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This year my family spent Christmas at my aunt's house. Now my aunt seems to be a normal person- she's upper middle class, married with kids, and has never done anything that makes her seem "crazy."  My present included a food basket with an open box of tea, that had MISSING tea bags. This would have been ok, if maybe she just put a few bags in the basket randomly, or if they were expensive teas. They were just regular, cheap bags in a torn open box. And my Dad received a little jar of popcorn with the safety seal broken and some popcorn was missing! I feel the need to return the favor next year... perhaps a box of half-eaten chocolates?


Now the holidays are over, I have time to look back at the season and send some of my IL's to the depths of etiquette hell.  This Christmas takes the cake.  DH and I spent Christmas Day at his parents house.  MIL and FIL are very lovely people and gracious hosts.  They spent days preparing for a nice Christmas dinner.  Unfortunately, the side of the family that was invited for Christmas Day has a severe lack of manners.  It amazes me that FIL is related to the rest of his family.

MIL and FIL requested that DH and I arrive at their house an hour and a half before dinner to exchange gifts privately and have some quiet, quality family time.  While we were in the midst of exchanging, the door bell rings....over and over and over.  The ringer pushed the bell continuously, until MIL opens the door.  Aunt Mary, her grown son Cousin George, his son Georgey and Cousin George's (surprise) girlfriend are at the door.  They have arrived 40 minutes early, with an unexpected guest!  MIL, the impeccable hostess, invites them in, rushes around to set another place at the already cramped table and get out drinks and appetizers for the early birds. MIL does not get to finish opening her presents.  

Unexpected girlfriend has another surprise for MIL and FIL.  She brought food.  More accurately, she brought several grocery bags of food that needed to be prepared, not a covered dish.  She promptly took over the kitchen and began cooking away.  We could hear a constant stream of requests for things like cutting boards, knives, stock pots and space on the stove.  She proceeded to make massive quantities of baklava, spinach and potatoes.

Shortly after 2:00, more family arrives at the house.  Sixteen year old cousin Ella goes straight to the couch, grabs a throw blanket and goes to sleep.  She sleeps through the pasta course and most of the turkey course.  She is not sick and her parents say nothing to her.  During dinner her father has to tell DH multiple times about the wonderful crab leg feast they enjoyed the night before.  Uncle Farley tells DH that a random person ate five pounds of crab legs all by himself and asks DH if he misses eating sea food.  DH loves sea food, especially crab legs.  Unfortunately, in the past year, DH has developed a sea food allergy and how has to carry and epi-pen at all times.  His family knows this and loves to rub it in.   Additional comments included "Are you sure you don't want to give them another try? It won't kill you."  It very well might.  Throughout the rest of dinner, Uncle Farley and Uncle Mack monopolize the conversation by trading racist and ethnic jokes.

Its finally time for dessert.  Uncle Farley's daughter, Amanda comes over for dessert with her boyfriend and (surprise) her boyfriend's father.  BF's father has a (surprise) new kitten that he can't leave home, or in a kennel for the weekend so he brings it in the house, without a carrier.  He allows the cat to climb over the furniture, the guests sitting on the furniture (and me without my Allegra) and up the Christmas tree.  He looked very surprised when MIL and FIL were upset about the cat in the now-shaking Christmas tree.  I decorate cakes for a hobby so I brought a layer cake for dessert.  Many people thought my cake was made by a neighbor who does cakes as a side business.  Her work is beautiful so it was a great compliment for me.  However, Uncle Mack, now out of Polish and Chinese jokes, told me that he gives my cake an E for effort.  Some people should leave their thoughts to themselves. 

Eventually we finally move on to the gift exchange.  DH and I are on a tight budget and his extended family is very large.  I love to bake and make candy so every year we give them boxes of homemade goodies.  The topper of the day is that not one member of the extended family thanked us for our gifts.



