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The Vine: April 12, 2017

Submitted by on April 12, 2017 – 11:00 AM16 Comments

So I have this friend. He's charming and funny, and we enjoy spending time with him when we go out to bars and restaurants.

However, my husband and I have been cutting back on our spending (both in dollars and calories), so we have been shifting to entertaining at home. The only problem: this friend is a terrible dinner guest.

For example, I asked both him and his roommates to come over for a very casual dinner. His roommates had other plans, but this friend (let's call him Oscar) gave an enthusiastic yes. When he found out that the roomies wouldn't be there, he then suggested we invite another couple of his friends that I barely know. I explained that it was just family dinner, and I didn't want to have to clean or entertain anyone else. He brought it up a second time, to which I suggested that if he wanted a bigger party, he's welcome to host one. Of course, he declined: he virtually never cooks. Okay, kind of rude trying to invite people over to my house, but fine. Whatevs.

Friday rolls around and my husband and I are both in the middle of a big work projects, but I manage to toss the corned beef in the crockpot while I work. Oscar comes over and immediately starts looking on his cell phone while I'm finishing up in the kitchen, making some impromptu soda bread, etc. He finally looks up from his phone, asks what we're going to drink, and I point him at the bar. This is family dinner, after all. He wants to make old fashioneds for us, but complains that I "only" have sugar cubes, not simple syrup. He asks how I'm cooking the corned beef and sniffs, "Oh, well I am very particular about how I make mine," then proceeds to tell me how I should have made it. He complains that I'm serving salted butter with the simple-ass soda bread and that I don't have unsalted butter and finishing salt. He says that I should have asked him to make dessert while eating the chocolate cake I whipped up at the last second.

Here's the problem: when confronted with rudeness like this, I automatically try to assume the best in people and smooth over the situation. I know it can be problematic, and I'm working on it. My husband was still at work when some of this nonsense went down, but if he were there, he would have stepped in…but I need to put on my big-girl pants and learn to deal with this. It would be easy to just cut Oscar out, but because Oscar's roommate is one of my oldest friends, I end up encountering Oscar quite a bit. So here's the question, in two parts:

1) Do you have any practical suggestions on how I can move away from being such a capitulator in these circumstances? I usually don't even realize what's going on until I get angry later, but I never say anything about it afterwards because I feel like the statute of limitations runs out on this sort of behavior once the evening is over.

2) During our debrief, my husband and I decided that Oscar will not be a guest in our home for a long time because I don't need anyone kibitzing on my cooking and complaining that I'm insufficiently fancy for his pompous bullshit. I know I don't owe Oscar an explanation as to why he will not longer be invited to family dinner nights, but should I sit him down and talk to him about it? I'm not sure if he thinks he's being sophisticated, but he's pushing 50, and I feel like this sort of snobbery is not a good look on him. His roommate has given up on trying to engage with him on stuff like this because she would like some peace in her own home, but since I don't have to deal with him on a daily basis, maybe I could get the point through without having to deal with the same blowback?

Sincerely,
NOT A FUCKING RESTAURANT

Dear Don't Put Up With That Crapplebee's,

Oo-fah, yeah, we've got a couple like that in the extended fam. The nuclear option has actually been tried with one of them — the old "if you're consistently this miserable coming here and having to tolerate our doing everything wrong, maybe you'd be happier staying home from now on" — and we're still trying to decorate around the crater of hurt feelings and Not Getting It, so when it comes to the people you love and have to deal with, but who don't know how to ackrite at your house, I feel you.

My best counsel for both parts of your question is to give yourself permission not to care about Oscar's behavior, whether it's the snotty critiques or how that habit might affect his social life in the grander scheme; the second thing is not your committee, and the first thing doesn't have to be either if you don't let it. Deciding not to give a fuck is usually easier said than done, but he did nothing to pitch in with any aspect of the meal (and who, I presume, still ate at least his share despite it not giving his asinine pretensions a wristie), so his opinion is worthless.

I know it's tough in the moment, though, especially when all the good comebacks occur to you when you're retelling your spouse the story later.

1. Rehearse a handful of Postian comebacks; more to the point, rehearse not jumping in to help Oscar (or others who step on you in this way) out of his own way. "Why would you say that to your host, Oscar?" "I'm sorry family dinner doesn't meet your high standards; do you think you'd be happier eating at home, or in a restaurant?" "The meal is what it is. You're not obligated to stay." And then just sit there. Keep chopping or seasoning or whatever and let him respond however he's going to respond, but…you're not saying anything that isn't true. You're calling him on his shit, and if he doesn't like it, well, he's not supposed to.

