1. Mary

    Hello! Our family has a long standing tradition of getting together Christmas Eve for dinner and a gift exchange. My Mother-in-Law covers the entire cost of the dinner and hosts her family (including myself, my husband, our two daughters and their boyfriends) plus her sister’s family (including her sister, brother-in-law, 3 grown children, their children and significant others). Because my Mother-in-Law now lives with us, the dinner occurs at our house with our family doing the work she can no longer do.

    The issue lies with a grown cousin (Linda). Her 20-something son Bert brings his fiance (Sarah) to dinner. Two years ago, Linda called the night before the dinner to inform me that Sarah’s grandmother (Gail) will be coming with them. I obliged because I was caught off guard. Gail came again last year and is planning on attending this year as well. She is extremely rude to our family and does not even acknowledge us when she enters our home or throughout the evening. She is very loud and acts very self-righteous as if we are there to serve her. Last year she even stole the gift my daughter received in the exchange simple because “she wanted it.”

    Yesterday we saw her at Sarah’s Bridal Shower. She blatantly skipped over my Mother-in-Law and I when introducing us to the others (she acknowledged my daughters as “Bert’s cousins, but I don’t know their names.”

    I expressed my feelings against this woman to Linda who could only say, “But this is your home she is coming to,” and “But she is such a nice woman.” She offered to speak to Sarah because, “This is her problem,” but admitted she was afraid of a family fall out if she did. I ultimately told her not to say anything, but I am very upset I have been put into this position. Gail is flat out rude to my family and shows no interest in being anything but. I resent that, as an uninvited guest, she comes into my home acting the way she does and I am expected to simply live with it.

    Am I wrong? How do I handle this situation?

    Christmas is just around the corner so any advice you have is greatly appreciated!

    • Elizabeth

      The answer is simple. This event is held in your home, and you determine the guest list. Simply do not invite Gail. When you do call to invite people, be explicit about who you are inviting. Call Bert, and say “I’m just calling to invite you and Sarah to Xmas dinner this year.” When he says, “What about Gail?” You can reply, “Oh, I’m sorry, we can’t accommodate her this year. Maybe next time.” If pressed, be honest. “She was quite rude to us the last couple of times we saw her, and we just didn’t want to force our company on her this year. She will be much happier with others.” Be strong, be adamant. There is absolutely no reason to suffer through this woman’s presence. If Bert says, “Well, we may not be able to come then.” You simply say, “That’s too bad, but I understand. Please let me know if you change your mind.”

      IF you really can’t find your way to excluding this woman, then you have to be firm and strong in your own home. Why would you let anyone push you around, especially on your own turf? You are NOT “expected to deal with it” silently. If she is rude, ignore her. If she is demanding, ignore her. If she really asserts herself, you assert yourself back. As the host, it is actually up to you to greet people who enter, and not the other way around. When you do so, you take charge of the interaction. “Gail, how nice to see you. Please place your coat there, and we have a seat for you here.” Etc. If she tries to “steal” another gift, just say no! “I’m sorry, but that gift was addressed to me. I’m taking it back now.” Be matter-of-fact. Don’t allow her to steamroll you. If she tries to assert control in your home, calmly take it back. If she turns on the TV, “Sorry, we’re not watching TV right now.” Click. If she demands something other than what you’re serving, “Sorry that’s not available. I hope you can find something you like out of the selection we’ve provided.” This woman isn’t your friend, there is no “rescuing” the relationship from unpleasantness. She sounds like unpleasantness incarnate, and a bully. Who knows, once you hold firm perhaps she will not want to come back the following year!

    • Jerry

      Dear Mary/Casey —

      I can tell it’s getting to be that season because family squabbles are appearing more often on these pages. You are not wrong to feel put out. Here’s how I would react:

      1. The first rule of family get-togethers: Do Not Let Fear Of A Family Squabble Turn You Into A Doormat! Nothing in the rules of etiquette require you to suffer abuse in silence. Rather, the rules of etiquette might be equated to verbal judo. Roughly translated, judo means “the gentle way.” The “gentle way,” though does not mean that the judo practitioner rolls up into a ball when physically confronted — it means that the confronter gets his tail whipped in a graceful manner. What does this mean for you?

      2. Assert yourself. Tell Linda (your cousin) that she can accept the new grandmother in law and all of her attitude, but that you will not put up with it. Set expectations. If you have to, you might volunteer to speak with Gail yourself. This way you can be sure that Gail gets the message you want delivered. You can (and should) deliver the message nicely. But there should be no confusion at the end of the day as to how she’s expected to behave at your house.

      3. After you’ve delivered the message, there’s a chance Gail will accept your invitation to join for Christmas Eve dinner, but respond with passive aggressive comments all night. Call them out. So if Gail says “Who do I have to sleep with to get some coffee around here,” you can respond “Oh, I’m sorry, Gail. I didn’t realize you wanted some. If you ask nicely, I’ll be happy to make a pot.” Or . . . well . . . you get the idea. Bottom line is that it is your house and your rules.

