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Dining Etiquette 101 (or “Why So Many Commenters Got It Wrong”)

Yesterday’s post generated a considerable number of comments all absolving “O” of any etiquette faux pas while a guest in the house of the OP.   A whole lot of you are therefore woefully wrong in your understanding of good table manners for guests.

Let us first establish that sitting down to eat a dinner meal is more than just satisfying the biological need to refuel the body but is also a social interaction involving conversations and connections.   Judith Martin sums it perfectly, “The dinner table is the center for the teaching and practicing not just of table manners but of conversation, consideration, tolerance, family feeling, and just about all the other accomplishments of polite society except the minuet.”   A considerable number of commenters believe that once O had satisfied his need for food that he was free of any obligation to socialize with his hosts as long as he excuses himself.

The host sets the tone and direction of the meal, being the conversational gatekeeper if necessary.  A savvy guest knows to follow the leads the host gives during the meal, i.e. as to when to begin eating, when to start eating the next course, when the meal has ended, and the host invites guests to retire to more comfortable surroundings.     I’ll break down the scenario to demonstrate how O usurped the host’s position.

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.

Unless O has a food allergy, he, as a guest, does have a reciprocal obligation to at least taste each of the dishes prepared by the host.   This is basic “Dining Etiquette 101” to avoid offending the host who has labored to feed you.   One taste of the dishes and still leaving food on the plate is enough to assuage any potential offense a host might have.   On the flip side of this coin, the good host does not take notice of what his guests have failed to eat, does not comment on the leftovers nor urges guests to consume more.

When he was finished eating, he stood up, thanked me very much for having fed him,

This is called “eating and running”.   In other circumstances, many of you would be crying foul if some guest wolfed down the meal you spent time preparing and left.  While it is nice that O thanks his hosts, he has taken the initiative to determine when the communal meal has come to an end.   A guest signals to the host that he is finished with his meal by putting the dining utensils on the plate at the 4:20 clock position and a good host will take notice of that and offer to release the guest as appropriate.

OP, what you could have asked O, “Oh, do you need to leave so soon?”, thus implying that the only reason a guest would leave the table that abruptly would be a need to get home asap.   Had O replied in the negative, you could then say, “Then please stay and talk with us.”   You lost control as the hostess of your dinner at the hands of an 19-year-old and you can take it back which then requires you to ask him interesting questions that engage him in the conversation.

told my son to stay and finish his meal,

If I had been the OP, I would have been flabbergasted that a guest in my house would have the audacity to tell one of my children how to behave at the dinner table.   What most of you missed is that by merely saying this, O knew what he had done was a faux pas and he is directing his young host to continue finishing his meal despite the awkwardness that O just created.  O was educated enough to know his leaving the table prematurely put a social obligation on the OP’s son to attend to his guest.

cleared his plate to the counter,  then went to stand about 10 feet away from the table texting on his cell phone.

Turn the cell phone off and enjoy people and the moment.   What O conveyed to his hosts is that any conversations with them are infinitely less important than keeping in touch with presumable more interesting people he’s texting.   If O cannot live without his cell phone for 45 minutes, he has a serious technology dependency that is stunting his development.

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.

O placed his friend in an incredibly awkward position of feeling an obligation to rush his eating to join him and any hope of pleasant table talk just got squashed by O taking the lead to determine when the meal had ended.  First rule of being a guest is that you don’t unnecessarily put your kind hosts in confusing or awkward situations and O did just that.

Those EHellions who gave O an pass to get out Etiquette Hell are mislead in their understanding of what is polite behavior for dinner guests, especially one that is an adult at age 19.

{ 108 comments… add one }
  • Kristin July 9, 2013, 2:15 pm

    I would think taking food you don’t like and then leaving a pile of it on your otherwise empty plate would be worse than not taking any at all. (I don’t think either is bad.) What IS rude, I think, is when the host quizzes you on why you aren’t eating something.

    It surprises me that anyone would think this kid’s behavior was okay. That he got up and stood a mere ten feet away is quite amazing! Nineteen is awfully young to have to be taught table manners for the first time. No doubt he goes to restaurants with his family and plays with his phone the entire time.

  • Filiagape July 9, 2013, 2:46 pm

    The young man, and he qualifies as a man not a kid, was very rude to leave the table first and more rude to be texting 10 feet away. That is not acceptable . However, there are many reasons someone might not eat something, dietary restriction, allergies, drug interaction, religious proscription. Is the guest required to announce this private informationrather than politely, quietly pass on the dish? I am a vegetarian. Because I have chosen a dietary style that places me in the minority, I do not expect anyone to cater to me. If asked ahead of time, I will inform my host, but if not asked I do not announce. It has been my experience that if I say I am not eating X because I am a vegetarian, my host will jump up and try to provide an alternative. This makes me EXTREMELY uncomfortable because my host is putting her/herself out and not enjoying their meal, and it is totally unnecessary; Ihave never left table hungry. The young man definitely has something to learn about ettiquette, but taking food you cannot taste only to have it thrown away is not good ettiquette, it’s just waste.

  • Bibianne July 9, 2013, 2:46 pm

    I was quite the picky eater when I was young… but when I was somewhere else, I was always served a plate… not asked what I liked or not. I was to clean my plate even if I disliked it. (Creamed corn comes to mind, *shudder*) However, as an adult, I can serve myself, therefore only getting what I like to eat. I do have friends that love salad but dislike dressing. When I have a gathering, I make a salad, but place different types of dressing on the side. I let people choose what they want.
    Now the “polite” factor… at 19 this young man SHOULD have a grasp of basic table etiquette. But I do have friends in their twenties/early 30s that (you may need to sit down here, folks) LICK their plates, pick on the bird carcass while I am carving, and scrape the cake pan while I am still cutting up the brownies. I am tempted in sending them all 3 to an etiquette school. Their parents do not seem to notice their lack of etiquette/table manners. I have taken them to the carpet: “E? please wait till I am done, please. Then you can have the pan.” “You can have the carcass once I’ve gotten all the meat off.”
    Yes I know… I probably broke several etiquette rules right there… but it’s better than throwing a tantrum 😉

  • ALM July 9, 2013, 3:01 pm

    I’m of two opinions about this.

