Politest Rude Person

by admin on July 8, 2013

My 16 year old son had a friend over yesterday. This friend “O” is 19 years old. He is a rather nice young man if a little bit immature for his age. They spent the afternoon playing video games.

My son had asked if O could stay for dinner ahead of time and I had said yes. I changed my dinner plans to accommodate the extra person. The afternoon proceeded normally, I prepared dinner. I called my son to set the table, O came upstairs with him. The meal was laid out and everybody started to eat.

O ate very little. He took a couple pieces of meat and a biscuit, but no salad. Because he took so little food, he was finished eating well ahead of the rest of us. When he was finished eating, he stood up, thanked me very much for having fed him, told my son to stay and finish his meal, cleared his plate to the counter, then went to stand about 10 feet away from the table texting on his cell phone.

The rest of us exchanged a confused look, but continued with our meal, although I did silently rush my son to finish so that he could go join his friend. It was the strangest, most polite, but rude behavior I have ever encountered.

First, I have always taught my children to eat whats put in front of you, like it or not. It only needs to be a very small portion to be polite, allergies not withstanding. Second, my children know not to leave the table until everybody is finished the main meal. They are allowed to excuse themselves before dessert if we are eating at home, but as a guest they are expected to sit tight until the very end of the meal. They are expected to join the conversation.

As I stated earlier, O was the politest rude person I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I like O and I do give him credit for not using his phone while he was at the table. 0704-13

I approved most of the comments to this post but later decided to address those comments in the next day’s blog post since I believe many people incorrectly absolved O of any faux pas.

{ 65 comments… read them below or add one }

Lex July 8, 2013 at 3:03 am

To me, ‘O’ sounds like a very polite young man – that is getting more rare by the day. It sounds to me like a classic case of cognitive dissonance – clearly this young man has grown up in a household which operates different rules at dinner time. As he finished his meal and cleared his plate away without being prompted this suggests to me that in his home, this is the ‘norm’. Now regardless of how rude you find it, this young man was following a pattern of behaviour familiar to him. I can’t see anything wrong with that. He thanked you politely and didn’t get his phone out at the table.

You are in the wrong to expect him to have some of everything you prepared. It is not your right to force someone to eat things they don’t like and you shouldn’t expect it! When you present a selection of food to a guest, what they choose to take is up to them – do you have one of everything at a buffet? Doubtful. This young man did not comment on the food selection, did not make a fuss about not liking things. He selected some food in a quantity he preferred, without fuss or bother, ate, thanked you and cleared away. Just because that isn’t how you do things in your home that doesn’t make him rude.

Perhaps he felt uncomfortable ‘intruding’ on a family dinner – I know I used to when I would visit friends – to this day I have never eaten a meal at my best friends house. Maybe he just doesn’t eat that much – it is not your right to pass comment on how much a person eats.

It was the responsibility of your son to say something like ‘hey man, take a seat, we’ll be done soon.’ or words to that effect as your son was effectively hosting this guest.

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sv July 8, 2013 at 4:53 am

“Politest rude person” !! I love this description! Perfect :)

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Puzzled July 8, 2013 at 5:24 am

I agree with Lex. My daughter’s friends have varied from downright rude to displaying what I consider to be excellent manners; however, none of them exactly fit our household norm. We expected our daughter to try one bite of everything when she was little, but it is a bit excessive to expect a guest to eat everything you serve out of politeness.

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Kimberly July 8, 2013 at 6:10 am

From someone who had to eat what was put on her plate during her childhood, I never force anyone to eat what they do not like. Why would anyone do this to a person? Why can’t people just say, “I am sorry. I do not like sweet potatoes, or pork products or peas”. Is it really that hard or considered that disrespectful?

Now, in my home, I would have told the 19 year old that we do not allow cell phones at the dinner hour. Please come back and join us until son finishes his dinner and participate in the conversation.
He may have been polite in that he cleared up his area, but rude in that he was off to the side and textingn while you were trying to finish dinner.

I also would not have had my son hurry up to finish his meal.

