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Why Do We Entertain?

I have been clearing out my “friend” list and have had the wonderful joy of throwing a Holiday Oyster Roast every year for 29 years! This year, people that have come for many years have started calling and emailing to know the date. The problem is that most of these people (that have been asking) have rarely if ever reciprocated with any sort of invitation for many years. I have decided not to include these families in this year’s event. (If I do hear of one of their parties, they usually say something like “it was only couples” which apparently means I am not welcome now that I am single and I have never been given the opportunity to bring a date (which I would if I were included).

These people have finally reached the offensive point of not being worth my time. Over the years, several of these families seem to “expect an invitation” then show up very early and demand that I serve dinner immediately “because their kids are hungry and they have another event to go to.” They rarely if ever bring a hostess gift and last year, there were many brought that I never even saw nor knew who to send thank you notes to.  Believe it or not, my “friends” opened all the wine, cheeses, cookies, crackers and homemade candies that others left under my Christmas tree or in the kitchen and helped themselves though there was a bar set up with cocktails, champagne, beer and wines as well as kid beverages and hot chocolate.

I had set a beautiful dinner buffet up in my dining room (serving pieces, dishes, polished silver) and had timed all the dished that required baking or warming to be served on the buffet at 7:30. Cocktails and appetizers along with oysters were served beginning at 7pm (as the invitation read). We had also set up a S’mores bar and I had expected parents would help younger children make their S’mores. Instead, parents kept asking me to make them for their kids or letting them destroy (grabbing handfuls of marshmallows and toppings, spilling them all over the floor) what should have been a beautiful fun family event into my being unable to visit with any of our friends.

When dinner was finished cooking, I had asked a friend to hold onto the timer and help me get food to the table. Instead these pushy people, started grabbing other silverware, dishes from our kitchen drawers (the buffet had plates, silver and napkins as well.)and serving themselves. Several guests never even got to eat as many of these pigs went back for seconds and thirds and needless to say, the food never got from the oven to the buffet rather was dove into the second it was pulled out of the oven so folks outside enjoying the oysters never knew dinner was served.

At the end of the evening, I had a trifle as well as the s’mores coffee and had begun cutting into a coconut cake a friend had brought for me to take to my mother for her holiday party the following evening. I am appalled to say I even know people that behave like that. Topper of the evening was the woman that brought her aggressive Pit Bull though she was well aware that there were many babies and toddlers as well as our own pets.

I cannot decide if these hideously rude people are just lacking manners because they were raised by morons or they are morons. I find that having been raised in a very Southern proper home, that I (of course) said nothing, however it was the first time I have witnessed such a pathetic lack of even the slightest bit of decency. Needless to say, I certainly did not receive a thank you note from any of these people either. I am kindly thanking my lucky stars to not feel the need to include any of them this year. Casual friendships are one thing, over casual at a seasonal party with many guests from varying backgrounds showed me that my oldest and dearest friends are far more gracious that these people. Sad, but true, this year’s event will be far more intimate that in the previous few years. Manners are apparently out of style with the masses and as I have tried to expand a lovely tradition to include others, it is obvious why one should stick to socializing with their own kind.

I entertain on a large scale as well but in recent years have scaled back to more intimate gatherings in large part due to my growing disillusionment with the utter lack of reciprocal hospitality of my guests.   You and I love to expand the friendship tent pegs to get to know as many people as possible and use our personal hospitality as the avenue by which we do this.   But at various points over the years, one has to assess the success of those efforts and come to conclusions that some “friends” are nothing more than moochers, constantly taking from you and offering nothing of themselves in return.  I still host at least one large annual event that is open to many people but I do not have any expectation that my guests are coming with the purpose of deepening our friendship.   Those large events focus on maintaining community ties whereas the more special events are reserved for close, intimate friends.  My suggestion for you is host an annual event for all you know BUT scale back on what you serve.    Friends of ours used to host an annual oyster roast where the only thing provided by the host was the fire, oysters and paper products. Everyone else brought side dishes.   Save your elaborate buffet dinner for more intimate gatherings.