    On the one hand, allowing oneself to become so picky as to not be able to swallow a few mouthfuls out of politeness and to participate in a group meal can be rather boorish. I really don’t care for fish, but if fish is being served, I will take a small piece, eat it, and not whine (or unintentionally turn into a crabby dinner guest because I’m still hungry.

    On the other hand, policing and criticizing a guest’s food and portion choices (provided they are not hogging an item or preventing others from enjoying it) really seems to me to be the height of rudeness. Sorry, but if I were at the gates of E-hell, I’d cast the OP right in too. The young man’s rudeness was in not participating in the conversation, not in not eating enough to make the OP comfortable. I personally do Weight Watchers, and it’s frankly not my host/hostess’ business how much I eat, and if they choose to make it their business, that is their rudeness, not mine. There is no social obligation for me to go off my diet, be it for health reasons or just not liking mashed turnips, provided I am polite about it, and I’m not walking off to go play on my phone.

    One can refuse food politely. The expectation that one must eat to the host’s satisfaction to show respect is rude. While sharing of food does communicate ‘good will’ and ‘trust’ and ‘hospitality,’ forcing food on the guest or taking a polite food refusal personally is both immature and counter-productive.

    Just because I’m a guest, doesn’t mean the rest of my life (and my diet) comes to a screaming halt, and if a host chose to exert societal pressure to ‘get me to eat it,’ guess who the rude one is?

  • Flulffy July 9, 2013, 3:14 pm

    I thought hospitality was about making the guest comfortable, not pandering to the hosts pwecious widdle fee fees.

    Next you’ll be saying it’s rude to add salt to a bland dish, because that’s the way the cook intended it.

    • admin July 10, 2013, 7:46 am

      Conversely the guest does not snub the host’s efforts at hospitality. Many of you with delicate pallets need never travel to other countries where, God forbid, your host offers you the finest meal in your honor which may very well include sheep eyeballs, soups made of intestines, durian, or other foods you would find noxious.

  • Vicki July 9, 2013, 3:21 pm

    OP here.

    First I want to clarify that I did inquire about allergies and dislikes before I even made the meal. I spoke to O directly for the information. I told him what was on the menu, and asked if there was anything I should avoid or omit for him. He said he had no allergies or restrictions, and he eats “everything”. His words.

    As to the comments taking me to task for thinking it is only polite to at least try everything, I stand by my thoughts. It does not need to be a heaping scoop of food, but a small tasting portion is always appropriate. Nothing short of allergies and medical restrictions excuses this. How can you know you still dislike something if you are never willing to try it?

    I have learned that some foods that I hated years ago, are actually very good when prepared in a different manner. Eating at a friends house is a good way to try foods that I would never have tried on my own. Besides one bite won’t kill you, no matter how much you hate it. (Obviously allergies and medical restrictions are the exceptions.)

    O was very polite, and I like the young man. I would not hesitate to have him over to dinner again. No I did not comment to him at all about what he ate or didn’t eat. I was caught off guard by his behavior, but I do realize that in his world, he thinks he did the right thing, and even in my world, he did do the right thing. He simply did it sooner than I would have liked. I did miss the opportunity to further engage him and I will always remember the lesson for future visits.

    I stand behind the “politest rude person” tag.

  • Wild Irish Rose July 9, 2013, 3:28 pm

    I confess that I haven’t been exactly diligent in serving meals at the table, and it’s only gotten worse as my kids have grown and taken on jobs and other activities that require them to be away at mealtime. DH and I eat in front of the TV practically all the time. But when I do serve a meal at the table, the kids always sit and eat and talk with us, and nobody leaves the table until all are finished eating. I hope I at least got that part right in rearing my children, and that they know better than to dash from a host’s table to engage in texting! My BIL is TERRIBLE about this!! And he’s in his 40s!!!

    But I’m holding my ground on the issue of eating everything in sight. I don’t do it, I don’t require my kids to do it, and I most certainly do not require it of my guests.

  • Vicki July 9, 2013, 3:31 pm

    And no – quite frankly what he ate or didn’t eat was not what bothered me. It was the ” I’m done, thanks for feeding me, going to go back to my electronic friends now! ” that go to me.

  • Rap July 9, 2013, 4:03 pm

    “I disagree that I am obliged to try things that I know I really do not like for the sake of politeness sake.”

    Yeah, really, I see no to eat food I know I don’t like. If a host actually draws attention to the fact that I am not sampling dish x, I would politely plead allergies and or trigger for indigestion, but I really don’t see it as rude to not sample every dish.

    Wasn’t there a post a year ago about person who gamely choked down some sort of cheese and cracker appetizer because it was rude to pass on something she hated, only to have the host cheerfully supply her with more…which she then choked down because it was rude to not eat them and various commenters then noted that you don’t have to eat something you don’t like in order to be polite?

  • kingsrings July 9, 2013, 6:45 pm

    I also disagree with the “rule” that one is to try everything served. I am not going to try something I know I dislike, such as sweet potatoes. It’s far more polite for me to politely decline that dish rather than try it and then end up gagging or appearing in other discomfort because I dislike them so much. And I’ve been raked over the coals by some hosts for not tasting something I dislike. A guest should never have to partake of a food item they dislike! Doesn’t a good host want their guest to enjoy their meal?

  • KB July 9, 2013, 6:51 pm

    I think this is harsh on O. He may have not taken much because he doesn’t like to eat much or had eaten a large lunch, and perhaps he didn’t want to offend OP by leaving something on his plate. He may have thought that implied he didn’t like the food she offered and thus wasn’t eating it even though he had taken it, rather than just “politely” (as he may have seen it) avoiding it in the first place.

    Since he finished first, he stood up to leave the table. This could be how he was raised and how he was taught to behave at the table. I was taught a certain way growing up (don’t eat until everyone’s served, don’t leave the table until everyone’s done), but when I had dinners at friends’ houses, I was sometimes surprised by their very different concept of manners. He may have gotten up because he thought the family wouldn’t want to endure being stared at by someone who wasn’t eating while they tried to enjoy their food. Thus he told OP’s son to stay and enjoy his meal (i.e. “Don’t rush on my account, I’ll be fine and I won’t bother you all by sitting here and gabbing and gaping while you eat”) and left the table.