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Sazerac July 8, 2013 at 6:18 am

“He took a couple pieces of meat and a biscuit, but no salad.”

From this phrasing I deduce that the meal was served family-style (served from plates and bowls) and not pre-plated. In that case, I fail to see the rudeness in only taking a couple of pieces of meat and a biscuit. Why should it be rude not to take a portion of anything you don’t care for – thereby leaving more for those who enjoy it? The texting 10 feet away from the table was somewhat odd – I personally would have excused myself to another room – but again, I see no egregious etiquette breach.

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ItsyBitsy July 8, 2013 at 6:27 am

I’m struggling to see what this young man did that could even be termed rude. Okay, he should have stayed and made polite conversation but you did say he’s a little immature and perhaps this is not how things are done in his house.
Content yourself with having been a good hostess and next time, perhaps you could direct him to the list of House Rules before he’s graced with your hospitality.

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Molly July 8, 2013 at 6:39 am

Yes, I agree that O’s food choices were not rude. For one thing, maybe he had allergies and could not eat the salad. Even if he just didn’t want any salad, no one has the right to force him to eat it. As for getting up and leaving, it does seem awkward and a little rude, but at least he did it in a polite way.

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Lo July 8, 2013 at 6:45 am

I agree with Lex entirely. Sounds like politeness from a different family custom.

Why did you rush your son to finish? O didn’t seem phased by being left alone to text. Maybe he was shy about having dinner with you all for the first time? It sounds like he was trying to be as polite as possible.

I remember the first time I ran into a completely different set of cultural/family etiquette rules. I was visiting a friend but came early. I didn’t realize that friend’s family were having dinner with a guest that night so I was actually intruding. Friend’s mom offered me some, which was to my mind just the polite thing to do, so I of course declined, not wanting to interrupt. I assured my friend I’d be okay hanging out for a bit out of sight until they were done with dinner. Friend’s mom came over to me and gave me the politest version she could manage of “Sorry, in my culture it is rude to refuse, I don’t think you realize. We cannot eat while you are a guest in our home and excluded from the table.” I was really shocked but I wanted to do the right thing so I went and had dinner with them and we were all happy. If she hadn’t spoken up about her expectations I would have just sat there while they probably shook their heads over the rude American who refused to eat with them.

Always with etiquette, give points for intent. Assume good intent. The young man sounds like he was being polite.

If

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clairedelune July 8, 2013 at 6:53 am

I agree that it was rude of him to get up from the table before the meal was complete (in this sense, he seems to have confused HIS meal (with which he was finished) with THE meal, a communal event in which he was taking place and which was not over). However, we part ways on the “eat what’s put in front of you” thing. Teaching something to one’s own children is one thing, but that doesn’t translate into closely monitoring the eating habits of one’s adult guests (unless it somehow interferes with everyone else’s meal–as in, unless they take eight biscuits and leave none for anyone else).

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AS July 8, 2013 at 7:00 am

I agree with you that it might be a good idea to be at the dinner table while others are still eating. But as Lex said, it might just be the way it is done at their house.

But that said, I don’t agree with you that guests are obliged to eat everything that is put out in front of them, preferences and allergies not withstanding. Would you rather prefer a guest get severe allergic reactions because they had to eat something they are allergic to, or spend the rest of the evening being sick because they had to eat something they despise? Guests should not complain about the dishes, and this young man didn’t seem to have done that.

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Allie July 8, 2013 at 7:05 am

I don’t think the kid was being rude. As an above poster pointed out, things may be done differently in his house and he didn’t know what to do. It is also awkward to be sitting there not eating. It’s also not uncommon to want to get up when you are done because otherwise it’s easy to pick at things and eat past being full. I’ll get rid of my plate if I want to keep talking to someone at the table but I’m full because I’ll keep eating out of situational habit and eat too much.

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M July 8, 2013 at 7:07 am

I think the behavior was obviously odd, but this poster is a little ridiculous to see it as such a significant breach of etiquette.

