Proper Etiquette of a Host and being Hosted?

Last night my mom and I had a conversation about proper hosting etiquette. It all started after she apologized for not partaking in some fruit that I had set out for a group of people (including her) that were at my apartment last weekend.

Then, I responded that it didn’t bother me, and actually I hadn’t even noticed. I told her that she should only eat what she thinks is good for her to eat, regardless of whether or not a host puts food out or not.  In reality, this was something that I had largely learned from my husband, who grew up in a different culture.

He once told me about this time he went to a party, and he was severely late. Everyone at the party had already eaten, and the plates had already been cleared. However, he was starving.   He politely went to the host and asked if there was any more food from the dinner that he had missed. The host obliged, and while everyone was sitting around in the living room enjoying their after-meal cocktails, he was eating a plate of food.

When I first heard this, I was shocked at how rude I thought it was. I kept asking him and commenting on the fact that he was the one that was late. It was his fault that he missed dinner. How could he have the nerve to ask for food after that portion of the party was finished? He calmly told me that he was not going to suffer in life more than he needed to. He was hungry, and hunger is a part of life. Yes, he was late. However, he wasn’t maliciously late, or he didn’t plan on coming to the party just to eat in front of everyone. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to enjoy the company of his friends if he were starving. So he asked for a plate.

Two women holding candles and placing them n a birthday cake. They are in a room full of people, all dressed very well.

It still took me some time to really internalize the lessons on etiquette my husband was trying to give me.  There are still instances when his actions seem so rude and so selfish. Last weekend I realized, however, that I had come away with some of the ideas that he has been telling me over the past 5 years.

When I tried to explain to my mom that it didn’t bother me that she hadn’t taken any of the food, she responded how rude it was for someone to go to a house and not partake in at least a bit of the food or drink that the host gave out. This goes for dinner parties, cocktail parties, or just having friends over and someone puts out watermelon on the table. I began to pepper her with questions.

Is it rude to go to a house and not eat food in a casual setting?

What if you are on a diet? What if you are trying to lose weight? What if you have an allergy? What if you have a fake allergy? She calmly responded that you had to find something, doesn’t matter how small, to eat or drink in order to be polite. I could be incorrect in saying this, but a lot of what my mom has learned growing up are lessons from the likes of Emily Post.

I remember once I bought an Emily Post book about wedding etiquette by Anna and Lizzie Post (not an affiliate link). It is filled with great information on what to do and not to do when planning a wedding. However, there seemed to be a lot of rules that I thought were a bit too much.

I still don’t agree with some of the things that my mom argued that evening. I understand where she is coming from because I was brought up in the same culture and country. However, I’m starting to think differently.

I am very conscious about what I put into my body. I gain weight very easily and it is extremely difficult for me to lose weight. I’m a very active person but I try and limit unhealthy, processed, or sugary foods in my diet. It gets to a point where if I know that I am going out to dinner with someone in a few days, or if I know I will be having company over for food or drinks I will plan my diet out around that. Now I know that this is because I have the etiquette of partaking in the food that hosts provide ingrained in my head.

My diet is important to me, but it isn’t my identity. I don’t feel obligated to tell everyone I know that I’m on a certain diet. Therefore, the host shouldn’t feel guilty for not knowing.

But those ideas have brought nothing me nothing about anxiety. It has never taught me to enjoy the food, or to use the food as a way to enjoy company. It has brought me this idea that I have to partake in the food or drink. This type of obligation brings absolutely no joy, just anxiety.

A bird's eye view of a nicely set table 7 empty chairs surrounding the table.
I can’t even remember which side the forks go on.

Why can’t I think about myself more often? If someone bakes a cake for me, yes I understand that- and I will gladly take a slice (probably more, to be honest). However, if it is a large group and there is a cake for the group, I politely decline. I don’t really see any need to tell a reason why, because that is my own personal business. Furthermore, I don’t see why a host or the person who baked the cake should feel guilty. That is like blaming the person for caring about their body.

I know this is a bit harsh, but I am not my diet. My diet is not my personality nor is it my identity. Therefore, I don’t see the need to telegraph constantly that I am watching what I eat. So I most likely won’t tell someone that I am eating with why I am eating a certain type of food, nor will I tell them why I am not eating something that they have provided a group.

Maybe I’ve made this a larger discussion than it needs to be. But I’m a strong believer that there is a time and a place to observe proper etiquette, but at the foundation, you have to care about your own happiness and health.

Being polite is always necessary, but taking care of your own health is a foundational priority.

Ultimately, I don’t always practice what I preach. I’ll be the first person to wake up after two hours of sleep to accommodate someone else’s schedule or go out of my way to cook something that goes along with every single person’s diet at a party. But I am starting to change that.

If a schedule can be changed so I can at least get a few hours of sleep, I will ask. But if not- no worries, I’ll wake up. If I can make one side dish to accommodate the one friend that is Keto or Paleo, then I will do that instead of making the entire meal to accommodate. It is not my choice that people are following a certain diet, and it is not the choice of my host that I am following a diet.

So what do you think? Do you think this is a generational difference of opinion? Or is it a cultural? Is etiquette more important than caring about your health? Or is there a good balance that everyone can find? Maybe you don’t agree with either side. Let us know in the comments. We are really looking forward to keeping this discussion going.

Do you like our debates? Want to see more? Read Mom’s and Daughter’s take on the Varsity Blues university admission scandal.