We have been driving down from Wisconsin to Chicago for the holidays pretty consistently over the years (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, birthdays, showers, etc.). We have a very gracious Aunt who usually host Thanksgiving and sometimes Christmas dinner. This past year she sold her home and moved into the city from a suburb and was unable to host any holiday gatherings, but she went out of her way and hosted Thanksgiving at her country club for 16 of us! Here's where the story gets good. At this Thanksgiving dinner, my SIL brings along an uninvited guest and does not tell the host ahead of time. We are seated at two large round tables and nobody noticed until the final family member arrives and has no seat. Short scramble and nothing is said.

Two weeks later said SIL puts out the word that she's hosting Christmas, but she doesn't have the balls to also say she's charging for it. She let's her Mother spread the word. And she's charging $50 per PERSON! Even to the Aunt and Uncle who hosted Thanksgiving!! Now just so you know what kind of person we're dealing with here - she remodeled her kitchen 2 years ago for a total cost of $200,000 (not exaggerating) and the excuse for charging guests - we can't afford the grocery bill.

We were fortunately able to avoid attending. This isn't the only story about her - just the latest.



I could tell that the honeymoon was kinda-sorta over between my friends the Fattersons (not their real name, but an apt description of them) and me. Judy Fatterson thrived on conflict and controversy, and for a while, we had enough events going on in our joint management of a private club that she'd breathlessly call me every other day. (That and the wedding of the sister-in-law she hated.) But when the controversy died down and the storms passed, Judy completely lost interest in me. She'd once invited me over weekly, and even encouraged me to move into her neighborhood, but apparently only needed my friendship when there was dirt to dish. After a couple of tries at getting them to join me for dinner, to which I got some bizarre responses (for example, RSVPing not a second before 5:00 p.m. the day of the dinner, when I'd already figured they weren't coming, eaten on my own, and planned to go out to a movie), I let them go.

So I was surprised when this last Fourth of July, she called and invited me to come out to her small suburb, join her husband Rick and her for a BBQ, and then accompany them to a fireworks show in a neighboring small town. "Sure," I said, "is there anything you want me to bring?" Sure enough, I was to shop for and bring the entire feast. Hamburgers, hot dogs, condiments, dessert, sodas, chips, and all the trimmings. I shopped, and packed everything up in a cooler to take over to the Fatterson house.

Apparently, Judy was worried that I might make poor decisions at the store, so she'd sent Rick out to buy duplicates of everything she'd told me to get. I was also dismayed to discover that their house was the filthiest I've ever seen it -- and I'd seen this house get mighty bad. The dining room table and several of the chairs were piled high with weeks' accumulation of mail and stuff. There wasn't a clean dish in the house. The stench of an unclean bathroom and the cats' litterboxes competed to make my eyes water. The vacuum had obviously not yet come out of hibernation for the summer. There was no place on the table or kitchen counters for any of the perishables I'd just bought, and no room in the fridge, either. I left them in the cooler on the kitchen floor.

All several hundred pounds of Judy was parked in her recliner. I sat in the family room with her for a while (Rick was still at the store when I arrived, buying the same stuff I'd just bought) and chatted, but I knew that if we wanted to get a spot for the fireworks show, we'd better get the BBQ going. I mentioned this to Judy, and she said, "OK, better get started then," but remained lounged in the recliner. So I got up and got things going: slicing tomatoes and lettuce for hamburgers, forming patties, washing some dishes, etc. The whole time, Judy clucked, "Oh, you don't have to do that! Oh, I can help you with that! That's so nice of you, you don't have to do that! I'll get that!" while remaining beached in her chair. The meal was cooked and ready to serve (from platters balanced precariously on chairs and wherever I could find room), and she was still saying, "Oh, I'll get that, don't worry." Hilarious.

The TV was on the entire time. Since I choose not to have cable TV at my house, that makes me underprivileged in the eyes of such as Judy and Rick, who watch TV virtually every moment they're in the house. They had hours of TiVO'd content from HBO that Judy insisted we watch, because, as she expressed, it was just a tragedy that I didn't have cable at home and was missing all this great stuff. It was a beautiful July day, one of the only Fourths we've ever had where it didn't rain on us, but we were stuck inside watching TiVO.

