QUESTION: My wife and I attended a Fourth of July picnic/potluck buffet today at a friend’s home. There were other couples there, most of them we had never met.
It took awhile to get the hamburgers and hot dogs going. The hostess knew that I am diabetic. My wife told me to have some of her salad that she had brought on a small plate to help with my blood sugar. It was on the kitchen table but not placed outside by the pool/bar.
I went back to get some salad and was admonished by the hostess in front of guests for eating before she put the salads out.
It was so embarrassing. She did the same thing again after her husband gave me a cooked burger after all the cooked meat was on the table. I brought my own plant-based burger.
What do you think of this? She did not announce eating to begin as people were already eating appetizers. The hostess knew I was on a vegan diet and that two out of three appetizers were not on my diet. All I could eat were tortilla chips.
This was not a formal event. I suppose I could have asked permission to have a little salad early, but my wife has known her longer than I have.
What was my appropriate behavior at this event? I was uncomfortable for the rest of our time there.
CALLIE’S ANSWER: I can understand your embarrassment and frustration. The hostess was probably a bit stressed but that doesn’t mean she gets to make you feel the way you do. Next time, maybe in advance, let the hosts know your dietary concerns and limitations so as to ensure this won’t happen again.
LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: You did all the right things to manage your health so you could enjoy the party. A host who makes her guests feel uncomfortable like that is not doing all the right things, especially since she knew your health limits. You didn’t demand she fix food according to your own dietary needs; you brought your own. It appeared she was aware of these needs ahead of time. It wasn’t a formal dinner — it was an outdoor pool party!
I know we’ve discussed scenarios in the past where hosts are concerned about guests who have challenging dietary needs or guests with challenging dietary needs wondering how to attend events, but in most of these cases, the hosts have been concerned about making their guests comfortable or guests have not wanted to hurt the hosts’ feelings or efforts by needing their own food.
Your experience is not reflected in any of these examples. You accommodated your own health needs by quietly eating the salad YOUR FAMILY brought in an area away from the guests when dinner took longer than expected.
Etiquette “rules” help us navigate ways to show respect for others in difficult situations. You respected your hosts, and I am so sorry your hosts chose to embarrass you and didn’t respect you. I think the best you can do in that situation is muddle through; you set your boundaries for your own health and took care of yourself without imposing on other people. You also didn’t disrupt the party, even though the hosts were the rude ones.
I would be interested to hear their point of view out of curiosity. Perhaps your wife could tell her friend now how hard that was for you, especially if you want to work it out so you can spend time with them again. Or you can choose not to go next time.
HELEN’S ANSWER: Diabetic guests should eat a little before attending events. That way, if it takes awhile to prepare the food, the blood sugar levels are stable. It was smart of you to bring your own vegan burger. You did all the right things ahead of time and your wife had already told the hostess about your food issues. The hostess should have made it easier for you by not calling attention to the salad and the burger. I am not sure why she insisted on making a guest uncomfortable.
However, by ignoring her words, you again did the right thing. I am only sorry you were not able to enjoy the party anyway.
GUEST’S ANSWER: Yvette Walker, Assistant Dean, Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication: Gathering to celebrate the freedom of this nation should feel fun, not like etiquette prison. It’s possible the hostess forgot in the busyness of her day that you are diabetic, but admonishing you in front of others is simply not polite.
Your wife (her friend) could have taken the time to remind her that you needed to eat something, but the behavior of this hostess was not becoming in such a fun and casual setting. What could you have done? Eat before the event and remind the hostess of your needs. But I am not letting her behavior off the hook in this situation.
Since 2009, Callie, Lillie-Beth and Helen have written this generational etiquette column. They also include guest responses from a wide range of ages each week. So many years later, Callie is 20-plus; Lillie-Beth is 40-plus and Helen is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email email@example.com.