DEAR MISS MANNERS -- Thanksgiving Day, 15 for dinner. Everyone wants to bring something, so a "want list" is made and guests sign names to what they will bring.
One guest asks to bring two main vegetable dishes and is told that the dishes are already taken by another guest. She says that she is bringing one of the dishes anyway because her kids (all adult) like it. She asks to bring the other dish and is told no.
This guest is in charge of all the appetizers because they were the only items left -- she waited until the day before Thanksgiving to look at the list. This guest is also notoriously late so I (and I know that it is rude) asked her to come on time because there would be no other food for the guests until dinner.
Ten minutes after she was expected, she called and said that she would be a little late but she was sending her daughter with the appetizers. Her daughter arrived, but with only a few items and was missing crackers and dip for a veggie platter.
An hour and half late, she arrived with the missing appetizers and began to put them out. I asked her not to, because we were preparing food for the table, and she put them away but acted like I had a vendetta against her. The front door opens, and the two dishes that she was requested not to bring were brought in and put on the dining table.
This behavior has happened on and off over the years, but I thought that the sign-up list and telling her no would be adequate.
To top off a ruined holiday meal for me, another guest cornered me in the kitchen after the dinner, telling me that she hoped that she was "not overstepping her boundaries," but that she was worried about my health and my weight, and talked for minutes about getting healthy, buying an exercise bike, etc.
I smiled and responded politely and wondered why these two guests were brought up in barns.
How can you ensure that your guests (relatives) will be respectful of your meal, respectful of the work and planning of a meal, and respectful of me as a hostess? Any hints?
GENTLE READER: If clear instructions don't work, hints are not likely to help. The best solution would be to trade in this crowd for a more reliable set.
Failing that, you should get to know the ones you have. You know that Irma is always late, so you don't trust her with the hors d'oeuvres or anything else essential to the meal. You know that she is going to bring what she wants, regardless of what you say, so you set up a separate little table for them and announce, "Look at all the extra treats Irma brought us!"
You also know that someone is going to tell you how to improve your life -- in every holiday gathering, there is at least one person who does -- so Miss Manners advises you to practice saying, "Do you really think I could hope to become more like you?"