people in the highest circles. They weren’t all totally selfish either, sometimes they would bring artists (who would benefit tremendously from the exposure to ancient and Renaissance art) and other people of lesser means with them as companions.

The advent of the industrial age and the greater ease of travel opened up the idea of a “grand tour” of Europe to more and more people. It eventually became fashionable for older women to take grand tours of Europe, bringing along a lucky daughter or niece as a companion (for propriety and for the younger lady’s education). Of course, the idea still exists in the concept of a “gap year” in many countries, or just the general “study abroad” or “backpacking around Europe” that are still wildly popular today.