You can also go with "your constant critiques are hurtful and annoying; maybe you're not aware of how they come off, but I'm telling you now, so: button it or get out," and if it's just you and him, maybe that's the way to go.

But a bemused "Are you…serious?" the next time the salted-butter thing comes up is just as effective.

2. No. If he asks for an explanation, you can provide it (see above), but his parents should have had his guest manners squared away when he was pushing five, never mind 50, and it's not on you to redo the job. You bring flowers or wine, you eat what you're served (sensitivities permitting), you do the dishes without comment, and you talk your shit about whatever in the car on the way home like everyone else on fucking earth. Life's too short to retrain the horse's asses of the world, and I'm sure Oscar has many other fine qualities, but if he can't figure out on his own why he's no longer showing them off at your table, too bad.

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16 Comments »

  • Stephanie says:

    Sars has some very good suggestions. I'm with you on not inviting bad guests back. My BIL lives across the country and has stayed with us in the past when he visits home. He's a terrible guest and I put up with his shenanigans for years:
    – Obliviously reading a book while his wife helped my husband and I make and serve dinner
    – Inviting strangers to my house at 9am who drank all my coffee
    – Leaving wet towels in a heap in the guest room

    The final straw was when he asked to use our backyard on one of the visits to host a charity fundraiser, and got bent out of shape when we refused. "But it's for charity!" I don't care: I don't know these people and I don't want them in my yard. I put my foot down on hosting him after that.

  • Mary Ann says:

    Why make excuses about every bit of the meal? You cooked corned beef, bread and cake for people. That's a really kind thing to do. Who cares how simple or last minute it was…

    My husband started a whole thing at Thanksgiving two years ago, because I put kale in a dish. One well-timed, loud "and you're very welcome" got a laugh and helped him realize he was being sort of a jerk. (He was mostly teasing. That might not work on someone who really believes in finishing salt.)

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Reading about behavior like this always gets two reactions from me, in order:

    1) Oh my LORD WHO EVEN DOES THIS???

    and

    2) Oh my LORD what if I'm doing something like this and nobody's ever told me???

    I mean, I never have done this in my adult life, and if I had in my child life my leash would have been properly yanked. But since I presume most of the Oscars out there aren't delusional or utter sociopaths, they somehow have gotten a pass, or even encouragement, in this kind of behavior for their entire existence! So they think it's okay! And normal! What everyday routine behavior of mine might be prompting letters to advice columns this very minute?? *Wheezes into paper bag*

  • ferretrick says:

    In this circumstance, where the person is 1) not family or family I can't get away with not seeing 2) not someone who comes in a package (ie love my best friend, can't stand their SO) 3) not someone I'm obligated to host for work or something like that, I would honestly just cut from the guest list and feel good about it. You can continue the friendship seeing him at restaurants and such if you like his company there; just don't invite him to your house anymore. You could do the snappy comebacks Sars suggested, in a case where the person is someone you will have to invite back sooner or later, but in a case like Oscar? I'd just grit my teeth, get through that evening, and then never ask him back. I'm an introvert. I enjoy hosting guests, but it takes a lot of energy out of me before and afterwards. I'm not about to waste that energy on someone who doesn't appreciate it or acts like a tool in my home.

    Definitely don't tell him why or lecture him at this point though unless you are asked directly. You are right the statue of limitations has passed, and it's not your circus, not your monkeys. Someone who hasn't learned how not to be an obnoxious tool as a houseguest at the age of 50 isn't going to learn now.

  • Patches says:

    We have a middle-aged relative who has Asperger's and has exhibited odd and rude behavior towards family members on occasion. (I can only imagine what happens at non-family events, like an after-work gathering.) When there is an incident, an older relative takes this person aside and explains why the behavior is upsetting and inappropriate. Over the years, our relative has been doing better socially, but there's no rhyme or reason as to when the pot might blow its lid.

    I mention all this because perhaps Oscar is on the autism spectrum. If he is, it doesn't excuse his behavior, but it may partially explain why he behaves the way he does. Autistic kids today learn many more social skills/tools than they did in the 1970s-80s, when there was little to no support available to them.