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  • Lisastitch November 6, 2012, 6:00 pm

    Pod to Whatever.
    DH and I give two parties every year, one an Oktoberfest–we buy the sausage, but make German potato salad, applekraut, pretzels, mustards, and desserts, and ask our guests to bring beer–and a Christmas party, with masses of cookies. We enjoy doing the parties, and seeing our friends have fun. We don’t expect them to do a similar kind of party because they don’t enjoy it–but if we ask for a ride to the airport, we have one. There are different kinds of reciprocity.
    There have been a few times over the years when we have been ticked by a guest’s behavior but it’s about once every five years. Otherwise, guests put trash in the trash bins, recycling in the recycling bins, and dirty dishes in the kitchen, and give LOTS of verbal thank yous, both at the parties, but also beforehand and afterwards, as well as a few written thank-yous, so we know that these are a valued part of our friends’ lives.
    I do appreciate our friends!

  • White Lotus November 6, 2012, 6:03 pm

    Sorry, OP. I am so long married that I tend to think everyone has a partner to backstop him/her in things like large parties. I apologize for that. Of course, change the wording to the appropriate wording for a single person. A large annual party is a superb and usually rewarding way to entertain, but change the rules so it is that party you want, not the one foisted on you. And do hire some help. We throw some big parties, and even though there are two of us to divide hosting duties, having help is a wonderful thing.

  • barbarian November 6, 2012, 6:53 pm

    Mix up your hospitality style. Like ACR & Gloria suggest, do not host this event this year. Go out of town to a resort to pamper yourself as a treat for enduring last year’s festivities. If any wannabe guests ask about this year’s buffet, just say “I’m taking a break from it this year. Maybe some other time…….”(vague expression on your face). Then regroup and host the event for only a select few that you can acccommodate.

    Rudeness and politeness are found equally everywhere, North and South.

    But I will hint that my mother-in-law and her sister who consider themselves genteel flowers of Southern womanhood could fit in with OP’s guests. One X-mas I stored a homemade English trifle in the refrigerator for a party. MIL hinted more than once when would I serve it and was flabbergasted to learn it was not on the menu, although there were many other scrumptious treats I served that day.

    Another time at a restaurant, her older sister shouted “Why you’re getting to be just as fat as that man over there” and pointed to him.

    Moral of the story – if you have food or drink that you don’t want to serve your guests, keep it out of sight. Garage refrigerators with locks are great.

    Nobody can command you to provide hospitality – it is strictly voluntary and the faster your circle learns this, the better.

  • Cat Whisperer November 6, 2012, 7:16 pm

    If there are no consequences to bad behavior, and especially if people are unaware of what constitutes bad behavior, you have to expect bad behavior.

    For people who come to events like the OP’s oyster roast with no expectation of reciprocating, and who keep getting invited back year after year, what reason do they have for not behaving like pigs? They want a carefree evening with what sounds like wonderful food, where they don’t have to behave themselves, or show gratitude, or assist in the preparation or clean-up of the food. And they’ve been getting it, year after year, apparently without any consequence for their behavior.

    I think OP is long past overdue for pruning the invite list to the oyster roast, and limiting the event only to people who appreciate the work that goes into such an event, and who show their gratitude in the form of reciprocal invitations, offers of assistance with the preparation or clean-up, and good-manners during the event.

  • Cat Whisperer November 6, 2012, 7:47 pm

    Nancy said: “…And then what are they teaching their children about how they behave in public? Like the smores thing…. shouldn’t a parent have been teaching their child how to behave at a buffet?”

    Shot on goal, Nancy! This is one of my big, big, big pet peeves: people who take their kids to events without taking the time BEFORE THE EVENT to tell the kids what their expectations for behavior are!

    Here’s a primer for how to have the best chance of your kids not causing problems for other people:

    1. As soon as you know you are going to an event, you assess your kids’ readiness and ability to behave at the event. Are they old enough to behave the way they should? Are your expectations reasonable? Here’s where some spine is required: if it’s unreasonable, given the age of the kids and the type of event, DO NOT BRING THEM!!!! Don’t set your kids (and yourself) up for failure!