1) “Allergies not withstanding” (sic)- Warning: I’m climbing on my soapbox here…

Do you actually know if he has allergies or not? Salads are often dangerous for people with food allergies. If he does have food allergies, he was taking a risk simply by eating your biscuits and meat loaded with unidentified ingredients. I regularly risk my life (anaphylaxis isn’t the same as your average “allergic reaction”) by eating the safest-looking items in order to appear polite to the host.

Also, if you think that people with food allergies always inform the host, you are very wrong. Many people take the position that “your food allergy is your problem. I’m going to prepare whatever I want to prepare in my house, and if you don’t like it, don’t eat it.” Forget asking the host about ingredients and cross-contamination in those situations. Don’t believe me? Look at the mentions of allergies in the comments on the blog The Kitchn. Some people really don’t care if their food kills their own guest.

Then there’s also the issue of people claiming an “allergy” when they really have an intolerance or just don’t like a food. Thanks to that kind of carelessness, those of us with real allergies sound like we’re just “crying wolf.”

2) He’s 16. Obviously he has learned some manners but not all of the ones in your book. Should he step up his game? Probably. Should you be a big girl and get over it? Yes. Sixteen-year-olds do stupid and baffling things no matter what their parents taught them. I’m sure your own darling child’s behavior at others’ homes would mortify you.

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Bree July 8, 2013 at 7:52 am

I agree with Lex in that he was very polite and what was accepted in his family. If you had a problem with it, you or your son could have asked him to return.

And as a very picky eater, I completely disagree with him having to take some of everything you offer. He’s an adult, not a 5 year old. It might be all right to expect children (generally your own) to at least take a bite of everything on the table to get them to eat something other than chicken fingers, but a 19 year old who isn’t even your child? I know more than once I have taken small portions of things because I don’t especially like anything offered, but know it would be rude to not eat and/or demand a special meal made just for me. I instead pick at what I don’t mind the most and then wait to make myself my own true meal when I get home. It’s one of the things you learn to do as a picky eater. And if he is, that’s his choice, not yours. He’s an adult after all.

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another Laura July 8, 2013 at 7:57 am

Are you certain that the salad *was* something O could eat? My nephew has been on blood thinners since he was 18, because of a heart condition. He looks healthy, but he can’t have any green leafies, including lettuce, because they are natural blood thinners.

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L.J. July 8, 2013 at 8:00 am

I agree with Lex, and with everyone else who has said that just because you put food on the table does not mean anyone is obligated to eat it. O didn’t take more meat or biscuits, so his decision to skip the salad didn’t affect you.

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Huh July 8, 2013 at 8:07 am

I don’t understand the “eat everything that’s put in front of you” thing. It’s not as if he declared he didn’t like salad, said it was gross and wanted you to make him something else to eat, he took what sounds like a small portion of what you were serving that he did like and thanked you for it. My mom makes this three-bean salad at major holidays – I have never eaten it because I don’t like it. She really doesn’t seem to care in the least. I was just at a party over the weekend – my friend made a huge variety of food to make sure everyone had something they wanted to eat – hamburgers, hot dogs, barbecued chicken, baked pasta, macaroni salad, potato salad, several kinds of chips – if I ate “everything put in front of me” I would have been horribly sick!

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Spuck July 8, 2013 at 8:21 am

Golden rule about food: Throw all expectations about food when it comes to anyone who is not yourself. While an empty plate is fine to some people it is actually rude in some cultures to completely finish a meal.

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Bashful July 8, 2013 at 8:23 am

I vote rude for the leaving the table part. Everybody keeps saying that maybe at O’s home things are done differently, but we aren’t talking about a 10 years old. This is a young adult that probably had dinner at people’s house several times before. What is he going to do when he goes to a restaurant? Eat an appetizer, leave money for his share and leave when everybody else is eating?

