20 Comments

  1. Amanda

    I am finding more and more that women are hosting their own baby showers. I was brought up believing that to plan your own shower was the height of tacky. It was even frowned upon that immediate family such as mothers and sisters host. I am also seeing the trend of not only hosting a shower themselves but they sometimes for subsequent children! I am all for celebrating new babies but in my opinion to host your own shower is blatantly asking people for gifts. Are my views outdated? Has this become the new normal for baby showers?

    • Winifred Rosenburg

      You are absolutely right. You should never throw yourself a shower. Whether or not you can throw a family member a shower seems to be a matter of opinion within the etiquette community. I’ve read both that the rule is out of date and that it’s still in effect. I suppose it’s one of those issues where you have to use your own interpretation.

  2. Pam

    Hi Amanda. It is tacky for someone to throw their own shower. I always read in etiquette columns/books that it is also tacky for close relatives to throw the shower, but I think that has somewhat changed, although I have only ever been to showers, throughout my life, that were thrown by the mother and/or sister of the guest of honor. I never took it as a gift grab by the family, but I think it’s different when you throw it for yourself. I am also finding more and more that my friends, who are adults, are throwing themselves birthday events and I can’t figure it out. If you are put off by it, you can always just decline the invitation.

  3. Pam

    I have written in before about a depressed friend who is very demanding. The advice I received was excellent, and I have set some boundaries regarding not taking every single one of her phone calls, but I think I had a slip up. My friend wants what she wants, and she prefers group events to one on one (I prefer one on one meet ups for dinner or lunch). We don’t have a “group” and haven’t had one since high school. However, she seems to have these dreams of Beverly Hills 90210 type outings. There was one summer about 5 years ago where a group of us went out 3 times one summer. This constitutes the “group” that she always refers to. “We’ll get the group together” and I have to bite my tongue not to say “What group?!” One couple from that summer is not even together anymore. Anyway, she kept calling and calling about this group outing so one day 3 weeks ago I just gave in. Now the day is upon us (this Saturday) and she keeps calling all of us to “confirm Saturday.” At the time I told her that my boyfriend and I would come, but I never actually asked him. He is also going through a rough time and has not really been up for going out with friends, but she is very demanding that he be included and starts to get suspicious when he doesn’t come. I don’t know why the girls can’t just meet up. I also know she is going to want to do something after dinner and in all honest, I just don’t feel like it. I have to do all the driving AND she invites my college roommate who is driving from an hour away…and guess what? I end up having to host my former roommate for 3 hours before dinner b/c she has to beat the traffic. In other words, the friend plans this outing and it ends up putting a lot on me. Yet I feel like if I protest I’m being mean to her. I feel like this is an obligation rather than a fun time with friends…like we all have a gun to our head. I just end up dreading it. I’m going to have to just grin and bear it, but how do I handle this better next time?

    • Pam,
      Being depressed (or having any other mental disability) is no excuse to be demanding. Your boyfriend doesn’t want to come? He doesn’t have to come. If she questions this, say, “he’s been really stressed lately, and needed to take a day off,” or “he woke up this morning not feeling well.” Only a rude person would press for more details, and at that point I would absolutely respond with, “You know he likes you! But the world doesn’t revolve around this dinner and everyone is entitled to relax periodically.” Don’t force the poor guy into this. I know I’d be pretty irritated if someone did this to me. (Although who knows? maybe he wants to join.)
      If she suggests doing something after dinner and you don’t feel up to it, let her know its been a long day, and you’d like to head to bed. “Oh, but could we just go to that new club?”
      “Sorry, I’m really tired. It’s been great to see you, but I’ll have to take a rain check.”
      “Please? Just a few more drinks?”
      “It sounds nice, but I’ve been doing a lot of driving, and want to be alert for the drive home.”
      How are you being mean?

      When people want to pressure me into hanging out, I tell them I have to work late, or have a business obligation on a Saturday, or I have to watch my dad’s angry cat in another town. No one ever argues with those excuses.

      Don’t get so stressed though – remember, no one actually has a gun to your head. :) Don’t take on more than you feel you can handle.

    • Elizabeth

      Pam, I agree with Laura. You just draw your boundaries where you need them, and let things fall as they may.