    2. If they can handle the event, assess whether they need teaching or practice in any behaviors. For example: at a buffet event, do your kids know that touching food with their hands is not okay? At an event where there will be a speaker, do your kids know to keep quiet while the speaker is talking? At an event where there will be lots of tempting decorations, do your kids know they are not to touch anything without permission? Do they need to practice their “please may I…” and “Thank you” ? Do they need to practice waiting in line, or giving way to guests who are elderly or physically infirm? If there are things you need to work on with them, start working on those issues well in advance of the event.

    3. The day of the event, review your expectations with them: no touching food with their hands. “Please may I” when they want something, and “thank you” when they get it. Sitting quietly when quietness is required. Paying attention to mom and dad. Showing courtesy to the host/hostess. Thanking the host/hostess for allowing them to attend. Not being greedy and not being overtly picky or critical.

    4. Make it easy for them to be good. If you know they’re going to be hungry before the food is served, then for gosh sakes feed them before you go! It doesn’t have to be a whole meal, but if they’re used to eating at 5:00 and you know dinner isn’t going to be served until 7:00, then feed them a snack or small meal so they aren’t hungry. If you know that most of the food served won’t be to their taste, feed them beforehand and make sure they understand that if they’re still hungry after they event, you will get them something. If they have to be quiet and sit quietly for an extended period of time, give them a chance to play before the event and if things are going too long, be prepared to quietly take them away before they go into meltdown. Know their limits and work with those.

    5. Catch them in the act of being good. This is SO important! When they do something right, compliment them and thank them! “I am so proud that you remembered not to touch food with your hands.” “Thank you for listening so patiently to Aunt Britta, I know it must have been hard.” “Mrs. Smith told me that you volunteered to help her clean up in the kitchen, and I had several people comment on how polite and helpful you were all evening!”

    Unfortunately, it seems like most parents just throw their kids into any old situation without trying to prepare, without WORKING to assure that things turn out well. And then when things start going wrong, they start trotting out the “Well, they’re just kids and you can’t expect kids to behave…” excuses.

    Kids successfully navigating a public event without causing problems isn’t something that happens by chance. They have to be taught, prepared, practiced, and then rewarded with thanks when they do well. How hard is that?

  • --Lia November 6, 2012, 8:10 pm

    Abby and Girlie ask a good question. What do you say when people who have always gotten invitations to an annual event in the past want to know where their invitations are this year? My answer would be to suggest that they give the party.

    “Who’s doing Thanksgiving?”
    “I was hoping you’d step up this year. The usual hosts would love to have some time off and enjoy your hospitality for a change.”

    “Aren’t you giving that nice oyster roast again? I haven’t received an invitation.”
    “Why don’t you give it at your house? I’d love to come.”

  • Wendy November 6, 2012, 8:11 pm

    After reading OP’s story, I think the solution is an easy and obvious one. When people ask, say, “I’m not hosting a large event this year, just a couple of close friends.” If asked, she doesn’t have to answer why, but I think she would be in her rights to say, “It has gotten completely out of hand and I no longer enjoy the event.” Period. End of discussion. If they persist, either bean dip, or ignore them.

  • acr November 6, 2012, 8:50 pm

    You will be AMAZED at how the “year off” will solve 90% of your moocher problem for you. My parents wouldn’t hear from some people from July 5th until June of the following year. In June they’d start making phone calls to “catch up” and appearing at my dad’s bar to “catch up” and wrangle an invitation. That first year they canceled? Got the usual June phone calls, etc…and we have never heard from those people again.

    For a lot of these people, you’re not their friend, you’re “that woman with the awesome holiday oyster roast.” Once you stop being that person who provides the awesome party, they will vanish from your life.

  • PM November 7, 2012, 7:14 am

    Sadly, I believe it. A year ago, my mom had major surgery. Her recovery was incredibly delicate and involved a lot of sitting completely still. Obviously, she didn’t do any of the things she normally did for the holidays. So my siblings and I stepped up and took over the holiday dinners, helped dad with shopping and decorating, etc., for our family.

    However, she couldn’t throw her usual holiday party for her friends. She couldn’t spend nearly a month making delicious Christmas candy to pile onto plates for her friends, neighbors and coworkers.

    We were appalled at the number of people who called to gripe that her party was the “only Christmas they were going to get!” so couldn’t mom just suck it up for one night, take some extra meds and throw the party? Or the people who complained that they missed her homemade candy (not her, mind you, they missed her candy) and it just wasn’t Christmas without it, so couldn’t Mom just make one batch of peanut butter fudge just for them?