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Moralia July 8, 2013 at 8:27 am

Despite his being a teenager, he might not have a particularly large appetite at dinnertime. I have run into this issue on several occasions and hosts have felt slighted by my not piling my plate with all their offerings. Never mind the fact that I fill up fast and would be VERY uncomfortable for me to keep eating. OTOH, it might also be that your cooking isn’t to his taste. My Aunt is widely considered in her community to be an excellent cook. People rave about her dishes and they are always cleaned out in potlucks. But I am hard pressed to enjoy her cooking as everything seems to be really sour to my palate.
As a small portions eater, I can also empathize with the young man in wishing to leave the table. It is quite awkward to sit there while everyone else is still eating. I usually excuse myself to “freshen up” for a bit to cut down on watching/hearing people eat time.

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Wowsers July 8, 2013 at 8:37 am

Always err on the side of thinking the best of your guests, not the worse.

He may not have really wanted to join you, but perhaps felt he was obligated to when your son asked him and said it was okay with you. Maybe he was expected at his own meal that evening, or some other event, and was simply trying to be as polite as possible. The food choices may have been very different than what he was used to eating and ate as much as he could to be polite. Maybe something happened at the table to upset him? There are many possibilities, and as long as he was being polite and not being offensive and disruptive, I’d err on the side of not worrying about it.

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Rebecca July 8, 2013 at 8:57 am

A guest could have any number of reasons for not selecting a particular food. I’m not allergic to onions at all, but I despise the taste so much that I might accidentally gag if I get a big surprise mouthful. Not ideal at a polite dinner party. Also, they give me terrible gas. Rather than tell my dinner hosts these embarrassing things, I just don’t ever eat anything with onions.

Like the boy in the story, I too tend to take small portion sizes at group meals. I’m a terribly slow eater, and if everybody had to wait around for me to finish the same portions as everybody else, we’d still be there at midnight.

I do think it’s polite to wait until everybody is finished before leaving the table, although I agree with the others that O’s choice may simply reflect his family’s methods. At least he removed his own plate and tried to be as unobtrusive as possible.

One I’ve encountered is that I always like to wait until everybody has all their food on their plate before I begin eating, but I’ve been in many situations where people will start munching before others (especially the host, who is often last to sit) have been served. I always have to remind myself that this isn’t impoliteness, it’s just a different set of customs.

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Nikki July 8, 2013 at 8:57 am

I don’t think this kid was so bad. I think he was maybe feeling a bit awkward, and if OP had an issue with him getting up and texting while the rest of the family remained seated, she could have said something to him politely, such as, “O, just so you are aware, the rule in this house is that we all remain seated until the meal is finished.” That would have been informative and helpful, whereas rushing his/her son to finish his meal was neither of those things.

I remember as a kid being forced (I actually prefer the term “bullied”) into taking food that I did NOT like just because I was a guest in someone’s home. My own parents never did this; it always seemed to happen when I was staying over with someone else. As an adult, I now understand that this was an abuse of power – teaching your own kids to try everything is one thing (and even then, I believe preferences should be considered), but trying to force that opinion on someone else’s child is not okay. There is nothing rude in not eating food you don’t like.

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penguin tummy July 8, 2013 at 9:02 am

An interesting situation! The young man was very polite and thanked the host for the meal. I don’t think that you should have to eat everything on your plate, only what you want. A good example is in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, where Scout is told to let her guest eat the tablecloth if he wants!

I find many young children are not taught to stay at the table until everyone is finished. My parents were quite strict about asking permission to leave the table but many parents don’t say this. It’s a bit sad that people feel the need to rush off and do something else rather than talk to their friends and family about their day.

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Shalamar July 8, 2013 at 9:30 am

Personally, I hate it when I’ve finished my meal and everyone else at the table is still eating and/or has decided to sit and chat. I find it incredibly uncomfortable.

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Wild Irish Rose July 8, 2013 at 9:31 am

I agree that O should have remained at the table until everyone–or at least your son–had finished eating. However, at least he didn’t zip through the meal so he could return to the video games! As for the cell phone–well, I can’t really say anything there, because it doesn’t really sound like he was being rude; he seems to have been doing what he usually did.