Finally, around 8 p.m., it came time to leave for the fireworks show. Judy wanted to leave an hour later, because she was in the middle of watching a program, but I prevailed, arguing what a lovely night it was, and that we'd get the best spot. Judy and Rick, who are barely ambulatory because of their weight, grumbled about having to walk less than two blocks carrying their folding picnic chairs. (If we'd left later, the walk would have been even longer, but don't confuse them with the facts.) Then Judy began complaining about being outside around bees that simply weren't there. "I'm allergic to bees," she repeated multiple times, never mind that she was fully armed with EPI pens in the unlikely event that some invisible bee should stray off course and into her massive and fully-covered flesh. As the sun set, she started complaining that it was cold. They made a couple more backhanded clucks of pity that I didn't live in a nice, wealthy, bedroom community like theirs so I couldn't see fireworks in a nice neighborhood and had to drive all the way out to their place. I was also supposed to hang my head in shame for not having satellite radio and Internet phone service, and for not purchasing $1,200 purebred Maine Coons like their cats. ("Funny how people talk about their cats like they must be Maine Coons because they look like Maine Coons," Judy sniffs. "They're so ignorant! There's a huge difference between having just a big long-haired cat from the pound and having a purebred cat with a registered pedigree.") Judy alternately expressed pity for my lifestyle, impoverished by a lack of trendy purchases and subscriptions as it is, and sniveled about the chill, the dark, and the bugs.

When the fireworks ended, I drove us back to Judy and Rick's. Judy said I should "hang out" and finish watching whatever show it was she'd already clicked on before the front door closed. The assault by cat box reek pretty much forced my decision. I began collecting the food I'd brought and made to leave. Judy made one more remark about how I should join the 21st century and get satellite TV, and I'd had it. I snotted "Wow, the stuff you guys buy makes you, like, so cool," said goodnight, and walked out.

Haven't seen or spoken to them since. I'm done with the Fattersons. It was Independence Day, after all.


Swami Ehelldame will now make a prediction that at least a dozen people will email me demanding to know what relevance the weight of this couple had to do with the etiquette involved.  


This is a Christmas dinner story. John and Mary, old friends of my SO invited us to Christmas dinner. It was to be a small, low key event. The only other guests would be June and Wd, Mary's elderly parents, and Daisy Mae (Mary's cousin) and her fourth husband, Abner. A nice adult dinner, no children, no big celebration. My SO is disabled and tires very easily, so this was just he kind of event that suited him.

We arrived at the appointed time to find Mary very upset. A whole half hour before diner, Daisy called up and said "we're just leaving now, I'm bringing six people, Bye." Leaving Mary spluttering on a dead line. Turns out that Daisy had indeed invited herself & her husband a few days before and Mary was happy to include them, but not a noisy crowd, including a toddler. Mary was frantic. The table had only been set up for six and her was probably to enough food, and Mary was just not prepared for such a crowd.

Daisy arrived shortly thereafter with five of her entourage-her two grown sons, her teenage grandson, #1 son's girlfriend, and girlfriend's two year old son. Girlfriend was dressed in a very skimpy cocktail outfit, Don't worry about extra food, explained Daisy. She'd brought hors d'oeuvres. Leftovers from her party the day before-some very old boiled shrimp, a half eaten veggie tray plus leftover dips, and some pastry-covered Brie that had been reheated one too many times and was now shoe leather.

John offered a selection of wines, which the entourage refused. "We are Scotch drinkers!" John delved into his liquor cabinet and found two bottles: El Cheapo and Old Expensive. Only Old Expensive would do for the entourage. Abner took one look at the already opened bottle of Old Expensive and accused John of pouring the cheap stuff into the expensive bottle just so he could foist it off on his guests. Once that was settled, Daisy , her husband, #1 son and girlfriend settled down to getting drunk and whooping it up.

Toddler began behaving like a toddler, getting into everything. He climbed onto my SO's wheelchair and when I asked Girlfriend to curb him, she complied by bringing in a wagon full of Toddler's Christmas gifts, all of which were designed to make lots of noise. My SO and the frail June and Ward began to look like they had serious headaches as the noise level gets higher and higher,.

I went into the kitchen to help Mary finish dinner, #1 son popped his head in. Did we need help? If so, he'd order Girlfriend to come in and assist us. Uh,no thank you.

