Hi Victoria and Jaya!
I have a question about handling social situations gracefully when illness and contagion are involved.
We spent Christmas with my husband’s grandparents (in Hawaii, no less!). On Christmas Day, we arrived at their place in the morning to find Gramps’ wife sick in bed with some kind of undetermined stomach bug/food poisoning–so sick, in fact, that my husband wound up calling the paramedics and sending Gramps and Nana to the hospital. We stayed at their apartment all day: finished roasting the turkey, carved it, refrigerated a couple platefuls and froze the rest, and cleaned up around the place. Over the next couple of days, my husband and I spent several hours visiting at the apartment while Nana recovered. As we prepared to leave Hawaii, my husband started to feel very unpleasant. To spare you the gory details, he’s not as sick as Nana was, but the flight back home was NOT a good time.
Obviously, our situation was more fraught with obligations than most because of a) Christmas and b) grandparents. But…shouldn’t people cancel invitations when they may be unpleasantly contagious? And, is there a polite way to excuse oneself from social situations if someone is obviously sick and you’re worried about catching what they have? I don’t want to make anyone feel like their home is a den of filth, but stomach bugs are no joke.
Thanks for reading!
Miss Manners says that an ill host should cancel a party.
Jaya: Omg that Christmas sounds so sad!
Victoria: We had a Thanksgiving once when I was very little where my cousin had some sort of illness and made everyone sick. And people still talk about her being Typhoid Andrea (although it wasn’t typhoid and it was 27 years ago).
Jaya: Oh my god! Well yes, there was a reason Typhoid Mary was put on an island, and forced to stop making fruit cups for everyone.
Victoria: So firstly, it’s pretty great of them to take on finishing up Christmas while the grandparents were in the hospital instead of just throwing it in and going out or something.
Jaya: Yeah, good job/ But also this seems very difficult. It’s not like a cousin got sick and had to stay at a hotel. It was the people hosting the Christmas. So you’re sorta SOL if your hosts are sick.
Victoria: I think that the issue here is probably that they didn’t really have much notice that they were going to be sick.
Jaya: I mean I’d rather find a random diner and have Christmas there than get a stomach bug from my grandparents, but still, yeah, no one plans getting sick. (She said, as if people planned getting sick.)
Victoria: And if you are flying to Hawaii, you probably aren’t really going to be able to cancel your flight at the last second. Obviously if grandma and grandpa are a short car trip away, then totally cancel. But once flights and serious travel are involved, you are kind of stuck with making the best of the situation.
Jaya: Yeah, though, ok, they flew to Hawaii. Most people do not go to Hawaii for less than 24 hours. I’m gonna assume they had at least a couple days booked. So if they arrive on Christmas Eve, it’s perfectly acceptable for the grandparents to call and be like “look, gramps has got a stomach bug, we’ll let you know more in the morning but if he’s still sick we may have to cancel.” And obviously it sucks because you have to find new plans/call the hospital (!!!), but I think most people would rather figure something out last minute than get a stomach virus. I’m also assuming they were maybe staying at a hotel, but this definitely changes if you’re staying with them, and show up to find them sick.
Victoria: But don’t most airlines not really let you cancel your flight for a refund, so you are basically out probably $1000+? I mean, if it were me, I would probably check into a hotel in Hawaii and make the best of it.
Jaya: That’s what I mean. you’re not gonna cancel your flight, but you know you at least have the rest of Hawaii to explore after you call the hospital and get your grandparents in.
Victoria: Ahhh yes, totally.
Jaya: I’m gonna guess the grandparents did not get sick until they were airborne. Because if you’re sick two days before Christmas, you would think you’d get over it and if you get sick the day before Christmas, everyone is already there.
Victoria: Although, in some families, it might be more the thing to do to go ahead with staying with the family and helping out. I pretty much get a nasty cold every time I visit my parents for Christmas and let them baby me.
Jaya: True, but it’s not your house you’re having Christmas in.
Jaya: I think it’s amazing that they went and cooked dinner and took care of everyone. It sounds like someone needed to at least go over and make sure they were ok but yeah, you risk getting sick that way.
Victoria: But to be honest, wouldn’t you expect to do that for most close family? Like if I was visiting my parents and my mom got sick, I would totally make Christmas dinner and everything. I do think it would be totally excusable to get a hotel, of course. But I also think that hotels make for happy families, lol.
Jaya: Yeah. I can’t tell if they were staying at their grandparents’ house, but you do not need to stay there.
Victoria: The whole thing depends on your relationship. And it’s always much more awkward when it’s your in-laws.
Jaya: But in general, I think that if you are hosting an event and you get sick, it’s your job to cancel/warn everyone. Like, an aside, I just had dinner with my dad and a cousin, and when they showed up they informed me they were both getting over 104 fevers. And it’s like, uhhh, don’t be outside?
Victoria: Yes, I do think they should have been given a heads up so they could plan accordingly.
Jaya: You give someone a heads up so they can make their own decisions, by either staying at their hotel/home, or coming over and helping out but knowingly risking getting sick.
Jaya: Okay now the hard part though, how do you say so if you wanna stay home?
Victoria: Yeah, I think you just have to be firm and be like, you are sick and we are going to stay home/stay at a hotel. But again. a lot of it will depend on your relationship.
Jaya: Right. I don’t think anyone will blame you for that. I think it just has to be for the right reasons. Two people with a stomach bug is a big problem, but if your cousin has a slight cough you should just suck it up.
Victoria: Some families see staying at a hotel as a huge insult and some are totally cool with it. But then also, with older people, you might also see it as your duty to come in and help out. And then also, when you get married/have kids/are an independent adult, you have to assert your boundaries. And just be firm and repetitive.
Jaya: It probably will be rough when families see staying at a hotel as an insult. But unless they’re threatening never speaking to you again, I think just saying “We only have a limited amount of vacation time and don’t want to risk getting sick, but we’re happy to help out and plan alternatives if needed” that makes sense. Yeah, kids are always a good cop out with this. No one wants to give a baby a stomach virus.
Victoria: And most people will know their own family best and how best to word it to be the least insulting.
Jaya: Yeah, I think it’s just about holding your ground, like you said, without blaming anyone. Like, shit happens, people get sick. It’s not because you live an unhealthy life, you just pick things up. This is the hard part about the holidays. I think any hosts always feel such pressure and like “I don’t care if i’m throwing up every 15 minutes! I’ll put on dinner!”
Victoria: Hahah yeah. That’s when everyone else has to jump in and be like, okay, let’s move it to my house or whatever. Holiday spirit!
Jaya: Yeah! Go have it at the hotel bar! Make it like that scene in A Christmas Story where they just get duck at the Chinese restaurant!
Victoria: Haha sure (i never saw A Christmas Story).
Jaya: WHAT! Well, spoiler alert, dogs break into their house and eat Christmas dinner so they go to a Chinese restaurant as a family and have a great time. Probably a good lesson for everyone. Best laid plans, etc.