I’m with everyone else on the point of eating what’s offered. I don’t eat things I don’t like, and I never made my kids do it, either. And I certainly wouldn’t fault a guest for not trying everything on the table. Some people are adventurous diners, others aren’t, and it’s neither right nor wrong either way. It sounds like O ate what he wanted and as much of it as he wanted, and then he was through. It’s that simple. O sounds like someone I would invite back!

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Abby July 8, 2013 at 9:49 am

I don’t think O did anything offensive. Getting up from the table early maybe could have been considered rude, but perhaps he felt uncomfortable sitting there staring at everyone still eating. And I absolutely disagree he did anything wrong by not taking any salad. I would never eat over at anyone’s house again if social custom demanded I eat everything in front of me! It sounds to me OP, like you are applying the way your family does things to a universal etiquette standard, which I don’t think is fair.

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AthenaC July 8, 2013 at 9:59 am

I’m with the OP. I appreciate the OP assuming the best of O, but I agree the situation was a bit awkward. On the other hand, for some people social niceties are a practiced skill, and O may not have thought to say, “Is it all right if I step into son’s room and make a phone call? Thanks. (Directed at son) See you in a few minutes.” And then O could text in the son’s room and wait for the son to be done with dinner without making anyone feel uncomfortable. But like I said, sometimes these things just don’t occur to people in the moment, and I give OP credit for handling it as best she could.

Also, I don’t think her description of what / how much he ate meant anything more than an explanation for why he finished dinner so soon (i.e. he didn’t wolf down a bunch of food, which would of course be rood), thus creating the awkward situation.

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MichelleP July 8, 2013 at 10:24 am

I’m with the OP that it was rude for him to step away, but judging of teenagers’ behavior today he was better than most. I also disagree that it was rude for him to only eat certain things. It’s perfectly fine to only eat a few things and/or small amounts at others’ homes. I’ve always been self conscious about eating with others, especially at their homes, and eat very little.

I can’t stand teenagers who use electronic devices at the table, or leave before being excused, but O sounds better than some I see.

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Jaxsue July 8, 2013 at 10:34 am

I agree with others that the kid was just doing what is done in his culture (by that, I mean family home). I was taught, like the OP, to stay at the table a certain amount of time and to treat it as a social occasion. After that, we were expected to ask to be excused. And there were 8 of us! But that is rare nowadays.

I do think, though, that if this kid is going to be working in the business world he’ll need to be trained on how to deal with situations like this. There are companies that train people business etiquette, including table manners. If he does this at a friend’s home, small stuff. If he does this at a client’s home, not so small.

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Ergala July 8, 2013 at 10:43 am

Question for OP…did you put the food on his plate for him? He might be vegetarian or maybe a small eater. If you loaded his plate you can’t expect him to eat it all. This is why we let our 7 year old serve himself but with the understanding he eats everything he takes. I would type more but I am doing it 1 handed…my other is being held hostage by my cat.

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Christine July 8, 2013 at 10:44 am

I agree that, without knowing the ‘whys’ behind O’s behaviour, it does seem rather odd, but there’s another point in the OP’s story I’d like to address.

Forcing children to eat ‘what’s put in front of them’ is one of the key elements of creating eating disorders. Children should never be forced or required to eat. It starts the whole “good food/bad food” and ‘food associated with guilt’ cycles. Second, as an IBS sufferer myself, certain types of fibre is deadly for me. Baby spinach strands tie themselves into a nasty little ball that cause me intense agony. This young man may have diet restrictions that lie outside the usual, and which he may not wish to discuss with casual acquaintances. Ones that are especially embarrassing to discuss as a teenage boy.

The only other comment I have to add is that perhaps, in his family, the rule is: no texting at the table, but at least stay nearby, so you can stay inside the family circle until we are all finished. He may not be aware, being a teen, that this is not every family’s rule. Given his other polite behaviour, he thought he WAS being polite by not leaving the room and isolating himself.