      You describe an interesting dilemma, though – your friend wants one kind of interaction (in a group) and you would prefer another. I think you can get into trouble when you get into negotiating. It’s so much clear cut when someone issues an invitation and you can accept or decline. If she asked you if you wanted to go on a big co-ed outing, you could decline. And if you invite her to have a dinner with just the two of you, she could decline. (you might not get together very often, but perhaps she isn’t the right person to maintain a friendship with at this time in your life?)

      In terms of the specifics, just call or send an email to say that, oops, you were wrong but you’re boyfriend actually can’t make it. He sends his regrets and hopes to see her next time. Any questions or complaints (aside from genuine concern) from her after that are just rude and can be shut down. (I’m assuming you don’t want to confide in her about his troubles.)

      In terms of hosting the roommate – when she called, you could have said, “sorry, I really can’t hang out before dinner, but I’ll look forward to seeing you all at 7.” Roommate can go shopping, hang out in a coffeeshop or a park, or drive in closer to dinner time. Don’t give a reason, be firm and unapologetic. (People don’t apologize for what they can’t help, after all.)

      I should say – I can see how all of things happen very incrementally. You give an inch, you try to be accommodating, you agree to meet somewhere far from your neighborhood, and you end up resenting the whole thing. But hey – if you really feel like you don’t want to do it, just cancel. It’s not a good time, you aren’t feeling up to it, work, whatever. Friendship should not feel like an obligation. When it does, it’s time to rethink the terms of the friendship.

      • Pam

        Laura and Elizabeth, I cannot express how helpful your responses were. I breathed a sigh of relief after reading them. I appreciate how thorough they were and that you really understood where I was coming from. Very often etiquette situations are not black and white, cut and dry, and I end up getting caught up in the specifics of a situation–always thinking “but if she says this, then I’ll say that, and what if she says this?!” I feel more confident now in being able to handle the situation this weekend and in the future. Thanks so much again!

        • Elizabeth

          I’m glad you found it helpful.

          I too had a problematic friend. We were good friends for a long time, she was in my wedding. But then, hanging out felt, like you said, more of an obligation and I always found myself censoring myself and walking on eggshells for no reason (other than the threat of her taking offense at some little nothing). It came to a bit of head when she confronted me a couple of times about these perceived slights, and I just felt like – I can’t keep justifying my very normal and non-offensive action to someone who sees antagonism and misanthropy everywhere. It just wasn’t fun anymore, our shared memories were fading into history, and it no longer felt like a supportive mutually enjoyable friendship. So we just stopped talking. I haven’t ever regretted it. (Sorry, this may be nothing like your situation, it’s just how I related to it.)

          • Pam

            Elizabeth, thank you for sharing your experience with me. I have been friends with this person since we were 5, and we are almost 30. My friend also used to accuse me left and right of slights–she was very paranoid. However, I believe that was part of her diagnosed conditions. I would certainly stand up for myself, but I learned to do it in a calm manner b/c I used to get very, very angry. She has actually improved a lot on that front. I have known her so long that she is almost like a relative to me, but sometimes it just gets very overwhelming. I truly enjoy a brunch out with her, but it often seems like she always wants more. For example, this Saturday she may very well spend the dinner trying to decide where we should go after, instead of just enjoying the dinner.
            It was true when you said that it’s much more clear cut when someone issues an invitation for something that is already planned and you can say yes or no. But, she makes me part of the planning: “Lily said that the whole month of August is good for her for a group outing, so when is good for you?” It’s hard to say “every single night of the entire month is not good” so I end up giving in and picking a random date, otherwise I’m pretty much saying I’m not interested in a group outing at all. I feel like then I sound like I’M being the particular one who wants things her way. It gets very stressful and overwhelming. Thank you so much again.

  4. Natalie

    Hello. I have a somewhat weird question about using a fish knife. I know how to use it for fish, but have no idea how to deal with a side dish served with fish in this case, if it is, for instance, some chunky grilled vegetables (zucchini, bell peppers) or, say, asparagus. It’s a strange situation I found myself in when made up my mind to get fish knives and forks to serve fish in the right manner, but found it next to impossible to deal comfortably with a side dish… I would assume that in case fish is served solely or with some side dish that is easy to deal with (mashed potatoes), you should use this special fish knife, but if accompanied by some more “tricky” vegetable which requires using a dinner knife, you should offer standard dinner cutlery. What do think? Or is there a simpler solution? Thank you!

