Several years ago, my husband’s aunt invited us to a dinner party in honor of her son, my husband’s cousin, who was on his first leave from the military after graduating from basic and secondary training. The party was small, and to be held in a meeting room at a well known local restaurant. My husband and I RSVP well in advance of the party, as did my parents-in-law and sister- in-law. As his cousin hadn’t called or visited us during his leave, we were excited to see him before he got his orders.
When we got to the party, it was being held in half of the restaurant’s meeting room. Another party filled the other half of the room, and long rectangular tables had been set up to the right and left; one for each party. As we got settled into our seats and began to order our drinks, a man and woman I’ve not seen before walk up to our party and greet my husband’s aunt, uncle, and cousin warmly. They tell them that they’re pleasantly surprised to see them, and my dear aunt-in-law explains that it’s going to be a problem fitting them in since they never RSVPed to the party. Indeed, it seems impossible to fit them in, since my husband and I have just taken the last seats at the table, and the only vacant space in the room is in the corner of the other party’s table.
My aunt-in-law knits her brow and says that there must be a way to fit everyone around the table. She calls the waitress over, but before she can arrive, my mother-in-law lets aunt know that it’s perfectly all right if my husband and I leave to make room for the ‘surprise’ guests. Now, this isn’t totally unexpected. My mother-in- law is the veritable queen of faux pas, and we long ago learned to politely stand up to her. But, this is aunt’s party, and she calls the waitress over to ask if two more people can be seated and served.
The waitress points out that there’s physically not enough room for more seats or tables on the right of the room, and that there’s not enough food. Auntie looks devastated. The waitress reluctantly says, ‘I can ask the other party if you can seat people with them, but you don’t want that… You won’t be able to talk to them!’
Mother-in-law pipes up, ‘Then seat my son and his wife with the other party! You’ll be able to catch up with your friends that way!’ To our shock, auntie replies with, ‘Oh, would you? Do you mind? Of course you don’t! I’ll buy you some food and have it sent over!’
My husband and I stand up to leave. Mistaking our shock and fury for compliance, the waitress grabs our coats and bag, runs over to the other party, and leads us there. Both of us sit down, stunned. We agree that we’ll leave as soon as the rest of the party stops staring at us, and before we can finish our sentences heaping plates of food are put down on our table.
We eat a small plate quickly, beet red and avoiding the confused and angry looks of the party of strangers we’re sitting side by side with. I mutter something about how humiliated I am, my husband nods and agrees that we need to leave as soon as we can. The stranger eating next to us nods, too.
We say goodbyes quickly. Once outside, we agree that we should stop accepting any invitations from family members that are openly rude to us. Six years later, we no longer see my husband’s family. Whenever we are tempted to attend a family event, we remind ourselves of the time we were sent to crash a stranger’s party. 0614-12
Oh, my! This is, by far, the worst story I have read in a long time. So many faux pas by so many people!
Those “old friends” who couldn’t have been bothered to rsvp but showed up any way deserve to slow roast in the deepest corners of Etiquette Hell. They should have been squirming with discomfort over the chaos and inconvenience their selfishness inflicted on others. But they probably didn’t because they are the epitome of self-centered and entitled.
And your aunt! She had the right idea by expressing her surprise at her friends’ unexpected arrival and telling them that there were no more seats or food. That alone should have had the surprise guests backing out the door in shame but no, they stand there expecting the hostess to create a miracle of more seats and food. Aunt makes her first mistake by going to the waitstaff to see if more can be added instead of informing the surprise guests that, “I am sorry we cannot accommodate you for dinner. We did not hear from you and therefore did not plan for you. Perhaps the next time son is in town we can visit with you.”
The drama that then ensues should have further had the surprise guests’s skin absolutely crawling in shame but no, they keep right on letting the hostess trip all over herself trying to fit them in. And the waitress does the outrageous by putting the hosts of the other party in an awkward position by even asking if part of their room can be used for overflow from your aunt’s party. God help your aunt if I had been that other hostess because the answer would have been, “No, I am sorry we cannot accommodate that request. The lack of planning on their part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”
Your mother-in-law was just way over the top in assuming to take the hospitality lead by rearranging the guest seating. Offer your own seat, Mom!
You and your husband did the best you could do under the circumstances but my husband and I would have done differently. I can easily envision my husband standing up to leave, smiling wanly and say, “We will take our leave right now in deference to the more honored guests. Please give our regards to cousin.” And then left with little fanfare. To be honest, accepting a seat on the other side of the room was to facilitate the many faux pas and continue the drama til the end. It was already clear the surprised guests had absolutely no sense of shame in what they were doing so leaving to yield your seats to them fits with the expectation they and your family had.
One can almost hear Aunt-in-law and your mother-in-law lamenting the lack of family unity and togetherness and having not a clue why that is.