    That could also explain the texting: he wasn’t sure where to go in the house to wait, but he didn’t want to stand across the room gawping silently at them, so he pulled out his phone to look like he was happily occupied so OP’s family wouldn’t feel stared-at or obligated to finish early because of him. This could have been avoided if, as Admin said in her commentary, OP had suggested he stay and chat with them.

    No, it’s not perfect manners, but, no, it’s not horrible deliberate rudeness. It could just come down to modern society having VERY different ideas of polite behavior and a misunderstanding on what’s acceptable in one person’s house versus another’s.

  • Agania July 9, 2013, 8:00 pm

    I’m not going to fixate on the whole ‘must try a bit of everything’. I have another query. Admin said that leaving the utensils in a 4.20 position indicates that the eater is finished. I’m Australian and my mother taught me that position means you are still eating. When you are finished you put your utensils together side by side at the 6.30 position. In a restaurant that indicates to the waiter that you are finished and he can clear your plate. In Australia if an American left their utensils at the 4.20 position the meal would never end and the plate would never be cleared!! Just thought I’d point this out.

  • Goodness July 9, 2013, 8:12 pm

    I have food issues, in part due to delicate ‘innards’ and in part to some off-kilter perceptions. Fish of any kind, for instance, smells to me like meat that’s been rotting in the sun for a few days; my husband tells me my face goes white as we pass the seafood counter in the supermarket. Wheat, most raw veggies and corn will make me sorry I ever heard of them the next day, and walnuts give me instant indigestion. So I do what O should have done: decline impromptu meal offers. “Thanks anyway, but I didn’t realize what time it was. I need to be getting home.” covers a lot of territory without giving offense to any but those predisposed to be offended.

  • Kate July 9, 2013, 9:27 pm

    I actually thought it was more polite to not take foods you don’t like rather than take some of everything and not eat it, or only eat a bite.
    For example, I don’t like most salads because I hate lettuce and dressing. If there is a salad served, I might get some tomato or cucumber but usually I’ll avoid it. If I took a serving but didn’t eat it, I am depriving somebody else who might want to have another serving of it, since it would be a bit weird to scrape it off my plate onto theirs. I also would not serve myself a helping of steak that is not well done (I hate the sight of blood on meat) and then not eat it, again depriving others of a second helping which they may want.
    Honestly, if I was hosting a dinner party and a guest didn’t take a certain food I doubt I would even notice, and I’d certainly prefer that to someone trying to force down a food they didn’t want.

  • Asharah July 9, 2013, 9:33 pm

    Forcing myself to eat something I don’t want to might result in a very unappetizing to everyone else reaction. I would say that would be far more rude than being picky about what I eat.

  • NostalgicGal July 9, 2013, 10:22 pm

    I commented on the last one, not checking if it approved or not.

    I gave the guest a partial pass.

    Biggest goof was he didn’t stay at the table until the others finished. Whether he ate ANYTHING or took thirds; that is the one I won’t give a pass on.

    I personally have allergies and dietary and health restrictions… I belong to some clubs that we either go out to eat, or people take turns providing the meal after the meeting for the rest. Many a time I have had to either pay for my meal and take it home (and feed it to my DH) or be very restricted in what I did eat. The others have had the explanations about I don’t have the choice, I’m there to socialize with them even if I can’t eat. Go right ahead, eat, I don’t mind, honest–this is just life and reality. I have sat through a meal I carefully cooked and provided, because fate and health decided that today was a fasting day to sort certain issues out… Not knowing if the OP’s guest had issues with allergies, diet restrictions (religious or medical) or what… I gave the partial pass. No, one does NOT have to sample everything… if there is an allergy issue that manner-ism can be a big issue. Just be polite about what one does take.

    So the biggest gaffe was not staying at the table whether the guest ate anything at all. The electronic device… at least they were being quiet. This is also a partial pass only. The crumb of at least they stayed quiet and amused self while the others finished; is vastly overshadowed by the fact they left the table and should not have.

    I would not toss the guest by arm and leg and swing them straight into the eHell pit; but by the same token they are probably sitting on the rim of the chasm and slowly browning like a marshmallow.

  • BagLady July 9, 2013, 10:30 pm

    Just Sayin’, how is it making a “spectacle” of oneself to discreetly avoid certain foods? The guy didn’t say “Eww, gross!” or make a big production out of the fact he didn’t want any salad — he just didn’t take any.

  • crella July 10, 2013, 1:23 am

    “I can’t be alone in thinking that life would be a lot more pleasant if people said what they meant instead of living by unspoken rules and looking down on people who weren’t raised with them.”

    A comment comes up every once in a while that rules are stifling, or that etiquette is some kind of trap or obstacle course . Etiquette is not snobbery. Etiquette levels the playing field. If the rules of etiquette were secret, it could be claimed that they are for a chosen few so that they can look down their noses at others. However, the rules of etiquette are available to everyone. If we all play by the same rules, rudeness is eliminated, and guesswork is taken out of complex situations. For instance, if you feel unsure about formal dinner etiquette and read up a bit, no one at the dinner party will know if you’ve been using a fish fork or finger bowl with aplomb since you were 5, or 25…it is to spare embarrassment, not cause it.

  • Marie July 10, 2013, 2:51 am

    I also believe O was incredibly rude. You do not just leave the dinner table for no good reason – and texting is no good reason.

    I also agree with Thistlebird: it is politer to taste everything, but it is not a requirement. I also tent to leave some dishes alone if it has something in it that makes me not feel well. Revulsion is a very good reason, and not just medical/dietary reasons. Yes, I am raised to try everything at a dinner to be polite. However, it will make it more pleasant for everyone if I am not gagging at the dinner table (as mentioned by some people earlier). I believe this thrumphs the etiquette of trying all dishes, because far more people are netatively impacted (all table guests and the host) than me not taking a bite out of a certain dish (just the host).

