20-40-60 Etiquette: Sticking to the potluck menu, meeting time
QUESTION: I am part of a group of ladies that meets every couple of weeks for potluck dinner. We plan the menu, and everyone contributes. One very sweet lady brings her share when it is at someone else’s house, but not mine. She always brings lots of food to my house (even items not on the list) and always brings items I signed up for. She shows up early, even though I have told her that I don't need help. I am at my wit's end and dreading my next time to host. Help!
CALLIE’S ANSWER: Next time, instead of dreading it, change your attitude. She probably just wanted to help and get to know you better by coming early. Are you sure she doesn’t show up early to everyone’s house?
LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: That’s really odd, especially since it is only at your house and no one else’s. It’s hard to know what her motive is. Whether she wants to impress you, annoy you or compete with you is a mystery. Or maybe she just doesn’t like what you make and doesn’t want to tell you because she doesn’t want you to take it personally. If you enjoy your group, just accept that she’s going to bring extras to your house and try to get her to commit to her meal ahead of time so you can plan accordingly. And then enjoy the dishes she brings and prepare different ones. You can always ask her what’s going on, which I do sometimes in situations like this that I don’t understand, but if you do you still might not resolve it to your satisfaction.
HELEN’S ANSWER: Next time, ask her what she is bringing before she arrives. Then, very gently, tell her what you are having and that you all might not want to duplicate the dishes. Tell her exactly what time you want her to show up. She may think she is doing you the greatest of favors by “helping.” Just communicate your wishes to her and hope she follows your directions.
GUEST’S ANSWER: Yvette Walker, ethics specialist and assistant dean at the University of Oklahoma, Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication: Wow, someone who brings more than her share and comes early to help. And who's complaining? Just joking. I can understand how her largesse could be a problem, especially when you have it all covered and are on a schedule. If yours is the only house she does this at, then, either she really likes you and wants to get closer to you, or she thinks you need (not want) extra help. There is no easy answer. We don't know the motives behind what she does. Likewise, I don't know the difficulties in your life right now or in hers. I do know this: When we extend grace, we gain mercy. Open your home with a servant's heart for your guests. Try to remember this the next time she oversteps.
Callie Athey is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is 40-plus, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.