It is too late to save Thanksgiving dinner from the treachery of the ill-mannered but we may as well try to salvage Christmas. All of the gatherings and parties and family dinners consumed by people we sometimes seldom see create fertile ground for gaffes. And other things, of course.
Some years ago, I had the very frustrating experience of trying to feed a picky eater. There are no picky eaters in my home because everyone who has ever lived me with has had a very open mind about food because I never made a federal case about disliking a particular food. We all dislike some foods. Even I dislike some foods. Like tamales, for instance. But up until this first experience with a picky eater, I was an innocent to how picky an eater can be.
Let me just say that if you are hosting someone who declares war on everything except three food items, it is a stressful situation in which to find yourself. This person, a friend of my child and a college junior at the time, would eat pork chops simmered in Campbells mushroom soup, mashed potatoes and peas. She would eat one kind of cereal for breakfast and lunch was a certain Subway sub, the details of which I cannot remember. Nothing else would pass her lips.
She would sometimes spend a week at a time with our family which made for a dicey little time for me. If I served her pork chops simmered in Campbells cream of mushroom soup, mashed potatoes and peas, she would eat dinner. If I served it for a week, my family would not. I tried all of the kid-friendly items: spaghetti and meatballs, bbq chicken, innocuous vegetables like corn and green beans to get her to throw caution to the wind and take a bite but nothing worked. If I served anything but her prescribed menu, she pushed things around on her plate and took part in the conversation but she was clearly starving in protest.
Initially I liked this young woman, but after a year of this nonsense, I began to dislike her and dreaded her visits. Eventually, the child moved from home and I think he is — to this day — making only this meal when his friend visits. Good for him, I say. Keep her out of Illinois.
This story gets me to one of the rules for mannerly guests. You may dislike a food that is served by your host, but you must take a small bit of it and perhaps take a bite. I hate bananas, but if served one, I would muscle through the distaste and eat it for the cause. And what is the cause? The cause, Gentle Reader, is to be a gracious and well-thought-of guest. It is breathtakingly rude to declare your dislike for a food when you are a guest at dinner. You do not have to ask for seconds, but you must take a few bites to be civil.
The next rule has to do with gifts. I don't care how ugly that jewelry hanger is that your sister-in-law gave you, you must smile with delight and thank her for it. After that, you must send her a thank you note in the mail. Please note that I did not say email. I meant not to say email. Thank you notes are sent by mail.
The last rule is, leave the lightening rod topics for discussion at home unless you are positive that you are in the company of like minded people. Arguments that break out at dinner parties or other gatherings make everyone uncomfortable and the combatants become the focal point of the event, which should never happen. If you need attention that badly, hire a therapist.
Oh, and one more thing: Do not get drunk. Even if you only get drunk one time at a Christmas gathering, people will talk about it forever. You will never live it down. We have one in my family. To this day, I never remember seeing him drunk but apparently at some point in my infancy, he got drunk and everyone is still talking about it. So put your napkin on your lap, eat what you are served, do not get drunk and send a thank you note. This is not a long list. I know you can do it.