  • Hillary says:

    If you can, enlist a buddy (not the hubby) to say something in front of Oscar along the lines of "It's so nice of you to go to all this trouble!" or "I love that you prepared every element of the meal, thank you!" or other statements along those lines. You then get to say thank you, my pleasure, I'm glad you are enjoying the meal, stuff along those lines. Prompt the response you want, give a social cue of how to treat a hostess, you have a little "play" to model the behavior.

    Now if Oscar is truly clueless it will go right over his head. Many times it does, but if you get lucky that someone just doesn't have a social clue and is looking for a path to follow, you have laid it out for them.

  • attica says:

    Anybody for whom I cooked who bitched about finishing salt would get a container of Mortons thrown at their head. (I wouldn't waste fancy salt on assault…)

    I'll second the suggestion to practice comebacks. You'll be glad you did when they're handy in the moment.

  • Susan says:

    Sometimes SILENCE works beautifully. When Oscar says something rude and/or outrageous, say NOTHING. Let what he said hang in the air. Let HIM be the next person to talk, even if it takes a minute or two. Sometimes this works to shock the person into realizing what they said was… inappropriate.

  • Jen S. 2.0 says:

    Finishing salt. Finishing salt?! Are you effing kidding me right now?

    No, you do not have to invite this jerkwad back to your home, and no, you do not have to make excuses, feel terrible, feel guilty, or give it another thought. If he ever makes a noise about it, you just say, "Hosting's a lot of work, so we've had to cut back a bit." It's true, after all; you cut back on how much you're having HIM over.

  • AF says:

    So, he virtually never cooks? Is how he would make his version of the menu just hypothetical, then? I'd be tempted to plan the next get-together by telling him the night you'll be coming over to his apartment for him to show off his cooking mastery.

    If charming Oscar has such exacting ideas about how things should be cooked, then let him.

  • cayenne says:

    As someone who considers herself at least semi-capable when it comes to everyday and schmancy cookery (and cooking for multitudes – witness the 24 guests at my seder this past week, oyyy), I have to admit I had no idea WTF finishing salt was until I googled it, and I think I sprained my eyeballs rolling them too hard. I'll stick with plebeian salted butter on my bread, thanksverymuch.

    Oscar is an effing pretentious tool. You do not owe an ungrateful and ungracious guest any excuses for why he's not invited back. And if, due to your generosity, you happen to have him over in the future and he pulls this snotty shit again, I'd recommend a simple [beat] "Excuse me?", raised eyebrows and/or crossed arms optional. Unless the tool is entirely lacking in social radar, that should clue him in.

  • Lisa M. says:

    OMG. I did not know of finishing salt before this letter :)

    If having a comeback is an important part of your strategy, then I would practice a couple of general-purpose ones beforehand. I like: "My budget doesn't extend to [thing like finishing salt]". If you like a snarky approach that is meant to point out ridiculousness, then how about, "I'm allergic to finishing salt" or "I find that finishing salt is dangerous to my social relationships" (delivered with beaming smile).

    I find that when I say something like this, and beam at them, it stops them in their tracks. I'm aiming for the nonverbal message: you're being ridiculous but I still love you. Actually, maybe just say that. "You're being ridiculous but I still love you."

    [I know you don't love Oscar, and I would stop inviting him over. He sounds a little douche-y.]

    Anyway, as a fellow person who stews about the affront and all the missed comebacks at a later time, I feel your pain! Good luck!

  • Laura says:

    I have a full set of inlaws who are completely lacking in social graces and in the context of mealtimes it has always completely killed me. I am now trying to make my peace with it by accepting that ultimately it has nothing to do with me. They have their mores, I have mine. They are not likely to change at this stage. But where you have the option of simply not cooking for someone like this any more, I would hop right on that.

  • RJ says:

    "Oscar" reminds me of a character named Hugh Tally in a Shirley Jackson story. His favorite line is, "The trouble with women cooks is…" and he ultimately ends up wearing a lemon pie.

    Other than that, I've got nothing. I'd have suggested Oscar go dine elsewhere… I need to read some of the suggestions here and work on tact :).

  • RJ says:

    Also, @Jen 2.0 – "Finishing salt. Finishing salt?! Are you effing kidding me right now?"

    I don't know why, but that's got me giggling (aside from thinking, "OH MY GOD YES").

  • mathilda moo says:

    Second only to the Tomato-can shoplifter in asshattery. Sheesh.

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