    Having said that: if you are visiting someone for dinner, let them know the item you are having trouble with. Just tell your friend who’s inviting you that you would love to come, but you have to mention there is something you cannot eat. Don’t say if it’s medical, dietary or if it is simply making your tasting buds cringe. Just mention you cannot eat it. When pressed, just say that you have a physical reaction if you are eating the mentioned item.
    If you are hosting yourself, always ask your guests for dietary restrictions. When I invite only one couple over, I am even more direct. I’ll simply ask my friend: “Is there anything you do not like to eat?” It’s a lot easier and less stressfull for both parties if people would just ask each other this question.

    Having said that, I realize that this was not possible in yesterdays case due to the late addition of O to the dinner. If that is the situation, there is always a risk. O did not complain about the food, he ate some (maybe he is – like me – a very small eater or had too many snacks before dinner?), and thanked OP. His rudeness came completely from leaving the table midway through dinner and texting, not from not eating enough food or tasting the salad. Especially because the reason is unknown, we cannot judge him for that.

    @Anna Wood: I think most people fix on this because most of us agree with Admin on the part where O shouldn’t have left the table, but we all disagree with her regarding the eating of all dishes.

  • Molly July 10, 2013, 10:19 am

    The Miss Manners rules posted earlier seemed to indicate that politeness demands that at least a little bit of each dish be taken and “messed up” so it LOOKS eaten. However, Miss Manners does not directly say that the food must be tasted; she acknowledges that this is potentially wasteful, but polite.

    Although I think that parents and family members would be justified in having a “taste a little of everything” rule for their children, I do not feel that the host/hostess is entitled to expect this from guests of any age. I would find it condescending for someone to pester me about trying a food that I think will be unappetizing, as if I am an idiot and they know what’s best for me. The guest is not your child or your student. You are not there to “convert” them so they see the light of how incorrect their personal preferences are. If hosts can strong-arm guests into trying foods, why not with religion, politics, sexual preferences, or any other beliefs or behavior? It is not the hosts’ place to say “try it, you might like it” if a guest is truly uncomfortable with a new experience. If you make your guest uncomfortable for your own sense of pride, how can this be a good thing?

    That being said, I certainly wish more people were willing, of their own free will, to try new things and sample any and all new foods (excepting allergies, religious taboos, etc). I just very much disagree that the host is in any position to expect guests to sample everything.

  • The Elf July 10, 2013, 10:50 am

    Re: Conversation at dinner.

    I had to share this little story. I recently had dinner with a relative who, for unknown reasons, barely talks at all during meals. He’s been this way as long as anyone in the family can remember. During a restaurant meal, he’ll minimally talk before the food arrives, says grace, then nothing afterwards. He also demands the check as soon as possible, pays it, then goes out for a smoke while the rest of us finish eating. It’s bizarre!

    You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family!

  • Marian Perera July 10, 2013, 11:01 am

    This happened to someone I know in Iqaluit (which is on Baffin Island, way north in Canada). She worked at the hospital, and a local family had come to see a patient. They brought a large pot of seal meat stew with them, and when my friend came in to check on the patient, they hospitably offered her a bowl.

    My friend didn’t want to refuse, but seal meat… well, let’s just say it’s an acquired taste and she hadn’t yet acquired it. So she took the bowl, tried a little bit, made mmm-mmm-delicious sounds and then pretended she heard someone outside the patient’s room calling her. So she went out, bowl in hand, quickly disposed of the contents and went back in. The patient’s family were so delighted she’d enjoyed their food that they immediately filled her bowl again.

  • Anonymous July 10, 2013, 11:18 am

    @Admin–Maybe he just wasn’t very hungry that day. I don’t think it’s a grievous offense to not take things you don’t want when you’re eating at someone else’s house. He did eat two out of the three items that the OP served, so I think he was fine in that regard, and since the meal was served family style, the whole point was that each person could take as much or as little as they wanted, within reason (i.e., no hogging all of one thing so that nobody else gets any). As for standing ten feet away from the table and texting, again, I’m envisioning an “open concept” scenario where the kitchen and the living room are in the same space, so in his mind, he was in another room.

  • Elizabeth July 10, 2013, 11:59 am

    If you have every spent time with a 19yo you will agree, CHILD!

  • Elle July 10, 2013, 12:12 pm

    “She asked O ahead of time if there was anything on her intended menu he could not eat and he assured her he “eats everything”

    Alternate explanation: He does not in fact eat everything but did not want to inconvenience the OP by making her change her intended menu. My MIL is a sweet lady, but she will absolutely not do anything she thinks will inconvenience or offend me even if it ends up causing me far more inconvenience and frustration in the end – and it usually does. Because the way she was raised it is *far* more impolite to voice a preference that may cause someone to change their plans.

    Alternate explanation #2: He does “eat everything” but dislikes something about the OP’s preparation of the item. Sure, I like salad. I’ll eat salad – wait, you’ve poured blue cheese dressing into the bowl before serving it? No. I’m not going to eat that salad. So which would be more rude? To not take the salad without comment (which is incidentally what *my* family taught was polite), to say I dislike the preparation of the salad, or to announce that I cannot eat salad with blue cheese dressing because it gives me the back door trots something fierce (which is the actual reason I’m not eating the salad)?

    I think O definitely has some rough edges in the manners department, but like KB I can see good – and even mannerful – intentions behind his actions. Give him a couple of years and I’m sure he’ll get a handle on it. In the meantime it would be a kindness if the OP’s kid were to take O to the side before dinner next time and say “Hey, it would be great if you could stick around while the rest of us finish this time. My mom loves talking to you about XYZ.”

    And no, grownups should not feel required to eat things they don’t like.

  • Dee July 10, 2013, 12:26 pm

    Well, with the “rule” that you have to sample everything still being debated it strikes me that, for some people, they would rather have a tense and uncomfortable guest than consider the logic of their “rule”. The number one rule has always been “when in doubt, common sense prevails”. That is the situation in this case. And “19” is only an adult in a legal reference. Here, 19 is being referred as the boy’s physical age, not as a legal matter. There are varying degrees of maturity achieved by the age of 19. My son, in his 20s, is not as mature as I was at 16. It has nothing to do with etiquette. How can it? But not factoring the developmental differences between children of the same age is a sign of immaturity on the part of the person doing the judging. And then how that person treats another person IS a matter of etiquette.

