Etiquette School is in session! > Complete Silence

Christmas host from E-hell

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Hi, new here and this is my first post.  This is also probably the most egregious example of bad etiquette I have ever personally experienced.  Here goes.

Background: My brother met his girlfriend (now, unfortunately, his wife) in early 2010.  She moved in with him that summer.  Both she and my brother are perfectionist, OCD type people although she is 10 times worse than my brother.  For the first 9 months, she appeared to not want to get to know my family at all.  She avoided our family events, limited the amount that my brother had previously entertained at his house and was in general rude at the events she did attend or *allowed* to happen.  I chalked it up as a social disorder and tried to give her the benefit of the doubt.    /bg

My brother, J, has a large, centrally-located house and is often the one in our family to host large holiday gatherings.  He has always seemed to enjoy this and is the first to offer up his house. It was our first Christmas after my brother moved in his new girlfriend, whom I will call Bertha.  My brother's gatherings have always been very casual and informal and we've always been made to feel very welcome there.  J and Bertha offered to host our large extended family's Christmas potluck gathering.  I have lots of second cousins who all have multiple young children.  Unfortunately, that side of the family often disregards the potluck aspect of celebrations and doesn't bring any food, let alone enough to feed their families of 5 and 6 people. 

When my cousins started to arrive sans food, it quickly became apparent to me and others that there would not be enough food for everyone.  Also, my husband and I are vegetarian and someone had made delicious meatballs that had me craving the veggie version (Bertha and others had also not made many veggie options, so there wasn't much for me and the husband to eat).  My husband and I made a run for the store for veggie meatballs and to make a simple pizza bread and veggie tray so that there would be extra food for everyone.  I got back, prepared the pizza bread and made sure to clean up my mess and pack away my extras as I know how OCD J and Bertha are. 

Later that evening, I was engrossed in talking to family when Bertha approached me and said something to the effect that my mom was in the kitchen cleaning up my mess and it wasn't really fair to make her do that.  Confused, I went to the kitchen to see my mom cleaning up a general mess, not mine necessarily.  I told her what Bertha said and offered to help.  She waved me out, saying she enjoyed taking care of the hosting duties.  I found out later that my "mess" involved some Parmesan cheese left on the stove when someone removed the pan I had used to make the pizza bread (it was one of those pizza pans with holes in it to allow for aeration and the cheese sprinkled through).  The pan was left on the stove because there was no other room to put the pizza bread overflow. 

Sometime later, I saw my brother standing off to himself with no one else around.  I went up to him and tried to explain that I had no idea there was even a mess made, that the pan had been left there due to no room, etc.. He became very nasty with me and said that I had no right to prepare any dish at his house and that I had left my bags of leftovers on the counter.  Again, I tried to explain that my two bags (in which I neatly packed all my materials) were left there due to no space and that I had only gotten the extra food to accommodate everyone.  He continued being rude and nasty to me, saying I was messing up his house and that he and Bertha had to clean up after my mess and it wasn't fair to them, etc.. I told him that we didn't feel welcome in his house and so we were going to leave.  His reply?  "Good, I don't want you here anyway." We left.

My mom told me later on that my brother was very frazzled that night because my cousins pushed their children downstairs with no supervision and that they were smearing cupcakes on the wall and carpet.  Bertha was also apparently constantly on him all night not to allow any messes.  I don't know why he took it out on me, but to this day he has never really apologized for his actions.  I hosted our immediate family's Christmas at my new house this past Christmas and didn't care if people prepared dishes here or made a normal "mess" -- I consider it all part of being a good hostess.  I tried to have a good relationship with my brother and let bygones be bygones, but recently have had to limit contact with him after he has consistently refused to treat me with even basic respect. 

Welcome to the board =)

Ahhh... family. I have two difficult brothers that I no longer share a relationship with. I understand. It's hurtful when they say terrible things. You want to try and reach out, and keep things nice, because it's family.

I don't have perfect advice, but I have to say that over time, my life has been better without them. They're negative, they're manipulative, and sometimes I still feel sad for what might have been in another universe, but I do feel free of them in this universe. And that's worth it.

I say nothing about them. My mother might bring up what they're doing, or my other brother might mention them in some offhand way. I nod politely, tongue firmly clamped between my teeth, and when they're done speaking about the older brothers, I change the subject.

The best you can probably do is to continue being polite when you must see J & Bertha at other family gatherings, and choose never to see the inside of their house ever again. Though, I suspect after their terrible hosting and general off-putting attitude that you'd never want to go inside after that one Christmas.

OP, welcome to the board.  I have a very tense relationship with my SIL.  She has a lot of emotional baggage and my brother feels that it is his responsibility to keep her calm.  Our family ends up walking on eggshells around her a lot of the time, but I refuse to give her the option of saying to him "You're family did (insert perceived insult)".  He has enough to deal with.

I would say remain polite when you have to be around your brother and Bertha, but you don't have to go out of your way to please them.

While I can understand your desire to be helpful, I would be upset too if I was hosting a party and someone else took over without even consulting me.

You hijacked the hosting duties by buying food and preparing it in their kitchen without so much as a by-your-leave. They had every right to be upset over what you did.

I do think that they reacted badly to everything going on, but they were not unjustified in their feelings.

I have to agree with the PP that you were in the wrong here.  Unless your brother or SIL asked you to go out and get more food to feed the troops, I think you overstepped.  Yes, your intentions were good but if your bro and SIL are OCD as you say, you put a crack in their controlled plans.  Mess or no mess, just being in the kitchen doing your thing without consulting me first would be enough to upset me if that were my house.  I think the right thing to do would have been to just eat what you could, or not, and leave early and get something to eat afterwards.  Or, ask them "Can I help with anything?  Cooking? Cleaning?  Store run?" and let them decide how to best use you as a resource.


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