      4. Don’t let Linda blackmail you with a “family fall out.” If someone physically threatened you, would you accede to the threat or would you call the police? If you would not accede to a threat of physical violence, why would you accede to a threat of emotional violence?

      Good luck.

  2. Alicia

    Your mother in law, you and your husband have a few polite options. You should all discuss them and as the three of you are the hosts should agree which option is the one you are going with and all happy with.
    1. Do not invite her. When Bert or Sarah asks if she may come say you are very sorry but no she is not invited. Stand your ground politely but firmly. Now what that could easy mean is that that Bert, Sarah and Gail all do not attend as it is possible that Bert and Sarah will be unable to attend if Gail is not hosted.

    2. Invite her. Invite her and let Bert and Sarah know that she is invited. All of you be kind and gracious hosts. Behave to her in a cordial and polite manner. If she tries to steal a gift then be polite but firm and explain that oh she must be mistaken as that is not the rules of the gift exchange. Be polite but treat her like an invited guest not an uninvited guest.

    Basically you three need to determine if tolerating this boor is a kindness you are willing to do for Bert and Sarah. Either do it willingly and cheerfully or say no. I would not put linda in the middle as if Bert and Sarah are old enough to be getting married they are in charge of their own invites and manners.

    • Mary

      Thank you very much for your advice Alicia. Because this is such a long standing tradition, invites are not sent. Gail simply arrives with the others because, since she was here once, it is assumed she is welcome every year. I will have to sit down with my husband and mother-in-law and discuss.

  3. Mary

    My apologies for posting this twice – it said it was a duplicate (which I knew it wasn’t), so I tried my daughter’s name instead.

  4. Joyce

    I am married to an american, I’m from overseas. In my home country we don’t really send thank you cards for anything, so I’m not sure when should I or should I not send thank you cards. We have a little baby girl, and last year was her first christmas. We got lots of presents, and all of them where sent by mail, since we live far from all my husband’s family. I have come to realize that I should have sent thank you cards, but I didn’t. I’ll make sure I send thank you cards this year, but should I say something about last year? or just let it slide..

    • Elizabeth

      At this point, I don’t know what is to be gained by mentioning something that happened over a year ago. The best thing to do is simply to thank people going forward. Just out of curiosity – how do you let people know that you received a gift (if sent in the mail) and express gratitude for it, if not via thank-you note? If you called them or emailed your thanks, that would be acceptable too.

  5. Bee

    Hello everyone,
    I have a bit of a dilemma that I hope someone can guide me on.
    I have been seeing a wonderful man for ten months now and we are very happy and in it for the long haul.
    We spend every night together; in the beginning we would take turns between my place and his, but over the last 2 months we spend 90% of our nights at his bigger, much nicer apt. Mine is a tiny studio and we’re at his more mostly at my request because (1) it’s more fun cooking in his larger kitchen (2) i like being in control of when we meet, instead of waiting for him to finish his house chores and come to mine (I don’t like being kept waiting (3) I like the flexibility of waking up in the morning and going back to mine for my morning getting-dressed-for-work rituals at my own pace.

    And I should add he’s always offered to come to mine but for the reasons stated above I prefer to come to his. The issue is that I’m beginning to feel a little resentful that he hasnt offered to share the cost of my cabs to and from his apt ($13 each way – daily total of $26). The option of taking the subway is there but it’s not the most convenient/I’d rather arrive fresh and unharried to his place.

    So is it fair of me to expect him to offer to share the cab fares/if yes, how would I bring it up without sounding unlike the indepently-earning woman that I am proud to be. Or do I just sound unforgiveably whiny – I read my question back and maybe I deserve the eye-rolls that will invariably be prompted by my question. Regardless I’m curious to hear what you all think!

    Thank you.

    P.s. we live in NYC and driving is not an option.

    • Jerry

      No, it is not fair of you to expect he pays part of your cab fair back and forth. Do you want to be an “indepently-earning [sic] woman”? Pay for your own cab, particularly since you are the one insisting on spending more time at his apartment. (And please don’t tell me that you gripe about the toilet seat when you’re there.) If we were dating, and you asked me to start paying your cab fare . . . well . . . I could no longer think of you as an equal. Really . . . unless I were considering asking you to move in, your request that I pay for some of your cab costs would make me lose a lot of respect for you. (Would you prefer that I leave your money on the dresser?)

      Bottom line — you’re responsible for paying your transportation to get to your dates. The NYC factor gives me even less sympathy for you. Seriously, unless he’s on the upper east side, there’s a convenient subway. And if he is on the upper east side, well, you’ve attracted someone in a high tax bracket.

