DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a widow in my mid-50s, and have been on my own for almost a decade. Occasionally I host informal groups of family or friends.
During the summer, I often plan menus with grilled meat because I have a propane barbecue out on the porch. It is a cantankerous old beast, but I am familiar with its eccentricities and can turn out perfectly respectable steak, chicken and grilled vegetables with little trouble. Plus, the house stays cooler.
However, there is one vexing problem I can’t seem to solve. Three times, after settling my guests indoors with drinks and snacks, I’ve gone outside to get our meals cooked, only to be intercepted by a man -- it’s always a man -- insisting that he will handle the grill.
I have said, “Oh, this won’t take long.” I’ve said, “Thanks, kindly, but I’ve got this.” And it’s as if I never spoke. One of them actually took the tongs and dish of meat right out of my hands!
I’m sure these gentlemen meant well, but I found their actions patronizing -- and more than a little galling when I had to choke down the burnt offerings that resulted (see: cantankerous barbecue). I’ve certainly never had any guest, male or female, insist on taking over the cooking duties in my kitchen -- only the outside grill.
I am hoping for a group visit from my extended family later on, pandemic permitting, but it would be a pity for someone to escape COVID only to meet a grisly end of being beaten to death with barbecue tongs.
Miss Manners, please help me avoid becoming a murderess. What could I have done to put a stop to this pattern? I will give grateful consideration to any advice you may care to vouchsafe.
GENTLE READER: Putting aside the legal and ethical aspects, murdering your male guests is a bad idea because they will die with a perplexed “What did I do?” look on their faces that will be profoundly unsatisfying.
Like you, Miss Manners is convinced these men meant well. If we were to peer inside their heads, we would see a childishly simple logic: “Grilling is men’s work. There is no man of the house. I must come to the rescue.” This does not make their behavior less rude, presumptuous or patronizing. But it provides a solution.
Your “Thank you, I will do this” should be delivered with the tone and bearing of an adult correcting a misguided child: not angry, but stern and unyielding. After you have made clear that this is not a negotiation, you can soothe your guest’s wounded pride with a kind smile or pat on the shoulder, paired with a patronizing, “I know you only wanted to make yourself useful.”