I have a strange query, which I am hoping someone will help me get to the bottom of, as it has plagued me for 2 years now.
My Husband and I both live in Town A, where there are some lovely chain pubs (for those who are American, a pub doesn’t just serve alcohol but food, drinks and usually has a children’s soft play center attached) which serve a full menu in the evening.
My In-laws live in a small village where there is only one ‘food serving’ restaurant. More often than not they come to our Town A to celebrate parties, events and social occasions, which is what happened at the end of March this year.
It is important to note that I am pregnant and suffering from extremely low blood sugar levels and find it difficult to eat a full meal. I have actually lost around 4stone in weight and still have 8 weeks until my due date. Pregnancy has been tough on me physically and mentally and my in-laws are aware of my “food issues”.
It was Mother-in-law’s birthday and my Husband and I had decided to treat her and Father-in-law to a meal at their favorite pub. It was suggested we get a “sharing starter platter” which consists of 4 slices of garlic bread, some chicken wings, popcorn chicken, some small pieces of battered fish, onion rings and several large pots of dip. Due to my pregnancy I can only eat the bread and chicken items, as onions and fish have been ‘triggers’ for my sickness.
My Husband and I agreed to whatever Mother-in-Law wanted, as it was her birthday celebration. We divvied up the food upon arrival and everyone got stuck in.
Then an issue arose. Mother-in-Law had seen I didn’t want to “dip” my food into the larger pots, but had instead put a small amount of sauce on my plate from a sachet and was using that. My reasoning behind this should be obvious. I’m pregnant with a low immune system, I had no idea if Mother or Father in law had a cold/were developing a cold. I had no clue if either of them had washed their hands (we arrived shortly after them) and I also know (thanks to a chemical biologist friend) that every time food is “double-dipped”, over a thousand bacteria are transferred to the dip potentially making the dip full of germs and other nasties. Needless to say Mother and Father in law were both double-triple dipping their foods and Mother- in-Law has a nasty habit of sucking her fingers and sticking them into the pot to retrieve a piece of food that has fallen into the dip, meaning everything in her mouth is now in the sauce. She also bites/chews her fingernails and is not very hygiene aware when it comes to keeping fingernails clean, preferring to bite them down so the “dirt can’t stick under them”.
So instead of eating the “correct” way, I chose to put a little sauce on my plate. Mother-in-Law proceeded to put the pots of dip in front of me and asked me to use them. I declined, and began to explain at which point she shrugged and said, “We’re all family.”
Whilst I agree we are all family, and I usually have a fairly good relationship with my In-laws, I feel I had a reason to not eat “‘communally”‘ from the sauces and it shouldn’t have been pointed out. She also critisized my choice of meal (from the children’s menu) stating I simply wasn’t eating enough. I know I am unable to eat enough for myself and my baby at the moment, which is why my GP has prescribed high-sugar, high-carbohydrate marsh mellow cakes, which I have to eat every 2 hours. I simply wasn’t very hungry and I still struggle to eat an adult sized portion.
We ate our main courses and when dessert was bought out (a chocolate cake, I had baked especially for Mother in Law, as I knew it was her favorite) she proceeded to give me the first slice, saying I was too “germaphobic” to be allowed any other piece as the knife would be “pre-used”. Again, I said nothing and my Husband didn’t hear as he was at the bar settling the bills.
Should I have called her out? Should I have bent to the request to use the communal sauces? Should I have pointed out their germs could endanger our unborn baby? I’m really not sure what is the etiquette approved way to deal with this and would like some tips as this is a regular occurrence. I usually just remain quiet and refuse to get drawn in (bean-dip anyone?) but it’s starting to really bug me as I have 8 weeks of pregnancy left and don’t want my baby exposed to germs and bacteria in this way. Please help! 0517-14
The answers to your questions are, “No, No, and, No.” This really isn’t about food sharing or pregnancy or germs but rather the age old problem family members have with each other. The reality of life is that someone in your family, usually the in-laws, will annoy the bejeebers out of you. That person will push every button you have. We all have one of them in the family and that person tests our composure on a routine basis.
The solution is to simply do what you feel you need to do with as little fanfare as possible and ignore the drama. You certainly do not need to explain to relatives why you happen to put dips on a plate instead of taking it straight out of the dipping pot or give an account of your medical status to justify certain choices. If MIL’s behavior is intended to get a rise out of you, you don’t rise to take the bait because that would be rewarding her and despite what people think, etiquette is not always about making people comfortable. Sometimes uncomfortable is good..such as the awkward silence that follows a rude question or demand that one explains oneself.
If this is a regular occurrence, you should be steeling yourself for the inevitable and by that I mean being prepared to smile benignly and keep on knoshing down on the food with as much gusto as you can manage while murmuring, “This is delicious. You made such a good choice in food, MIL.” Just because MIL starts a particular line of discussion does not mean you have to follow. Power is when you can either ignore it and let the poor topic die a lonely death or you take command and redirect it to a topic you’d rather discuss instead.
Nor does your family want to hear you pontificate on the evils of germs and food sharing so zip it.