  • Dira July 10, 2013, 12:26 pm

    With respect, admin, you’re conflating different things. I’ve never tried sheep eyeballs and had to look up durian; by contrast, I and others are talking about politely refusing things we *know* we’ll have trouble getting down. No, if OP uses certain ingredients one bite ‘won’t kill [me]’ but it will nonetheless be a deeply unpleasant experience – certainly beyond what I’d want any of my guests to go through on my account.

  • Michelle C Young July 10, 2013, 12:38 pm

    Speaking of eating and running, I am reminded of a “date” I once had.

    I invited the young man over for dinner, and cooked a lovely pot roast. It was a nice family meal, or so I thought. However, my sister, who had just come home from college for the summer, was telling us about her classes. One of those classes was an entomology class – the study of insects.

    Apparently, the topic turned off my guest, because suddenly remembered that he had an appointment, and had to leave. When I asked what was the nature of the appointment, he told me “a dinner date.”


    Needless to say, I never invited him over again. I was a bit ticked at my sister, but I was much more ticked at him, because either he was scheduling two dates for the same night, or else he was lying through his teeth to me (and badly). Either of those actions would be enough to get me to never invite him again.

  • Huh July 10, 2013, 12:50 pm

    One more thing about food allergies/intolerances (as in doesn’t digest well, not I don’t like that) and then I’ll stop, I promise. As an adult, most people have been perfectly fine, or at least seemed to be fine, when I’ve said, “Oh, no thank you,” to a food item I cannot eat. I have only been pushed on it a few times, and have explained, “If I eat it, I’ll be really sick, sorry” and they’ve let it go. But as a child, I had a few adults do the old “one bite won’t hurt you.” And as a child, I listened and was very very sick because of it, leading into several confrontations by my mom with these adults.

    Please understand, I don’t care what you eat. I’m not going to make you make a special meal for me, I’m not going to throw fit if you eat something I cannot in front of me. I’m just going to look over what is offered and eat what my body will allow me to digest. But DO NOT force me to make myself sick because of you.

    One bite WILL hurt a lot people. I know several people that one bite means a trip to the E.R. For me it means I won’t be digesting much of anything the rest of the day/next day, possibly carrying over into the rest of the week.

    Some people treat food allergies/intolerances like the person is just picky or wanting attention. My poor mom had a waitress pull this on her recently when she ordered a sandwich without wheat bread, that it was just her “preference” and not “if I eat this my body will reject it in a bad way.”

    I don’t know if this was what was going on with O or not. Maybe he just doesn’t like salad. I just don’t like the thought that unless I explain to my host/hostess upfront I cannot eat A thru Z, which makes me feel like I’m being a brat and is pressuring the host to now make a special meal solely for my benefit, that I am rude or will possibly be considered rude if I say, “no thank you” to a dish that I cannot eat or that the alternative is I should never accept any dinner invitations.

    Why can’t it just be, “Huh, would you like some sweet potatoes?” “No thank you.” and that be the end of it?

  • Michelle C Young July 10, 2013, 12:59 pm

    I was raised with the “eat X number of bites of each dish on your plate” rule, back when things were different.

    1) I had a young, resilient stomach, and would not throw up after eating X-1 bites of something. I was a very adventurous eater, when I was young, but now my stomach rebels, even at old favorite dishes. What’s more, the dishes that take the most effort and are most complex, are the ones most likely to upset my stomach.

    2) We had more money for groceries. Think about this one for a minute. You’re on a fixed income. You spend your money making a lovely meal for guests, who then scoop up a bit of everything onto their plates, take two bites, and then leave the rest alone, contaminated, and you can’t use it for your own leftovers. As the hostess in this situation, I’d rather save my food for later use by my family than have it sit on someone’s plate, only to be thrown away later. Especially if it contains ingredients I cannot put in the compost bin.

    So, while I agree with admin on all the points of technical etiquette, I will always give guests a pass on this rule. In fact, I like the family-service style, where the dishes are passed around, and everyone serves themselves what they would like, from the serving dishes. No waste, and left-overs are uncontaminated. If you’re going to serve the dishes for each guest, then ASK FIRST if and how much they would like of each dish. Remember, if people take smaller servings, then they can go back for seconds, if there is still some left.

    As for these comments about “the obesity epidemic,” please remember that medical science has advanced to the point where the people who would have died early from the conditions that contribute to obesity are now able to live longer, long enough to become obese, and to pass on their genes. Also, studies have shown that 95% of all dieters who lose a significant amount (10% of total body weight), gain it all back, plus some, thus making dieting, itself, the second leading indicator of future weight gain. Yes, you read that right: 95% of dieters fail. Therefore, the intense pressure we put on people to diet is actually contributing to obesity. Hence, the “epidemic.” We used to have a much thinner populace, when we accepted people, as people, and did not try to force them into a “pretty” mold. Also, when people died of thyroid conditions, PCOS, and other issues that actually do CAUSE weight gain, and before we had organ transplants (along with the drugs that help the body accept the new organ – which drugs also cause weight gain), we also had a thinner population. A thinner, younger population. I, however, am glad that I can get treatment for my thyroid condition, and live, even though I am fat.

    So remember – body-shaming is not good etiquette.

  • LovleAnjel July 10, 2013, 3:00 pm

    I would just like to add that there are reasons that food is diatasteful other than preferences. There are several genes that alter the way food tastes. One gene makes cilantro tastes like dish soap. Being served salsa with cilantro is literally like someone mixed a half-cup of Dawn into the dish. Another set of genes causes a series of compounds to smell like rotting fish. If those compounds are in the food, it smells and therefore tastes like rotting fish. Another set of genes causes a whole set of common foodstuffs to taste horribly bitter, I’m talking poisonous bitter or even, forgive me, like feces. Imagine being served food that tastes like dish soap, smells like rotting fish, or tastes like feces. Would you really try and force yourself to eat it, hoping this one time you could make it without gagging or running to the bathroom? The politer thing, IMHO, is to politely refuse the dish.

