DEAR MISS MANNERS: My sister-in-law volunteered to host the family Thanksgiving dinner last year. In prior years, when hosted by me, my sister or my mother, the host would provide the meal and accept (only if asked) an offering of a special dish, a favorite dessert, etc.
When inquiring to my sister-in-law to see if I could bring my sweet potato casserole or other complementary dish, she asked me to bring all of the vegetables, including mashed and sweet potatoes, corn pudding, green beans, cranberry sauce and salad. She asked my mother to bring desserts (pies, cake, ice cream, whipped cream) and coffee. My sister was ordered to bring appetizers, rolls, corn bread and drinks (including wine and coffee). The host would provide the turkey, stuffing, plates and utensils.
We were caught off-guard last year by the potluck arrangement, but agreed to it in the spirit of family harmony. My sister-in-law loved it, however, and has asked to make it a tradition at their house.
We can always say our tradition is to rotate it from house to house, but how should one respond to a request in which one has previously replied yes to a dinner invitation and is later asked to provide a substantial portion of the dinner?
Is this the new standard for dinner invitations? Is this OK because it's family?
GENTLE READER: A cooperative family holiday is only OK if everyone concerned knowingly agrees to it. Last year, as you realized, you were stuck. Miss Manners assures you that this does not mean that you are stuck for life.
Now is the time for you to announce, with your mother and sister's pre-arranged backing, that you feel like doing Thanksgiving this year, and that your sister-in-law is not to think of bringing anything, as you want her to enjoy a work-free holiday. It is not necessary to argue tradition and counter-tradition in order to do something as gracious as insisting that you want to entertain the family.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: We are a group of people, including couples and widows, whose ages range from 65 to 80. There are times when some of us may be invited to a function, while others may not.
We are aware of the two faux pas: Don't ask someone if they've been invited and don't ask the hostess whom they invited. We understand the severity of the first case; however, by not asking the hostess, we find that we cannot share the cost of a gift, or offer a ride to someone who might need it.
Frankly, it sometimes causes embarrassment to come to a function and find that your best friend is there and they could have been included in the gift or been given a ride. We have come to the conclusion that, because of our circumstances, we should ignore "don't ask the hostess who has been invited" and ask.
GENTLE READER: Why disobey etiquette rules when Miss Manners can so easily tweak them to get you the desired result? You cannot properly ask the hostess for her guest list, but you can quite properly ask her, "Is there anyone who lives near me, as I might need a ride?" As she probably has not memorized everyone's address, this will prompt her to recite the list anyway.