    • Elizabeth

      Some quick research turned this up: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_do_you_use_a_fish_knife_at_dinner

      Essentially, a fish knife is used to separate fish from skin, and the flakes from the bones. If you are serving a fillet that has already been skinned, the need for a fish knife is obviated. I think it’s most useful when you’re cooking fish small enough that each person would receive their own. When this is the case, it’s often difficult to have much anything else on the plate because the fish is still pretty large and there’s a lot of maneuvering of bones, skin, etc. It’s a bit different of a situation, but I have an aunt who always serves a fish course in between the salad and main course. It’s always salmon, and already cut up into portions, so no bones or skin, but it is always served by itself with perhaps a slice or two of carrot or pepper and sauce with which it was cooked. So, no knife is necessary. But you are right – the fish knife would not be a useful implement to cut things like chunky vegetables. I think the easiest thing might be to serve a vegetable or starch side dish that does not require cutting. I would love to hear other takes on this, as I’ve never seen a fish knife before today!

      • Natalie

        Elizabeth, thank you for your comment. Well, yes, there is not much room for anything else if the fish is served whole, but still possible, especially if you offer a separate plate for bones. Or, say, you serve a pretty large whole fish that is cut and then served still with bones individually. Or is it an inappropriate manner at all? Just wonder.
        You are right, probably, the best option that would not confuse the guests is to avoid this type of veggies. And, to be honest, in the country I live in many people would be confused by the fish knife itself. We’ve been grown with a funny example in a film when a lady pretended she was allergic to fish just because she didn’t know how the fish knife looked like and how to use it.
        It is an interesting discussion, thank you. I just try to imagine myself in different roles – both a host serving fish and a guest either in a restaurant or at a formal dinner party.

        • Chocobo

          Natalie, I agree that the fish knife comes from a time when courses were a bit more separate, and one would use the fish fork and the fish knife to eat a fish without any accompaniments.

          A modern solution might be to add an extra knife for vegetables, if you wish to keep the fish and side dishes in the same course. You might also consider sides that do not require further manipulation to eat, like sliced or julienned vegetables. Asparagus, you’ll be happy to know, may be properly eaten with the fingers if it is not already slathered in some kind of sauce or butter, so you can leave the stalks whole. Although your guests might raise their eyebrows when you pick one up and start munching.

          Or you could simply stick to the old ways and separate your fish from the other food, and serve the others in a separate course with different utensils.

      • I assure you, the only time I’ve encountered the oddly-specific eating utensils is when I’m doing an appraisal on Victorian silver sets. That’s when I see the fish knife, olive fork (often confused with a lemon fork), and the chocolate muddler. More than one knife may be present at a place setting, so I don’t see why there couldn’t be another knife in addition to the fish knife (butter knife, for instance).

        Here’s an asparagus fork: http://images.replacements.com/images/images5/flatware/T/towle_old_newbury_newbury_sterling_1900_large_solid_serving_asparagus_fork_5_prong_P0000106637S0258T2.jpg

    • Winifred Rosenburg

      I haven’t been able to find an answer to your specific question, but I can give you a few tips that might be helpful. I was originally trained in Italian table manners so I know from experience that with enough determination any vegetable can be cut with a fork. (In Italian culture one generally avoids using knives on anything but meat.) When lacking your preferred knife, you can always fall back on your fork.

      Another fun fact: it is perfectly acceptable to eat asparagus with your fingers! So in the case of asparagus if you don’t feel comfortable trying to make do with the available utensils, go ahead and pick it up!

      • Natalie

        It’s a good idea about the fork and looks very reasonable, but I always try to imagine the worst scenario, say, bell peppers with skin on or something that is left still crunchy, for me it’s challenging to made do with a fork only.
        Asparagus is tricky from the point of view of table manners, I’ve come to know that, right, it is acceptable to use your fingers but only when it is served on its own. In other cases one should use fork and knife.
        Thanks for the tips, I guess I will somehow combine them and find the best way depending on a situation, as apparently there is nothing written in stone about eating fish dishes. And table manners should be a helpful guidance, not a hindrance to enjoy great meal:)

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