DEAR MISS MANNERS: When we get together with friends or neighbors for relatively informal dinners, I do not expect any help with post-dinner clearing of dishes or cleanup. I do appreciate when it is offered, but I turn it down. I have people over to enjoy their company, so I prefer to join them for conversation, and clean up after they leave.
However, when invited to others’ homes, there seems to be a silent expectation of helping the hosts clear the table, putting away leftovers, AND doing dishes/loading the dishwasher. I do always help clear the table and consolidate items at or in the sink.
But then there is sometimes body language or slamming of dishes into the dishwasher. This seems directed at me, the woman of the couple.
What is the correct etiquette? I always send thank-you notes for the hospitality of the meal and the hosts’ company. But the unspoken expectation of doing the cleanup, too, is confusing me and is kind of irking.
I understood guests to be visitors, not extra chore hands. If so, I have plenty of other chores I can assign my guests when they visit me. I can always use a bathroom scrubbing, for instance. Please educate me here.
GENTLE READER: Well, that escalated quickly -- from wanting to enjoy your guests to putting them on toilet duty.
Miss Manners sympathizes. She has found herself abandoned at dinner parties while all of the guests are in the kitchen doing the very things that you describe.
Offering to do so should not be expected, but it may be considerate at informal suppers, as long as a quorum is maintained at the table for conversation.
Your solution is to be the first to go home. That is actually a useful service to provide hosts, as people often tend to hang around after the parties’ expiration dates, especially when they are not moved from the dining room back into the living room.
But as these are friends and neighbors you see often, you could also gently remind them that you do all your own cleaning. When they offer to help you, Miss Manners suggests telling them, as you told her, that you much prefer sitting around with them. And you could add, “Besides, we all have our own ways of organizing things, and I wouldn’t want to interfere in someone else’s kitchen.”