    • I fail to see a dilemma.
      You are in control of nearly all the factors (place to meet, time of meetings, duration of meetings, and how you get to the meetings). Because all of those are your decisions, I don’t understand your issue with the outcomes. He’s not forcing any of this on you, and in fact sounds very accommodating; therefore, he shouldn’t be responsible for the costs of your choices.
      I used to live in the Village, and I never had a problem on the subway (I lived off the green line near Astor Place). Unless you live in Flushing, I’m not sure why the subway would be horribly inconvenient.
      You mention you spend every night together, and these nights are spent at his apartment. Does he charge you a portion of his water and electric bills, or part of the rent? If not, then logically you shouldn’t charge him for your transportation.
      Sounds like you got a good guy. :)

      • Bee

        Err yes I did rethink my stance when I found myself writing all the facts down and thank you both for your input.

        Incidentally he does live on the UES and yes I think I’ve got myself a good one.

        Thank you again!

        • Elizabeth

          I just wanted to point out the math here: $26/day, times even only 4 days a week is $100/wk. That could be $400-$500/ month, and $6,000 per year.

          That’s a lot of money in transportation! Personally, I would start taking the subway AND asking him over more often.

    • Alicia

      If he was coming to your place he would be paying for the cab or taking the subway. Honestly if cab is to much just take teh subway. Asking him to pay your cab fare is not fair.
      You have a few options
      1. Have him come to your place more thus he deals with transit costs
      2. Take the subway more if you learn the route better you will be less harried by it
      3. Move in together then you only have one place
      4. Deal with the cost and realize that it is a cost that you have chosen ( ie you want to be at his place, you want to not subway, you want to date him)
      5, break up

      This is a transportation cost you have chosen and nobody else should offer to pay or should pay.

  6. Breanna

    Hello Everyone,
    I wanted guidance on how to handle an awkward situation. I was married in the summer of 2011 and my childhood best friend was the maid-of-honor.
    She did not give me a bridal shower gift or a wedding gift or a card. Her background: She is a single 30 y/o with no children who earns more money than me and lives large. Throughout the 1 year window for wedding gift giving, she repeatedly acknowledged that she would send me a gift sometime soon and that a guest has a year to do so. Then, she said she would mail me the pictures she took at the wedding as her gift (even though we hired a professional photographer for the event). Without me questioning, she recently complained on her own about how she is “too busy to print the pictures” for me now. I really do not even want a gift, but am hurt by her actions and her acknowledgment that she will give something but never does and complains to me about the “chore” of my gift. We are not waiting for anything from her nor are we expecting anything at this point. She also has blamed ME for not reminding her to send us a gift (which I refuse to remind a guest for a gift!). My registry information was made available to her before the bridal shower and at this point, my hubby and I have been married for over a year now and this is just silly. As my maid-of-honor, I would have deeply appreciated at least a nicely written card from her. Should I even remind her of the gift as she requested? I feel she handled this situation so thoughtlessly that it’s actually straining the relationship now. I am not holding any resentment, rather I am just seeing her in a different light and questioning her sincerity. Should I just move on and not bring it up (maybe find more polite friends!), or should I be honest with her and tell her that it hurt that she has dragged this out this long and did not give a card or follow through? For the record, I mailed her a note of thanks for standing up in my wedding and sorted through and print out and mailed copies of all the professional photos she was in from the day to her and all my attendants in a timely manner. Even though she’s my friend, in this situation I stuck with the etiquette and stayed in “hostess/polite bride mode” and did not bring up my feelings regarding the gift. I understand she is not obligated to give anything as a guest, but as my friend I would have really appreciated at least a card from her to show her support for my big day. This is less about the gift at this point, but more about being a good friend.

    Thank You!

    P.S. I had a large wedding and my bridesmaid’s dresses were on clearance and under $100, (with 10 months to save for the purchase) they were able to wear any shoe/jewelry. I paid for their hair/makeup to be professionally done the day of, so there were no extra expenses that she footed or was strained by to be in the wedding.

    • Jody

      Breanna, I think you’ve taken the correct route. You’ve thanked your friend for standing up as your MOH and done other things for her and your bridal party. I agree that it’s not polite to remind a person that she hasn’t sent a gift (the exception would be if she told you she sent it on X date and you hadn’t yet received it). I think the only option here is to move on and not bring it up; you might need to decide if you want to maintain a friendship with this person. If she keeps pressing the point of her sending a gift you’ll have to say something like “Jane, I’d like to consider that subject closed” and change the subject.

    • Elizabeth

      I agree with Jody. I would never bring it up again. If she continues to raise the issue, you can say gently, “Friend, it’s not a big deal, you really don’t have to buy us anything for our wedding. It seems like this gift issue has caused you a lot of anxiety and stress over the past year, and look, if you wanted to give us a gift, you would have already. So let’s just call it even, and move on, ok?”

      On one hand, how hard is it to buy a gift? On the other, sometimes people just have real blocks about things. Since she was your MOH, she probably feels like she should have gotten you something special and meaningful, not just something off your registry. But life gets in the way, and she’s probably not the best gift giver to begin with. I myself only found my sister’s wedding gift now (November) and it’s been since her June wedding – if you can believe it. Money seemed like a bad gift (too impersonal), as did something like a mixer. I’m sure your friend does feel bad about it. I wouldn’t sever a friendship over it.

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