    If you don’t believe me, google cilantro soapy or super taster.

  • delislice July 10, 2013, 3:41 pm

    “I’m sick of people’s minor allergies trumping etiquette. If it’s someone you care about then you can put up with a little gas.”

    Allergies run the gamut from mild to the-dust-of-the-food-will-kill-her. The person with the allergy knows just how allergic he or she is. It is unkind to equate actual allergies with pickiness. Some people might find that ingesting dairy products causes gas and cramping. Some people, as one poster noted above, take just a bite of something with dairy in it and vomit as a result.

    I would never require my mother to prove her love for me by eating the banana bread I baked, because I know that she is violently allergic to it.

  • Natasha Boggan July 10, 2013, 5:04 pm

    I’m 19 years old and even I wouldn’t have done that. Its common courtesy. It might feel awkward or strange, but you’re still a guest in someone else’s home.

  • Robert July 10, 2013, 6:35 pm

    In response to Vicki, our OP from the prior post…

    You asked: “How can you know you still dislike something if you are never willing to try it?”

    Simply put: Experience. Some people, and in fact most, know what they do or do not like by experience. It does not take eating that food every chance one is offered in order to provide oneself with consistent reassurance in order to know what you do and do not like.

    Personally, I do not eat mushrooms. I have had them fried, boiled, poached, sauteed, grilled…nearly every way one can prepare mushrooms that does not involve advanced degrees in chemistry or thermonuclear physics. Each time I have attempted to eat mushrooms it is because I am being presented with a new preparation that I had not tried prior. Each time, I think to myself “Maybe THIS will be the time that mushrooms do not turn my stomach.” And, each time, I am wrong. In my 30+ years on this planet, I have yet to find any dish with mushrooms that does not instantly turn my stomach.

    So, imagine how offended a guest may be if, like me, they have a long history with a food and know they do not like it, but are forced to eat it in order to not offend your sensibilities. I am assuming you fed O, or feed any guest of yours, out of a desire to feed them and engage them in a friendly conversation over a meal…not out of your desire to have them taste whatever it is you cook. If your motivations are based on getting people to eat your cooking, instead of on making your guests comfortable, then I would suggest that hosting may not be the right thing for you. A good hosts thinks of their guests first, and themselves last.

  • NostalgicGal July 10, 2013, 10:48 pm

    @ admin; as a younger person I did end up in that situation, refugee family taken in by a church in town. I had made good friends with their oldest daughter, and was invited to eat with the family. I found out later that that was an HONOR. At the time I made with good manners, ate well, enjoyed what I was eating, and made the mistake of asking what it was. One of the other siblings told me. It was not something acceptable to our palates and menus normally… dead silence. I stared at my half a plate for a few seconds. a) it had tasted really good until I was told what it was b) I had been enjoying it c) nothing I could do about the main ingredient now so d) within a minute I picked up utensils and continued to eat. Considering my age and the situation; I managed. If someone offered me the eyeball soup, I don’t know if I could eat the eyeball, but I might have some of the broth to be polite…

    Moral, most of the faux paus or such we are going on about here won’t be ‘extreme cuisine’ compared to what we’re all used to. If you end up in that situation, if you are lucky there will be a way around it. If not… wing it and pray is the best we can do. The OP here though was talking about a fairly normal meal by the sounds of it, to all that were involved….

  • NostalgicGal July 10, 2013, 10:52 pm

    @ delislice, thank you. Someone else that can’t eat bananas. I totally commensurate with your mother. My DH loves them, we make sure I don’t run afoul of them. Someone offer me banana bread, “Oh how lovely/delicious looking. I’m terribly sorry but bananas and I don’t get along…. thank you though, that does look *really* good…”

  • Anonymous July 10, 2013, 11:01 pm

    @Robert–I agree. Besides being vegan, I know that I’ll never like applesauce, or rice pudding (veganized or not), because I can’t stand the texture of either. I’m also not a big banana fan. So, if I was invited to someone’s house for dinner, and they had applesauce, rice pudding, or banana anything for dessert, I’d probably skip dessert, or if it was someone I knew reasonably well, I’d ask for the bananas to be omitted from my dessert if possible. So, I’d hate to think that someone would brand me as being “rude” for not eating things that I’m ethically opposed to, or things that make me gag. Also, Robert, I totally get the mushroom thing–I used to feel the same way, and I understand, because they’re technically fungus. Anyway, back to my main point, I think the crux of the matter is that communal meals are really supposed to be more for socializing. That’s why O was kind of rude for leaving the table prematurely (although he did clean up after himself, and he might have just been following his own family’s rules), but the OP messed up a bit by scrutinizing what O ate, and didn’t eat. The food is just there because everyone has to eat on a somewhat regular basis, but that can be accomplished by scarfing down a Clif Bar and an energy drink while rushing from one activity to the next…….but that method of feeding only satisfies a person’s need for physical nourishment, and not social interaction. The only circumstances under which I think O’s leaving and texting would be okay is if it was an open-concept scenario (living room visible from kitchen table), and if the texting was for a time-sensitive issue, like having to pick up another person from another place, or if there was an emergency at home. However, I’m not willing to cast O into E-Hell quite yet, because we don’t know that it wasn’t something like that.

  • Cannibal Queen July 11, 2013, 1:51 am

    For what it’s worth, I agree that O was rude in leaving the table early, but I believe the rudeness was clueless rather than intentional. As others have pointed out, that’s probably just how his family does things and it didn’t occur to him that others have different expectations. Mealtimes in my family were always very casual when I was growing up and it was partly through trial and error as a guest at friends’ houses that I learned the finer points of dining etiquette (though I like to think that by age 19 I would have known better!). Against that background, I appreciated when the hosts kindly explained the normal practice in their house (as other posters have suggested, a simple “why don’t you stay and chat while we finish our meal?” should have conveyed the hint) rather than assuming I was being deliberately rude.