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Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 11:07 am

1. The dinner was served family style, and O (wait, letters are confusing; so let’s call him Otis, like Otis Spofford from the Beverly Cleary books), took what he wanted, in reasonable, non-piggish amounts. Since E-Hell has so many stories of “I invited a teenage boy to dinner, and he ate practically everything and left everyone else with practically nothing,” I think Otis was fine there. He didn’t want salad, so he didn’t take any. At a meal like that, I probably would have wanted ONLY salad (I’m vegan), so if Otis and myself had both been invited for dinner that night, and he took meat and biscuits, and I had salad, would we have eaten a sufficient variety of food between the two of us to be “polite” in the eyes of the OP?

2. Another thing nobody has mentioned–what about the layout of the house? In some houses, the kitchen, dining area, and living room are all in one big room, so “standing ten feet away from the table” could also be interpreted as “standing in the living room,” which wouldn’t be rude. If Otis asked to be excused (which he sort of did, by clearing his dishes, saying thank you for the meal, and moving away from the table), then the OP or her son could have mentioned, “Actually, in our house we usually sit until everyone’s finished,” or something to that effect.

3. Why mention the video games in the same sentence as “Otis is immature for his age?” Does the OP think that video games are an inherently immature pastime? Some people do, but it’s not really related to the dinner table situation, which today’s story is really about.

4. I deliberately chose Otis from Otis Spofford as a moniker rather than just “O,” because the Otis in this story is MUCH more polite and well-behaved than the real Otis Spofford, who enjoyed sliding down banisters, pulling girls’ pigtails, shooting spitballs, making smoke by rubbing his ruler vigorously against the edge of his desk, and at one point, he manipulated the results of a class science experiment involving feeding two rats healthy food and junk food, respectively. He secretly fed the junk food rat healthy food, in order to fool the teacher into thinking that junk food was healthy, because he wanted junk food to be served in the school cafeteria. Compared to that Otis, the OP’s Otis is a complete Boy Scout.

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Cherry July 8, 2013 at 11:14 am

I have to disagree on the “eat what’s in front of you” thing.

I intensely dislike most types of nuts. I have no allergy whatsover, but the taste of nuts is extremely unpleasant to me. If the taste is strong enough, it can actually make me feel ill.

If someone put a dish in front of me with a lot of nuts in it (eg, a peanut butter sandwich), I would not eat it. I would do my best to be polite about it, but I would not eat it. Therefore I would find it very unfair if someone attempted to pressure me into eating it.

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lakey July 8, 2013 at 11:22 am

His examples of poor manners are pretty mild. Many children are no longer taught even basic table manners. I guess it’s just easier for some parents to let their kids do what they want. Teaching good manners takes effort.

I taught in a Catholic elementary school. We would take the kids to a camp once a year. The meals were served family style. I was shocked at the table manners of a large number of these kids. Many of them would pick up foods like broccoli and eat it with their hands, take food from the serving dish in front of them and not pass it around, take food such as French fries from the serving dish with their hands, etc. These were 10 and 11 year olds.

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Chocobo July 8, 2013 at 11:29 am

The only rude part was getting up from the dinner table before the hosts had finished. “O” needs his parents to teach him how to behave at the dinner table outside the home.

However, not eating what you do not like is not rude (does not apply to one’s own minor-aged children who you are trying to get to eat vegetables). He didn’t complain about what was served him, did he? Conversely, why are you monitoring what your guest is eating?

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Tsunoba July 8, 2013 at 11:34 am

Different families have different manners. I remember being around eight years old and eating dinner at a friend’s house during a sleepover. My friend finished and asked if she may be excused. My family was more like O in the above story where you just get up when done.

Not being familiar with asking to be excused, I assumed it was supposed to be asked before leaving the table for any reason. I asked my friend’s mother if I could be excused, and she looked at my plate (which still had quite a bit of food on it) and asked, “Oh, are you done?” She seemed rather surprised.

My response? “No, I just have to go to the bathroom.”

It wasn’t until years later that I understood her reaction.

