DEAR MISS MANNERS: For three holidays a year, my mother's extended family gets together for dinner. This meal was traditionally at my grandparents' home, but has since moved to my parents' home. My mother prepares most of the meal, and my aunts contribute a few dishes to ease the burden.
Over the past few years, some new foods have appeared at these dinners, which traditionally include American, German and Eastern European fare. Typically my mother prepares a vegetarian alternative to the main meat course, as I've been vegetarian for more than 15 years.
My aunt's boyfriend started joining the dinners here and there a few years ago, and my aunt brings a meat lasagna for him, as he prefers it to our traditional meals. Recently my uncle requested kielbasa at Thanksgiving because he has a new affinity for it.
Most of us don't have a problem with the new foods -- well, the lasagna is annoying, but that is more a personal issue with who joins the dish -- but my mother gets very annoyed and seems to enjoy complaining about it.
I am now concerned about her offering a vegetarian alternative for me at these holidays. I think it is wonderful, but I would never demand it of a host.
Is it rude of me to have this vegetarian alternative at a family holiday meal? Is it rude of my aunt to prepare a special meal for her boyfriend? Is it rude for my uncle to request a special food? Or is my mother blowing this out of proportion?
GENTLE READER: Doesn't your mother realize that this now IS the traditional American holiday dinner?
It is true that the prevailing intense, individualistic focus on food has killed the nightly family dinner, the social dinner party, pleasant conversation and friendly relations among those who disagree about nutritional or ethical values. But apparently many consider those sacrifices worthwhile as long as they don't have to face anything they can't stomach.
Thanksgiving, however, is already associated with a surplus of dishes. Why not include ones that please the various tastes of the guests?
A legitimate answer is that it makes more work for the host. That does not seem to be your mother's chief objection, as she complains about the lasagna, even though your aunt brought it, and apparently has not complained about you. Miss Manners doubts that your mother would be mollified by depriving you, while others are accommodated.
It would be of more assistance to her for you to offer substantial help in preparing the meal than to incite your relatives to open rebellion.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the protocol for inviting the hairdresser who does the bride's hair for the wedding? The woman is a longtime friend and hairdresser for the bride's mother and has graciously offered to do the bride's hair as a wedding gift. Seating and funds are limited.
GENTLE READER: The hairdresser's time and expertise are also limited, Miss Manners imagines. You call her a friend, and she is acting as one. So if you were even thinking of letting her give this present and then pitching her out, please put that out of your mind.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, email@example.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)