    On the question of whether or not to try everything on the table: I am a fairly adventurous eater with no particular health issues and will usually try a bit of everything unless I absolutely know it will make me gag (eg mushrooms). As a hostess, I appreciate it when my guests at least sample whatever I’ve cooked. However, I’d rather a guest ate and enjoyed 4 out of 5 dishes on the table, than spoil their meal by insisting they partake of the tripes Lyonnaise.

    One final point: while generally agreeing with previous posters’ assessment of O’s behaviour, I feel some posters have been a bit harsh on the OP. I did not perceive the OP as being unduly picky or judgemental. OP said she liked O and found him to be generally pleasant and well-mannered. My reading was simply that she was puzzled by a couple of O’s actions that were out of keeping with his generally polite behaviour.

  • Anonymous July 11, 2013, 7:18 am

    >>One final point: while generally agreeing with previous posters’ assessment of O’s behaviour, I feel some posters have been a bit harsh on the OP. I did not perceive the OP as being unduly picky or judgemental. OP said she liked O and found him to be generally pleasant and well-mannered. My reading was simply that she was puzzled by a couple of O’s actions that were out of keeping with his generally polite behaviour.<<

    Fair enough. I think the reason people got their hackles up is because the OP painted O as a "Rude Person" (yes, even the "Politest Rude Person" is a "Rude Person"). If she'd phrased it a bit differently, like "Unintentional Rudeness At Dinner" or something, then maybe people wouldn't have rushed to O's defence (at her expense) quite so quickly.

  • Rap July 11, 2013, 11:28 am

    ““I’m sick of people’s minor allergies trumping etiquette. If it’s someone you care about then you can put up with a little gas.”

    Well, are we decided then? No excuses, if a host puts food in front of you, you must eat it no matter what you like or dislike, and no matter what physical reaction it may cause you. You are a guest and you must eat what the host gives you or else you are a rude person who has no manners. Guests need to shut up and eat what’s in front of them. Delicate palete? Stay home and never travel, after all, as a guest you must eat what a host puts in front of you no excuses. You made the decision to be a guest, so you choke it down or you stay home. There’s no middle ground. If you don’t eat a food item from your host, you’re rude and deserve to be cast in e-hell.

    Honestly, the only thing I thought the kid was rude on was leaving the table and texting. I had no idea minor allergies are not an excuse to not eat a food you’re allergic to. I’ve said this before – I think manners are for making people comfortable and not to club people with. If someone comes to my home, and I offer food, I don’t think they are *rude* and *mannerless* to refuse a dish they don’t like or have an allergy to, I think they’re fine as long as they are polite in their decline.

  • nayberry July 11, 2013, 2:52 pm

    this seems to have gotten lost in the moderation pile so resubmitting,

    I have to disagree with EDame, i abhor raw tomatoes (and most cooked) and nuts, if a dish is prepared with either i simply do not take any.
    In one case when i was younger (12 i think), a homemade tomato soup was the starter at a family meal, close family who knew my food preferences, before it was served up i politely told my aunt, (in private), i didn’t like it so i’d pass on the soup. my parents knew and understood and i still got told off by my aunt at the dinner table in front of everyone else. my mum turned to her and said “shut up sis, she already told you why she doesn’t like it. why are you bringing it up again?”

    yes O should have waited at the table, no he is not obliged to try everything.

  • Therese July 11, 2013, 8:11 pm

    Many, many year reader but first time commenter..

    There are etiquette rules that are forever going to be stable and steady. You would never catch me refusing a dish at a friend’s table or saying no unless I had a good reason to turn something down.. however, in this generation, not everyone is given the same amount of reasonable ruling on what to do. I have witnessed roommates and younger siblings’ friends due similarly and it is awful. My mother will forever not invite back a roommate who she labored over a vegetarian meatloaf dish over for Thanksgiving dish while she was already so busy with other things.

    That being said, I would not frown on the younger person committing the actions as much as sigh over what they were exposed to as children. I am twenty-six years old and STILL getting lessons on how to properly sip at lobster bisque.. not everyone has a mother like I do, however.

  • Nikki July 11, 2013, 9:15 pm

    I don’t think O was completely blameless, but I don’t think his behavior was absolutely egregious, either. I think maybe he was a little clueless, and since we should be assuming the best from our guests, I still vote for a pass in this case, especially since he is otherwise a very nice young man. I think he was just clueless, and overall, thought strange and slightly rude, his behavior was mostly harmless.

    I still take offense, however, with the strange demand that someone who might be considered a “picky eater” should never accept a dinner invitation from someone. I think perhaps picky eaters must be more conscientious about what sorts of invites they accept, but I don’t think it precludes them from being able to accept at all! I will say that, as Admin so kindly recommended, my husband (who is a very picky eater) and I will NEVER travel to certain parts of the world, because he would be starved after two days.
    I truly don’t think it is rude for a guest not to take some of everything. I think it might be rude, barring health reasons, for a guest not to take ANYTHING, but I can honestly say that as a hostess, I’d much rather my guest to enjoy everything on their plate than for them to feel like they had to take something they didn’t like just to make me happy.

  • Kirsten July 12, 2013, 7:34 am

    I think if you are a picky eater or have allergies, you need to tell someone when they invite you over to eat. When the host asks – as a host always should – (or even if they fail to) and you don’t tell them, then I’m sorry but you’re being very rude – you’re exposing them to possibly wasting time, money and effort on something you can’t eat, that they’d never have made had they realized.

    I have no problem at all working around allergies and preferences when cooking for my guests, but if someone says they can eat everything, then announces at dinner that actually, they can’t eat X, Y and Z, they won’t be coming back – they’ve put me in a really difficult situation and wasted my hospitality. If someone tells me they eat everything (as O did), then hardly touches the food, I will probably assume that they don’t like it, but I don’t think it’s a faux pas. That’s just life, and O did thank his hostess for the food.

    I think the ‘you should try everything’ is a red herring here – I can’t see why anyone should have to eat something they don’t like. O’s rudeness to me is solely about his leaving the table, telling the OP’s son to stay, then texting. If he’s polite enough to thank the OP for feeding him, I really, really doubt that he doesn’t know this is bad manners.

