DEAR MISS MANNERS: How much rude and boorish behavior should a host tolerate from a guest before saying something?
We invited some family members over for dinner whom we had not socialized with in some time. They first asked if they could come at 5 p.m., their normal dinnertime; ours is more like 6:30. I offered what I considered a reasonable compromise of 5:30. They arrived at 5:15.
They offered to bring appetizers, which turned out to be a store-bought container of cheese dip (and no crackers).
Dinner was served buffet style, and we allowed the guests to go first. Under similar circumstances, my wife and I would have waited until everyone was seated before starting our meal, but they had no such standards. It also made it too awkward to practice our normal custom of saying grace before the meal.
We did enjoy each others’ company over the evening. The male family member is very outgoing and gregarious. He dominated every conversation to the point of excluding the rest of us. If we were talking, he would simply interrupt or talk loudly over us.
This behavior worsened as the evening -- and alcohol consumption -- continued. After being interrupted several times, I politely asked that he allow me to finish my conversation. A second time, I simply turned to him and asked that he “Stop. Talking.” Neither of these suggestions took hold, so I eventually snapped, raised my voice and said, “Please. Stop. Talking.”
Now I am the pariah of the family, while he is still everyone’s darling boy. What should I have done differently?
GENTLE READER: Buried deep inside your story, you mention that you do actually enjoy this family’s company. Let us try to remember that.
Because while Miss Manners does not insist that you endure rude and boorish behavior, she notices that you seem predetermined to find offenses that, even according to her high standards, do not seem intolerable.
While it is true that hosts should dictate the meal time, reasonable requests can be accommodated. You mentioned no specific reason for the later dinnertime, so why not grant their request -- rather than subject yourself to frustrating and fruitless negotiation?
The lack of crackers and premature seating are also relatively minor infractions, but they obviously gained significance as they built to the point of your explosion. And in etiquette terms, it was an explosion. Insisting during a lively discussion that someone stop talking, when in that person’s mind he was merely being exuberant, is jarring. So while the behavior on his part was rude, your reaction to it was more so.
Instead, ceasing your own conversation until he was finally finished and then quietly and good-naturedly saying, “I wonder if the others could have a turn now. It was bit hard to hear over you,” would have accomplished the same thing. Or at least would have kept the other relatives from turning on you.