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Kristin July 8, 2013 at 11:44 am

I disagree about eating what’s put in front of you. I would never expect someone to eat something they didn’t like. I had to gag my way through an artichoke once and I truly thought I was going to throw up. I hate artichokes!

I think the kid was rude. At his age, I think he should have known better. Surely he wouldn’t do that in a restaurant. What — go out and wait in the car while everyone finished?

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SweetPea July 8, 2013 at 11:54 am

Nitpicking about how much a person seems rude itself to me. My family has always taught me to take a “no thank you bite,” but if I don’t like it, that’s all I need to take.

As for the rest, I don’t see why this couldn’t have been easily solved by explaining to the boy that it’d be nice for him to remain at the table until everyone’s done. You’ve already explained that he’s polite, in general, and that you like him. He even thanked you for the meal, cleaned his plate, and asked your son not to rush. Simply saying “oh, please sit with us!” would’ve easily sent the message that everyone stays ’til the end.

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Mikki July 8, 2013 at 12:03 pm

His getting up and standing in the corner was odd. However, thanking you, clearing his plate and even telling your son to stay and finish his meal (while again a bit odd) was thoughtful and considerate.

And the OP actually DID say that his not eating some of all the food was rude “It only needs to be a very small portion to be polite, allergies not withstanding.” inferring that he was not being polite, meaning rude. While she gives allowances to people suffering from food allergies she seems to expect that the reason her guests choose not to eat what is given to them be explained to her, and I for one find that expectation a bit rude. I have some experience with this as I have a food allergy.

I am allergic to onion. It is a severe allergy and I carry an epipen. As you can imagine there have been many occasions where I have found myself without food to eat when dining as a guest. If I am invited with notice I politely inform my host of my allergy, but there have been occasions where I was invited by another such as the boy here was invited by her son. Not knowing the host directly I would tell my friend who would assure me that it was no issue, then they would forget or just not tell the host. At that point I find myself In a situation where I can:

A) bluntly tell the host as the meal is being served that I will not eat xyz as I am allergic, making my generous host feel bad and putting a damper over the meal from the start. And for those that do not believe it will dampen the mood, I assure that from that moment forward 70% of the conversation turns to my food allergy and how terrible my life must be as the host either looks perturbed or embarrassed.

B) smile and take the items that I can eat in the most non-conspicuous way possible. If asked about my light meal (which happens often) I make an excuse giving either the heat has zapped my appetite or that I had such a heavy lunch I still feel full.

There are other reasons that one might not eat something even without an allergy. I once got food poisoning from chicken salad, and from that day on it has become an involuntary reflex that I can no longer keep it down for even a moment. Again, not an explanation that I feel would be appropriate to give while at a dinner table, but there consequences of eating it to be polite would most certainly ruin the dinner for everyone else as well.

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Ripple July 8, 2013 at 12:24 pm

I agree that O’s behavior was a little odd, but, as Lex said, this may be the way O was brought up. It may also be that O eats his bigger meal at lunch time and so was not as hungry at dinner time as the rest of the family. OP could have tried engaging O in conversation, at which point he probably would have sat down again or at least stood beside the table to talk rather than texting. The fact that he thanked OP, cleared his dishes, and told the son to finish his meal speaks rather well for him, in my opinion.

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Brenda July 8, 2013 at 12:31 pm

I think the issue is that OP is confused about how to treat a guest, because the guest was a teenager and a friend of her son’s. I do not believe she would feel as upset about him not sampling all the food if he had been an adult.

As to him rising early and clearing his plate, I agree with others that this is probably how things are handled in his home. Also, he probably was nervous about eating there for the first time.