  • Erin July 12, 2013, 3:12 pm

    No matter what you think of O’s behavior, OP was far more rude by nitpicking her guest. He was at least trying to be polite. She was looking for an excuse to complain. It doesn’t “absolve” him to notice that. It’s too bad we have to use the lawful good interpretation of etiquette – stick to the rules, but don’t worry about being nice.

  • Gilraen July 13, 2013, 6:53 am

    I’d agree with OP here. O was incredibly rude. As a guest you do not excuse yourself from the table and then continue to converse with somebody that is not physically there. What the guest did was making incredibly clear that he did not want to be there but sugar coated it with all kinds of positive comments and excuses.
    Sort of as long as you say sorry you cannot be wrong, and that is not true

  • ali July 13, 2013, 11:57 am

    I think O was rude to get up from the table and text.

    But I think the OP is being really rigid with the everyone must taste everything offered thing. The OP asked ” How can you know you still dislike something if you are never willing to try it?”

    How do you know that O hasn’t already tried what you served and knew he didn’t like it.

    If it’s something I’ve never had before I’m willing to take a small portion and try it and eat it. But if it’s something I’ve had before and I know I don’t like it then I’m going to pass.

    I don’t like tomatoes except in certain salsas, tomato sauce, and sometimes ketchup. I really hate the texture/taste of raw tomatoes. From the first time my parents made me try tomatoes (fresh from their garden) I haven’t liked them. I didn’t like them when I was 19 and I don’t like them now that I’m 40.

    If someone had, as a side dish, a salad mostly of tomatoes or tomatoes and cucumbers (a Southern thing and I don’t like cucumbers either) then I wouldn’t take it. Because I know I don’t like it. I wouldn’t make a face or a comment I’d just pass on eating something I know I don’t like.

    I will admit there are things I didn’t think I liked but after repeated attempts at trying them I’ve discovered I like them in small doses. But this wasn’t something that happened at someone’s house or at a dinner party it was a controlled experiment on my part and over different attempts and occasionally the attempts included me gagging. Not really something I want to do in front of a host.

  • Margo July 13, 2013, 2:47 pm

    I agree with Cannibal Queen – I think O was rude, but not deliberately so – it sounds to me as though he was trying to be polite, but was rather clueless about what would be polite. I think his age is relevant. At 19 he **ought** to know better, but he’s still pretty young, and may not have had much experience. (And OP mentioned that she likes him and he is generally a nice young man, so presumably he is not generally rude or inconsiderate)

    Also, it did strike me that someone might say “I eat everything” in good faith and then find something on a host’s table which s/he doesn’t eat – but which they have not thought about because it is something they are never offered at home, or a combination that they’ve not come across. (I recall visiting a relative. She asked me if there was anything I didn’t eat, and I told her I eat most things but don’t care for prawns or blue cheese. I didn’t say that I don’t eat brussells sprouts with strong mustard sauce because it would never occur to me that they might be served like that. I thought of mustard as a condiment, and it wouldn’t have occurred to me that it would be such an integral part of the vegetable dish.)

  • whoop July 13, 2013, 3:47 pm

    This post and follow-up brought up a lot of emotions for me, because, although I was a very self-aware and polite 19 yo, I probably would have acted very similarly to “O” at his age. I have a condition called “misaphonia” that went undiagnosed for 18 years (mainly because it is still a very little-understood condition). The way I usually explain it to people these days is that I have an “allergy to certain sounds”. These sounds usually are associated with eating: chewing, swallowing, clanking utensils, etc. Up until now, however, I did not have the vocabulary to explain it to others. It is a very lonely disease because people simply do not understand. Many of us who suffer with misaphonia live in guilt and shame because of situations like the one that “O” may have experienced. It is so hard to tell people that, although you love them, the normal, everyday sounds that they are making are so abhorrant to you that you must leave immediately before you start screaming. You tell yourself that you can get through it if you just have enough willpower. But, unfortunately, the more you expose yourself to the sound, the worse your reaction gets.

    I find myself having to be “politely rude” to people constantly. I once had to hang up on a coworker mid-sentence because she was chewing gum while she was talking to me (the receiver was amplifying the sound to the point that even after I hung up, I had to hide in the bathroom for twenty minutes while I contained myself. I could barely work for the rest of the day due to flashbacks).

    It is possible that “O” may have been dealing with the same thing, If he put earphones into his ears when he turned to his phone, it is possible that he was attempting to block out the sound of eating with music or white noise. I cannot know any of this for sure, of course, and absent of misaphonia I think that “O”‘s actions should rightly be considered rude. However, I just wanted to bring up a possible exception to the admin’s suggestions on dining etiquette.

  • Another Sarah July 15, 2013, 5:39 am

    Whilst not trying to do the eating question to death as an awful lot of people have commented, I think the Miss Manners post was quite explicit and can be summed up as this:
    1) If you are handed a plate of food, you eat it. If you genuinely hate/are allergic to/cannot eat for whatever reason something, you make it look as if you have tried it so as not to offend your host. In terms of cross-contamination worries, it’s acceptable to speak up, but the right time to say something is BEFORE the meal
    2) If you are serving yourself, serve yourself. If you don’t want something, don’t take it.
    Therefore in this instance, O was not rude about the food because he was serving himself. If a plate had been handed to him with his food on, he should have eaten it, however OP states that he took food, implying it was served on platters. He had no obligation to take something he didn’t want, whatever the reason.
    I do think it’s rude to take food you don’t intend to eat, thereby depriving someone who might have enjoyed it.

    In terms of leaving the table early, I was always taught that you put your cutlery together neatly on the plate to indicate you are done eating. Then you take your lead from your host, who might ask if you want to leave or might wait until everyone is finished.
    I suspect O has not been taught the “everyone stays till the meal is done” rule, but I do think he should have been looking for social cues – such as the family’s obvious confusion when he got up. As the first to finish, I would have waited until somebody else did to see what the family custom was.

    However I am not going to castigate him for either telling his friend to carry on eating (which I think was intended as reassurance, not an order) or for getting his phone out. Both actions would imply to me that something urgent was going on that needed his attention, and if he was polite in other areas (which he was) then I would let it go, particularly as he made a point of stepping away from the table to use his phone.

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