    The bad news was that Mom’s feelings were hurt. The good news was Mom found out who her real friends were and who was just in her life for the goodies. She makes far less of an effort around the holidays for people who don’t appreciate it.

  • Rod November 7, 2012, 11:20 am

    As more southerner than the South (Mexico), and more northerner than North (in Canada for the last 10 years), I’ll go back to what my mom said at my wedding – my parents entertain 30+ people about 3 times per year: before Christmas, and for the birthdays:

    “We have friends, not obligations. We are happy to have each and every one of you here”.

    It’s your party, you can invite whomever you want and set it up in the manner of your choice. Reciprocity with these friends was not symmetrical (not all of them hosted, but they were all good friends from long ago). Sometimes guests brings desserts or wine. One of them brought an unprompted, awesome outfit for our baby girl. Those guests that behave in undesirable manner don’t make it back.

  • just4kicks November 7, 2012, 11:39 am

    @PM: SHAME on every single one of those people. Do people even hear what comes out of their mouths sometimes?!? Bless your mom, I hope this holiday season is a healthy, happy one for all of you!

  • Enna November 7, 2012, 12:05 pm

    This is curious – it’s rude to expect a gift or an invitaition. However what I think is the clincher is if the host is feeling exploited or taken advantage of. I can understand why the OP would feel hurt by hosting a party and then having guests not return the favour at their parties. It could be that they know the OP would be a bit out of her depth in a different social setting e.g. if someone is a nudist and has nudist parties. It’s a question of where you draw the line and balence it. If people behave badly and rudely and offensively don’t invite them again simple as. When it comes to dogs the owner should really check first as people may have allergies or fears, especailly if children are around – they can scare animals too.

  • Library Diva November 7, 2012, 12:20 pm

    @PM: What’s especially sad is that, expressed another way, those could have been lovely sentiments.

    “I’m sorry to hear you’ve been ill. I’ll miss your delicious fudge that I look forward to all year! I hope you’re feeling better soon.” vs. “It won’t be Christmas without your fudge. How can you do this to me? Can’t you just take a few extra pain pills and make me a batch? What am I supposed to do now?”

    “Your party has become an integral part of Christmas to me, and the holidays will seem poorer without the warmth of your hospitality. Hope you’re well on the mend –best wishes for good health!” vs. “Without your party, I won’t have anything to do these holidays. Can’t you just throw it anyway? It’s only one night.”

  • Cat Whisperer November 7, 2012, 12:52 pm

    Regarding what to say to people who are expecting an invitation to an event you put on, and who ask you where their invititation is:

    You do not owe ANY people ANY explanation. Zero, zip, nada. This is true for any person who asks you any question you regard as intrusive, not their business, or indicative of entitlement. Your only etiquette obligation is to keep your response to the question from being outright rude.

    As other answerers have indicated, a variation on the theme of “We’ve had to downsize our entertainment for the time being,” followed by a change of subject is sufficient. Even a vague non-response, such as “Oh, we haven’t had time to think about that yet,” is as much as you need to provide.

    Just because someone asks you a question doesn’t mean they deserve an answer. And it is not bad manners to politely decline to answer a question.

  • whatever November 7, 2012, 12:54 pm

    “[Children] have to be taught, prepared, practiced, and then rewarded with thanks when they do well. How hard is that?”
    Actually, that is the hard part! I’m not sure about the thanks, either. There’s been some recent research showing that praise can be counter-productive.

  • PM November 7, 2012, 12:59 pm

    Oh, trust me, just4kicks, it was an eye-opener. Half of them, I don’t think they realized what was coming out of their mouths, they just blurted out whatever was going through their heads. the other half, a core group of three or so people, really showed their selfish sides.

  • cathy November 7, 2012, 1:28 pm

    Sounds like some of my husband’s relatives’ parties. Too many people, not enough manners. I vividly remember, even though it was over 20 years ago, hosting his family Christmas gathering, and having some relatives show up with all their friends, none of whom I knew, and the kids running wild, and people moving my furniture because “we need more room”. And one kid destroying the decorative, huge gingerbread house I had spent months creating. Yech! If I were the OP I’d scale back on the number of people and only invite those I really wanted to socialize with rather than trying to include everyone. And including people you don’t really enjoy, and those who never reciprocate, is not necessary. We don’t have to “make nice” with everyone! And the OP’s party sounded beautifully planned and executed, even more reason not to invite the clods.