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Library Diva July 8, 2013 at 12:53 pm

From the post, we can gather that O is a polite young man, somewhat immature for his age, who hangs out with high-school-age students despite being older. I’m guessing that perhaps O doesn’t get many invitations to people’s homes, and that explains his behavior. I don’t think he meant to be rude. It’s possible he just didn’t know any better. While I agree with the comment that said that your son should have invited him to sit back down, I can see why a teenager wouldn’t be comfortable doing that, so if this happens again, I think OP should take the lead as the adult. Just say something straightforward like “You’re quite welcome for dinner, O. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Why don’t you sit and chat with us while we finish up?” And then come up with some easy conversational follow-up that will get O into the mix with you guys. “[My son] tells me your family’s going to the Grand Canyon next week, are you looking forward to it?” “I’ve been meaning to ask you, what’s your t-shirt all about? Is that a band?” And the perennial favorite “How are your mom and dad doing?”

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June First July 8, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Sounds like he might have a strict “no texting at the table” rule at home. (But if he’s 19, who knows!)
This might have been a good teachable moment, like another poster said, for the OP to politely explain that they would love to sit and talk with him even if he’s done eating.

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NostalgicGal July 8, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Maybe the guest was not comfortable with dining with the family….

Maybe he had allergies and couldn’t eat the salad (I eat lettuce or food that got ‘lettuce juice’ on it and I ralf instantly)… Maybe he had other allergies or dietary restrictions.

Only rudeness was that he left the table before the others finished. At least he was quiet and self amused while the others finished. I’ll cut him a little slack over this except that he should have remained at the table until the others finished. If I’d been the OP I would not have rushed the son.

(my dietary restrictions and health, I belong to a couple of clubs and though we either take turns providing a meal or go out together to share a meal, I have often had to pay for my meal and take it home and feed it to my other half. I have carefully and repeatedly explained I don’t always have a choice; and I came out to be with them and socialize, the company is what is important–and go ahead, eat. They are now used to me perhaps sitting at the table with them, having my headcount-catered food boxed ‘to go’ and not minding in the least they are getting to scarf the good stuff…. and when I have my turn to provide, I bring good stuff, adequate amounts, and usually get to watch them eat… even if I can’t have it they can have bbq ribs and cheesecake…)

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JGM1764 July 8, 2013 at 1:42 pm

@ AS, when OP said “allergies not withstanding”, I’m pretty sure she meant she DIDN’T expect a person to eat something to which they were allergic.

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Mental Magpie July 8, 2013 at 1:44 pm

@AthenaC – The description of what/how he ate wasn’t bothersome, it was the OP’s later comment about teaching her children to eat everything that is put in front of them and thus expecting the same from the guest.

I agree with most PPs. He was doing what he is used to doing and I would chalk it up to different family dinnertime rules.

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Cat July 8, 2013 at 2:39 pm

At nineteen, he is not a child anymore. You can’t dictate his food choices or, since he is a guest, insist that he eat something he does not want.

It would have nice for him to remain at the table until you had all finished, but I have seen many adults do the same thing- or even text friends while at the table. It would not be important enough for me to be concerned about, however.

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Erin July 8, 2013 at 2:56 pm

O was not rude. OP was rude to expect O to just know her house rules without being told, then sit in silent judgment while he tried to be as polite as he could. A better host would have invited O to sit back down with the family, or see if there was anything he needed, instead of just shooting him funny looks. Etiquette shouldn’t be just nitpicking.

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Stacey Frith-Smith July 8, 2013 at 3:04 pm

The table has obligations that go both ways and both parties fail a little here. The host is obliged not to notice what the guest eats and the guest is obliged to participate in the meal (from an event standpoint) until its conclusion. Merely using polite forms to accomplish your somewhat rude goal doesn’t lessen the insult (of leaving the table, the party, the meeting, the date…) early. For the family friend, (or son’s friend in this case)- dessert would be about the earliest acceptable time of departure, with consent of the hosts.

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whatever July 8, 2013 at 3:08 pm

When you teach your children to eat what’s in front of them, like it or not, the point is to expand their gustatory horizons and to police their health. (Also, you give them the ability to deal with a situation where *none* of the food offered is to their liking.) It would have been rude of O to refuse all of the food, but he didn’t- he sounds like he ate two of the three dishes that were put in front of him. If it’s not your kid, it’s not your job anymore to police his taste or his health.

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