Dinner was served as a buffet. The entourage pushed ahead of June, Ward and my SO in his wheelchair. Since seating was limited, John announced he was having dinner in the living room and suggested the other men join him.. #2 son, bless his heart, realized there was not enough food and declared he had already eaten. No one believed him, but it was a nice gesture. (He later told Mary that, on the way over to her house, Daisy had confided that they weren't invited, but she had said nothing to Mary until the last minute because "that way , John and Mary can't turn you away.") Daisy Mae makes loud jokes about the testosterone club in the living room. People are bouncing up and down and running around. Mary's parents are looking stunned. Daisy says to Uncle Ward, "I see you need a walker now to get around., You must feel awful being crippled. " My SO is unable to eat, due to the noise and activity. We finally agree we have to get out of there--he simply can't handle it. We graciously plead a headache and leave. John and Mary understand perfectly why we are leaving; they apologize profusely to us for the awfulness--I apologize profusely for leaving them in the lurch. I get my SO home and he promptly goes to bed, he is so exhausted.

Uninvited guest #6 shows up, gets food and replaces Teenager at the dinner table. . I never was introduced to her so have no idea who she was.

My SO has had it. It has been one of his bad days and he cannot handle the noise and bustle. I feel like a cad for deserting John and Mary, but I've got to get him out of there, I make personal and profuse apologies to each person, especially Mary, and we leave. #2 son offers to help us get out the door and get the wheelchair loaded. Everyone else is just interested in getting loaded.

But wait! There's more! Two days later we discover that my SO's fatigue was due to the fact that he was coming down with shingles. Shingles is a very painful disorder caused by a resurgence of the virus that causes chicken pox. Someone with shingles can transmit chicken pox to a non-immune person. I do not know how to reach Girlfriend to tell her that her son has been exposed to chicken pox, so I have to ask Mary to do so. Mary calls #1 son, An hour later, Daisy calls Mary. Daisy is livid. "How DARE you! Don't you know that they don't have health insurance? And Abner and I have never had chicken pox either. How could you do this to us?" As if we somehow knew that my S/O had shingles and was contagious and we were amusing ourselves by spreading disease across the land. She then slammed the phone down.

Epilogue, No one got chicken pox. Mary and John told Daisy and Abner that they are no longer welcome in John & Mary's home. My SO survived shingles.



I've had conversations with friends about my mother in law, "Flo", and what happened after Christmas this year, and some say I overreacted and some say I didn't.  I'll let you decide.

Flo is mother to my husband, "John".  John and I have been married 3 years.  Usually, John buys Christmas gifts for his family and I buy for mine, as it's easier for us to pick out things for our own family and it's a good way to split up the shopping.  This year, however, I decided to pick out something for Flo while I was buying something for my own mother.  I picked out a lovely black wool dressy winter hat that was pricey, and a matching scarf, both with a very good brand name.  I also included a hand-beaded Indian hand mirror.  She is single, and dates frequently, and I thought the hat and scarf would be very pretty out on a date in the cold weather.

She opened the gift and tried on the hat and scarf and said that she loved them.  The next day, she emailed me, and I do have to say that she did try to be very nice about asking, but nevertheless, she asked me where we purchased the hat and scarf because she wanted to return them. 

Here's where the fundamental question comes in:  I have been taught to always accept gifts graciously, even if the gift is something I don't particularly want or like.  (In Flo's case, I've had to be "gracious" for almost every gift she's ever given me.)  Flo believes that if she receives a gift she'll never use or doesn't want, she'd rather return it and get something so that I, the giver, get my money's worth because it won't be sitting in a closet somewhere never being used.  So who is right?  Or are we both right?

Beyond this fundamental question, our email conversation (which is always the case with email conversations - we should have had this out over the phone at least) consisted of me telling her that it hurt my feelings that she wanted to return the items, and her telling me that I obviously had gotten her something that I liked, rather than what she liked, and that she doesn't like hats because they ruin her hairdo, and that she has a closet full of scarves and doesn't need any more.  John, my husband, got way more into the argument than I did, and subsequently, they are no longer speaking to each other.