  • Julia November 7, 2012, 5:21 pm

    On the topic of “Southern manners”: I have Southern family, but am Northern myself. Actually, we have always been at cross-purposes when it comes to etiquette, because what is polite to them is not to us, and vice versa. An example: they all get together regularly but don’t invite us. We get offended that we don’t get an invitation, but I think for them it’s just that “family is always welcome” so they never issue formal invitations.

    For us, it would be very rude to have someone, even a relative, just show up at our house for dinner. See? There’s no monopoly on manners, just many different languages. So can we drop the “southerners have better manners” thing now?

  • Cat Whisperer November 7, 2012, 7:01 pm


    When our daughter was about two years old, husband and I had a chance to attend a series of parenting classes taught by a woman who had been a licensed marriage and family therapist for more than 20 years. At one of the early sessions, one of the other attendees asked her what was the easiest trick about getting kids to behave that most parents missed out on.

    Her response: “Catch them in the act of being good!” She made the point that from a behavioral point of view, it’s well-documented that the quickest and easiest way to assure a behavior is repeated is to reinforce it with some kind of reward. She said, and this is absolutely true, that unless you reinforce behaviors you want repeated, you cannot expect the behavior to be repeated except on a random basis.

    From the standpoint of someone who trained both horses and dogs for personal use for many years, and who has worked with and been friends with a number of successful horse and dog trainers over the years, I know that is absolutely true: you cannot expect an animal to repeat a behavior you want it to repeat unless it knows that you want it to repeat the behavior. And it knows that by receiving some form of reward when it does the behavior: praise, a food reward, a pat on the neck, an immediate end to the training session and a chance to play.

    Children are no different. You cannot get them to behave in ways you want them to unless you identify the behaviors you want repeated and you give them, through reinforcement, a reason to repeat that behavior.

    That doesn’t mean that you are bribing the child for the behavior or “buying” good behavior, any more than your employer is bribing you or “buying” your performance on the job by giving you performance awards, promotions, raises, or other merit-based awards. But think about it: how well would you do your job, how hard would you try, how long would you want to work there, if you were never given any kind of reward or recognition for doing something well, weren’t even told what “doing well” consisted of?

    From a behavioral standpoint, when I was at Texas A&M, one of the animal behaviorists did a series of studies involving various species of animals (horses, dogs, pigs, mules, as I recall). The object was to teach the animals to press a bar in their stall when they heard a sound tone, and ONLY when they heard the sound tone.

    One group of animals received no reinforcement of any kind for the behavior. They never received a reward if they did the behavior, and they never received a punishment for pushing the bar at the wrong time. This was the control group.

    One group received only negative reinforcement– they were not rewarded for pushing the bar at the right time, but they received a negative reinforcement– a squirt of water in the face– if they pushed it at the wrong time.

    One group received positive reinforcement (a pellet of food) if they pushed the bar at the right time, and negative reinforcement, a squirt of water in the face, if they pushed the bar at the wrong time.

    One group received only positive reinforcement (a pellet of food) if they pushed the bar at the right time, but no negative reinforcement if they pushed the bar at the wrong time.

    One group received reinforcement (a food pellet) if they pushed the bar at the right time, but also received reinforcement (a food pellet) at random intervals not associated with the desired behavior.

    Know which group learned fastest? The group that received only positive reinforcement, no negative reinforcement. This was true for every species tested.

    The group that did the worst was the group that received only negative reinforcement. Without exception, after getting squirted a couple of times, these animals would retire to the far end of the stall as far away from the bar as they could get, and refused to touch it.

    The group that received both positive and negative reinforcement took about twice as long to learn the behavior as the group that received only positive reinforcement.

    The group that received reinforcement both when they did the behavior correctly and at random intervals eventually learned the behavior, but it took them about three times as long as the group that received only positive reinforcement.

