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Response to "Thanking a host"

Posted by Robin Abrahams  October 7, 2011 01:05 PM

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Readers offered a rafter of good ideas for host gifts and thank-yous in response to Monday's letter. If you're going to be visiting relatives or friends this holiday season, check them out!

Monday's LW, you made everyone's week. Your letter was sweet and generous and a lovely reminder that not everyone is out for as much as they can get. You cheered us all up, and we thank you. There was general agreement that the LW certainly doesn't need to do anything more to express her gratitude to her aunt and uncle. Given that they have four kids, and she helps out considerably, she probably doesn't even realize what a benefit her presence is. As colakoala wrote: 

If it were me, I would more appreciate having a loving, young family member babysit for my four (!!) kids than a restaurant gift certificate any day. And with that many kids, schedules have got to be hell to balance, so help with things like picking up their kids is enormous. That kind of behavior is better than a gift, it's grace with enthusiasm. 

If you feel you need to do more, do more of the same, and send them a thank-you note. If you really feel you need to contribute something that costs money, just go buy some groceries yourself. You can always say you had to get something for yourself or some food you like to have around, and pick up a few things they need while you're at it. And it's another favor busy people would appreciate.  

Honestly, with four kids, I doubt the LW is adding much to the grocery budget! However, if she wants to do more, I loved chattynewgirl's idea: 

Make the kids dinner and sent them off to homework/bed and then have a lovely grown-up dinner for the parents (wine, candles, flowers). They'll love it! The kids can get into it too (make place cards, etc.) 

Jstarr disagreed: 

The thought of having the guest take care of cooking dinner one night during the stay is a lovely idea, but probably not practical. My weeknight kitchen (and my weekday schedule) are like a well-oiled machine - meals are planned, scheduled shopped for and timed in advance and are on the table in whatever window of time gets most of us to the table at once (with conflicting sports and work schedules, we might only get 4 or 5 of us together at once). Having someone else in my kitchen on a weeknight would be more stressful for me. 

I'm highlighting Jstarr's comment because of the upcoming holidays. Folks, when people ask you to stay out of their kitchen, or say that it's easier to do something themselves: believe them. Truly. (chattynewgirl's idea could still work out, of course, if the family isn't quite as well-oiled as Jstarr's.) It's not kind to insist on "helping" in a way that throws off another person's rhythm or leaves them unable to find their favorite serving spoon. 

In a similar vein, Dee-DeeBee made a lovely argument for accepting generosity gratefully, along with a funny illustration: 

If doing more for the aunt and uncle will make them uncomfortable, then the best thing the LW can do is to shut up and bear the discomfort themselves. If someone does you a favor, but your gratitude makes them uncomfortable, then you just have to make whatever gesture of thanks will be accepted and swallow the rest. (Anecdote time; My mother has never learned this lesson, and is a perpetual cookie-bake-off with a certain neighbor. One of them does a favor for the other, who repays said favor with cookies, but then the cookie receiver feels guilty and makes cookies as thanks for the first batch of cookies, which are also reciprocated with cookies, ad infinitum, because neither one can stop as long as they feel they "owe" the other one.)
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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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