Her solution to the whole gift fiasco is to have our family do a Pollyanna - the type where you list 3 things you want to receive, and the "giver" then chooses which of the 3 things you listed to give to you.  I guess that would solve the problem of someone not liking a gift, all right, but I think it also takes the joy out of it too.  I suggested that instead, she take the money she would spend on us, and go get herself something, since essentially that's what a Pollyanna like that does.  I do think those kinds of gift exchanges are sometimes okay, but usually not with FAMILY.  Co-workers, maybe.  Not family.

At least now, because she's not speaking to us, we're off the hook altogether for gifts for her, and her for us.


Picture the scene- my 21st birthday. Instead of having a family meal that evening, my friend 'Emma', persuaded me to go out with her, her boyfriend, and another friend we had in common. I called her on the day, and told her that we should meet in a certain pub in town X at eight o'clock. "But I wanted to go out in Y!" Emma cried, and knowing that, if I didn't go along with it, she'd do her best to be miserable and drag the evening down, I agreed to change my plans.

So we met in another pub. I hardly drank as I was on anti-biotics, and "Emma" said she wouldn't drink too much because she didn't want me to feel left out. 'How kind' I thought. Wrong. Every time someone went up to the bar, she'd say, "Oh, I'll have a Coke, because I'M NOT ALLOWED TO DRINK, KATE CAN'T, SO SHE WON'T LET ME EITHER!" Mildly amusing the first time, but I soon began to feel that my big milestone birthday was quickly turning into a washout.

Later, we decamped to a local club. (One that I expressly asked that we shouldn't go to, but never mind.) 'Emma' loves male attention, and started flirting with the rancid old blokes at the bar. 'Dave', her boyfriend, was a bit drunk, and I could see he was getting annoyed. 'Emma' saw it too, and she stepped it up a notch- she started touching the blokes, stroking their hair, and trying to get them to dance. 'Dave' came up to me and said 'Look, I'm really sorry Kate, but if I stay here I'll end up shouting, or I'll hit someone. I know your birthday's been a bit crap, we'll go out next weekend, just us, I'll make it up to you.' So 'Dave' and our other friend went home, leaving 'Emma' and I. Now, I'm very shy, and I have poor hearing, so it's difficult for me in clubs to talk to people. I wandered about a bit, feeling very lost, and eventually found 'Emma' in a corner with another girl. As I approached, she looked straight at me, and then turned back to her conversation. At a bit of a loss, I sat next to them. For two and a half hours I sat there, unable to lip-read because they were resolutely turned away from me. I tried to join in, but each time I tried, they would just look at me like I had spoken Martian. 'Emma' and the other girl would occasionally get up and go to the bar (she'd quickly abandoned the 'selfless' alcohol ban), but I was very pointedly NOT offered a drink.

At kicking-out time, four o'clock, I asked 'Emma' if she wanted to share a cab home. She said that she was getting a lift in her friend's car (who, by this stage, was so drunk she kept falling off her high-heels). I asked, pleaded with her to get a lift with me, I even offered to pay the whole fare. I really didn't want to wait God knows how long for a taxi, in the dark, on my own, at four in the morning, in an extremely rough part of town. To my shame, I accepted a lift home with the drunk woman. When we were dropped off at 'Emma's' house, I expected that I could call a taxi, and perhaps we'd have a cup of tea while I waited for it to arrive. How naive of me. We got to the front door, and 'Emma' said, "Oh, I'm so tired. I'm going to bed. You'll have to wait outside for your cab, I want to lock up. You don't mind, do you?' and then shut the door on me.

So that's how I marked my passage to adulthood- waiting outside a 'friend's' house for an hour, sober, on the seafront, in January. I'm surprised how bitter this sounds, but thinking about it still makes me cross!


One Thanksgiving, when I was twelve, we decided to trek across the country to spend the holiday with my Aunt and her family. On Thanksgiving, my mom was helping in the kitchen to get the meal on the table. My Aunt had a stick of butter that she had on the table to "soften". My cousins were playing fetch with an old tennis ball with their dog. The ball that their dog had been chewing on was in a sad state of affairs to the point where my brother and I wouldn't even touch it. My cousin threw the ball, it bounced, and landed in the butter, making a ball shaped dent in the soft stick. My Aunt served the butter at dinner still with the ball mark in it. For years, my family joked about "dog butter" and that was the last time we ever traveled to have dinner with relatives. We figured it was safer to eat at home.


