Keeping a Big Weekend House Party Organized

Good Morning!

I am a member of the Foreign Service and have Home Leave once every three years or so. Rather than try to go around to every friend or family member for the few weeks or month I am home, sometimes I rent a cabin or beach house and invite people to come to stay for as long as they like. My only request is that they bring a ham, or a casserole or some such. A large dish that can be shared among everyone. That way the limited cooking facilities are not over taxed and I don’t end up buying and making all the food.

My first time with this went very well. I selected all my favorite people and almost everyone said yes and a wonderful time was had by all. However, this most recent time the house I had used before was no longer available and the only one available was an Outer Banks style “Party House.” I also threw it open to all my friends and family on social media rather than individually selecting guests myself. There was much Sturm und Drang and problems with sleeping options.

My protocol question is thus:  Out of the 20 people who came, only one couple brought a casserole. One other fixed a lasagna, which was nice, but many people did not bring any food at all (some people were given a pass as they had to fly to attend) and many people revealed dietary restrictions upon the start of someone cooking. Some were vegetarians, some no gluten, others no garlic or onions. I had thought I had made it very clear in the invitation that people needed to bring a certain kind of food, but how responsible am I for food restrictions of my guests when I am not told in advance? They looked at me and my partner to “organize” meals, but I had intended a very free form style.

What should I do next time to improve things? Help!!

Sincerely,

A Stranger in a Strange (Home) Land

 

Victoria: Ah, the life I could have led if I had gotten further into the Foreign Service process! I only got past the initial test though.

Jaya: Firstly, I love this idea. I think making everyone come to you if you have limited time and resources is the way to go. Everyone should do more “office hours” type planning.

Victoria: Yeah, it’s amazing, like the bigger version of “I’m in town for one night and will be at this bar, come see me.”

Jaya: Exactly. But I think where he went wrong was opening it up to everybody on social media.

Victoria: Yesss, that was a terrible idea because people are monsters.

Jaya: Facebook is great for party planning, but makes it harder to be specific–which is what a gathering like this needs.

Victoria: Yeah, I think as long as he lays out the expectations very specifically, then all will be well. I mean, I think it still would have worked with the bigger group open to all as long as it was super super clear that you were expected to bring food.

Jaya: Yeah, and it’s hard to tell if he did that and people on social media just ignored him, or if those ideas weren’t laid out. Either way there was a miscommunication.

Victoria: Yeah, I mean, he says it was only 20 people, so that shouldn’t have been too terribly hard to manage.

Jaya: But right, booking a house and saying ANYONE can come automatically makes  sleeping problems. There are only so many beds!

Victoria: Yeah, I don’t think open houses really work when there is sleeping involved. So the format probably does need to change a bit. Especially if people are flying in!

Jaya: Yes, I think in the future, going back to a curated guest list will probably minimize this sort of issue. But in general, if you’ve said people need to be responsible for bringing food and they don’t, that’s on them.

Victoria: Yeah, and if they have dietary restrictions they definitely need to let you know in advance! And if it’s a particularly complicated one, maybe they should plan on just bringing their own food.

Jaya: You can certainly offer to help, whether it’s lending them your car so they can go to the grocery store, or sharing what you have if it’s enough. But if you did your best to make it clear and remind everyone of their responsibilities, they don’t get to be mad at you for ignoring it. (I mean they will be mad, they’ll just be wrong.)

Victoria: Haha yeah, exactly. I also don’t think you can really plan on a free form house party…there has to be some degree of organization. Like assign meals to people or something.

Jaya: Yes. And it sounds like the original plan offered some structure like that. Maybe it’s just a matter of reminding everyone of that.

Victoria: Yeah, when people are basically all in one place for a weekend or whatever, they need to know that there will be meals and sleeping places and enough showers and all that stuff. And someone has to be the one to coordinate it and that person is usually going to need to be the host (except, haha, I have sometimes jumped in with close friends and sorted out who is sleeping where, but that is very much a me thing!)

Jaya: Totally. Maybe if you do share it on social media, you can say there are X number of beds, this is first-come first-served, everyone is responsible for at least one dinner/making any dietary restrictions known, so you don’t get 20 people showing up to a five bedroom house. I mean, the lesson here is best laid plans, right? You can make reasonable requests and remind people of your expectations, and sometimes they will ignore them and then get pissy about it. And all you can do is try to offer some small help while setting boundaries. And then next time invite the people you know have their shit together

Victoria: Yes, exactly. I think it’s very important, as a big planner myself, to know who you can rely on and when it’s important that you are inviting only reliable people, to just do that. Although, I guess if you only get to see people every couple of years then maybe you want to be more generous.

Jaya: Yeah, it’s a balance. See more people but risk having to take more responsibility, or limit your guest list.

Victoria: Or do your thing somewhere where there are a lot of restaurants and just eat out. I think a loosey goosey sort of thing is probably easier in a place where there is decent transport and restaurants/grocery stores. Like if you are in the middle of nowhere, everyone had better come prepared with EVERYTHING.

Jaya: Exactly. Whereas an open house works best when it can actually be open–people going into town or to the beach as they please.

Gifts for Destination Weddings

A friend asked me recently if you have to give a gift when you are going to a destination wedding that is going to cost a LOT- like $1000 a person a lot- to attend. And the answer, like most things about weddings, is a bit complicated.

  1. Technically wedding gifts are always “optional,” but in traditional American culture, it is generally expected that you will give a gift whenever invited to a wedding (whether you can actually attend or not).
  2. However, in traditional American culture, weddings aren’t held on tropical islands that cost thousands of dollars to attend.
  3. So generally, I think you are pretty safe in these situations in considering your “presence” to be your “present.” Doubly especially if the couple states somewhere on their website or other communications that they don’t expect gifts because the wedding itself is so expensive.
  4. However, if you are dealing with the kind of person who might actually be so rude as to inquire where your gift is (um, why are you attending their wedding if they are so awful?), then you can always do a token $20 gift.
  5. Token gifts are especially great if you feel like YOU are going to feel like you are being rude by not giving an actual gift. Just a little something acknowledges the day without adding too much burden to your overall cost.

So basically just go with your gut and assume that anyone you love enough to spend extreme amounts of money to attend their wedding will understand if you don’t want to add an extravagant present on top of that. And if your friends AREN’T that reasonable, maybe consider not being friends with them anymore, because you don’t need that in your life.

Ordering at a Fancy Restaurant

menuI was having dinner with a friend at a new Welsh restaurant in Brooklyn when I started thinking about how one of the anxieties people have about restaurants is pronouncing what they are ordering. Right up there with knowing which fork to use, I think a lot of people get the impression from the media that if you can’t pronounce Coq au Vin correctly, your dining companions will be absolutely mortified and you will feel like an imposter.

The truth is that no one cares if you mispronounce anything. However, in most instances, there is an easy trick you can use. Just call it by it’s name in English or pared down to the basics. In my case at the Welsh restaurant, I wanted to order the ffagodau and haha, I don’t speak Welsh and I am not even going to TRY with that one. What I did do, was ask for the meatballs, which is what the dish was. This works pretty well for menus that are small where there is say a dish each of salmon, tilapia, steak, chicken, and lamb. Just name the meat. Or the preparation or sauce.

If worse comes to worse, just mispronounce with abandon and laugh it off!

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?

Sincerely,

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.

Thoughts?