    FWIW, I believe that the thing you’re concerned about is the situation where kids receive praise no matter what they do, for anything they do. When compliments or praise become a random thing, there is no direct link to a behavior and as a consequence there is no reinforcement of any behavior.

    But if you link the reward or reinforcement directly to a behavior, and the link is unmistakable because it is both immediate and the reinforcement applies ONLY to a specific behavior, it is absolutely effective.

    From a purely logical point of view, whatever, how are your kids ever going to know that they’re doing the right thing if you never tell them? And if your response to them doing the right thing is indifference– you don’t care enough to let them know you noticed they did the right thing, and that you appreciate their doing it– what motivation do they have for doing the right thing?

    Speaking only for myself and my husband, we’ve found that when we explained to our daughter what we wanted her to do (and, as she got older, why we wanted her to do it), and then thanked her and complimented her when she did what we wanted her to do, we never had any problems. Kids are actually born with a great desire to please their parents, believe it or not.

  • barbarian November 7, 2012, 10:17 pm

    Praise goes a long way in teaching kids manners. It’s true, my parents did punish us if we misbehaved in public, but it happened less often than the multiple times they praised us for our good behavior. For example, “Mr. and Mrs. X were so impressed with how well you children behaved at the annual Easter buffet..or (name your place)”. Or they would say “We are so proud that we have well-mannered kids”.

    Adults outside a family give kids incentives to be polite and well-mannered when they praise them. Poorly behaved kids have a way of attracting more attention in public than well-behaved ones. If I have a chance, I praise strangers’ kids (always in presence of their family) for good behavior.

  • Kit November 8, 2012, 11:22 am

    I haven’t ever thought about reciprocity. I moved to another country to live with my husband, so all my friends from my pre-marriage life necessary have to travel hours to get to me, and I always offer that they can stay night with us; on the other side, when I visit my native country, I usually stay with my parents, so, they can’t really reciprocate the same way if they wanted. I feel like Whatever that “I derived equal, if not more, pleasure from their attendance as they did”. So, actually, I have started to feel quilty when people bring gifts or food because… they already had to spend money on travelling, wouldn’t it be only fair if I took the boarding completely on my shoulders?

  • Goldie November 8, 2012, 1:06 pm

    @ PM, Library Diva: Or how about “Aw, this Christmas season doesn’t feel the same without your delicious fudge. Could you share the recipe with me? I’ll be sure to make some for you too, since you cannot this year and since you’ve made it for us all the years before.”

    I honestly don’t know anyone that would insist that a person recovering from major surgery throw them a party. The mind boggles.

  • CW November 12, 2012, 6:53 pm

    I would NEVER allow anyone to behave in this manner in my house! I would not have allowed the person with the dog in the house – “Sorry, but no pets meant you too!” The people getting in the way in the kitchen? “You need to get out of the kitchen now, you are in my way”. Getting into my personal stuff? “Why are you opening my personal gifts?” Or “What ever in the world are you /doing/?” Said very quietly and calmly, – you’d be surprised at how effective it is!

    It is your house and your event. Not theirs. They are guests and if they cannot behave then they should be asked to leave.

    I agree with the suggestions to skip a year. You might also make it an invitational only and have some one at the gate/door checking invites. If they are not on the list, they do not get in.

  • Anon1973 November 14, 2012, 2:57 pm

    And to answer your question, “why do we entertain?” It’s because we enjoy it. We enjoy socializing with our friends and treating them to things. We don’t do it for hostess gifts or thank you notes. There is no quid pro quo. Do it because you like it, don’t do it if you don’t like.

  • Marozia December 26, 2012, 3:59 am

    It is nice that you take the time to make this wonderful holiday feast. Start getting rid of these ‘useless eaters’ that you once called friends. Take holidays away from everyone and you’ll be amazed at the people who’ll give up on you.
    One thing I’m not sure about is, why did you leave all of the wine, cheese, crackers, etc, under the Christmas tree? If they were gifts from your friends, you should’ve made sure they were put away where no-one could get to them. We learnt that the hard way when the same thing happened to us and our grandson got his hands on goods. We picked everything up and put it away, so no-one (except recipients of gifts) could get to them. I know the Christmas tree and pressies are a focal point, but use some common sense.