I thought my family was bad . . .

Annie’s sister Elle called her up last night to invite her around for Christmas dinner.  Elle has a beautiful new home – six bedrooms, three living areas, a formal dining room, and brand new furniture throughout.  She told Annie, “Of course I won’t want to get the house dirty, so we’ll have Christmas dinner in the garage.  Oh, and I can’t afford to feed everyone, so dinner will cost $40 a head.”

Annie declined the invitation.



This Christmas was the first I spent away from my family. I am in college and was planning on spending the year abroad in Europe, and didn't have the money to return home for winter break. I had grown up Irish Catholic in a somewhat large extended family, and Christmas was the occasion of the year to gather the entire family for a meal and presents. My grandmother had graciously offered to pay the plane fare home and back for Christmas, however I felt that it was too much money for her to spend on me and so declined.

My plan was to spend Christmas with a friend of mine, "Pia", that I had grown close to over the past two years of college. Since we were both abroad she asked if I had any Christmas plans, and subsequently decided to fly to the city she was living in to spend the time with her. Presents have always been a big deal for me and I spent several weeks wondering what to get her on my very tight budget and finally decided on some gifts from a nearby yet expensive soap and bath store. In the weeks leading up to my visit she had repeatedly told me how excited she was that I was coming and she could hardly wait. I felt likewise, and when I arrived everything seemed normal, enthusiastic catching up on our lives, etc. However when Christmas Eve rolled around she became increasingly withdrawn and sullen. I knew that she must be missing her family back home and tried to distract her but to no avail. A friend of hers came over to have a three course Christmas Eve dinner with us that I had prepared, more or less successfully. Her friend used to work as a bartender and made us quite strong drinks, of which Pia drank a little too much. The night ended for me when at 1AM I decided to give Pia her gift, not realizing how drunk she actually was.

I handed her the gift. Pia ripped off the wrapping paper and looked at what I had given her, smelled the soaps and without saying thank you decided to go to bed. I ended up not being able to sleep for a while and one I went upstairs I found it too hot and ended up sleeping on the sofa.

The next day when I wake up, Pia points to the soap she had opened the night before and asks, "What's that?" I answer, "Your Christmas gift,". She looks at it and tells me she doesn't remember opening it. I shrug it off and get dressed, half anticipating the opening of some gift from her. Throughout the day we watch television and eat junk food, Pia not wanting to go to Mass as she had never been with her family and it would be weird for her. At some point she says that she hadn't gotten me a gift because she hadn't been thinking about Christmas much...even though that was the reason I was coming to visit her. I had paid for my plane tickets as well as getting her a gift, and she did not apologize for not getting me a gift nor thank me for mine.

Boxing Day was spent in similar conditions, with me feeling increasingly alienated and wanting to leave. A mutual friend was coming to visit me several weeks later and I had urged Pia to try to join us since this was the only time the year she would be able to see our friend. She promised to e-mail me the next morning with any information about coming to see us, yet never did.

I now refuse to make any effort to see or talk to her, and hope that next year will not be so horrible.


Christmas time is often taxing when it comes to buying gifts for all the members of a large family; and we all understand the pleasures of gift giving, even when money is tight.  But even though 'Tacky' is this person's middle name, it still surprised us all.   My nephew and his wife were out of work, and were receiving food stamps.  Food was abundant, while the funds were tight.  So Ally decides she's going to bake a bunch of goodies to give as gifts.  She is a very good baker, and the cookies and breads and candies were delicious.    Here's the kicker:  Ally needed a container to put these goodies in, so she bought a $1.00 bread pan at the dollar store--and then asked for it to be returned to her after the goodies are eaten!!  p.s.  Not that she pulled the gift receiver away from the crowd and asked privately, no!  She yells this across the crowded room as soon as the gift is opened!!    


Page Last Updated July 30, 2007