cereta: Laura Cereta (cereta)
Lucy ([personal profile] cereta) wrote in [community profile] agonyaunt2017-07-23 10:24 am
Entry tags:

Dear Abby: Parents Grin and Bear the Bill for Man's Upscale Appetite

DEAR ABBY: Our son-in-law, "Brody," has a very different lifestyle than ours and the one in which we raised our daughter. I pointed it out to her while they were dating, and she was not pleased. I decided to say no more and try to accept him as best as possible, although I admit my husband has been better at it than I have.

One thing that continues to bother us is that whenever we invite them out for dinner, Brody will order the most expensive thing on the menu. He also has a couple of drinks, upgrades his salad and orders dessert. By the time he's done, the cost of his meal is double that of everyone else's.

Although we can afford it, we feel this is bad manners. I'm not sure if he's trying to take advantage of us or if he just thinks he is entitled. Our daughter thinks he's wonderful and doesn't seem to mind that he does this. I worry that it may reflect badly on her when they are out with others. Is this acceptable? Do we grin and bear it? Or should we say something and, if so, what do we say? -- PAYING DEARLY IN MONTANA

DEAR PAYING: If you bring the subject up, I can almost guarantee that what you say will not be well received. What your son-in-law is doing is "acceptable" in light of the fact that you say you can afford it. If you couldn't, I assume those dinner invitations would be few and far between, and you would have had to explain the reason to your daughter. When they dine out with contemporaries, presumably the bill is split between the couples. If that isn't the case, it probably wouldn't happen twice because the other couple would likely request separate checks.
lilysea: Serious (Default)

[personal profile] lilysea 2017-07-23 04:27 pm (UTC)(link)
I think guests should be allowed to order whatever they want to eat,
but that they shouldn't order the most expensive thing on the menu *just because* it's the most expensive thing on the menu.

So, if they have a desperate craving for deep-fried whole soft shell crab, and deep-fried whole soft shell crab is the most expensive thing, that's fine,

but they shouldn't be going through the menu thinking "what is the most $$ dish, I will order that."

I also think that there are options for the parents:

a) choose cheaper restaurants;
b) have meals with daughter and her husband less often;
c) ask daughter how she'd feel about splitting the bill 50/50.

I'm also wondering if the parents are sufficiently insufferable/boorish/obnoxious that the husband is thinking "this is fair compensation for putting up with the parents for the duration of a meal."
kutsuwamushi: (cooking)

[personal profile] kutsuwamushi 2017-07-23 04:32 pm (UTC)(link)
I do think that the son-in-law is being inconsiderate and that it will reflect badly on him if he does it to others. I also think that it would be rude for them to confront him about it, because they did offer to pay for his meal and didn't put limits on the offer.

It's none of their business how he's received by other people. They don't like how he spends money, which is compounded by the thoughtlessness he exhibits when he spends theirs. This is between them; their "worry" over his reputation rings false to me.

If they don't want to continue to pay for his expensive meals, they should change their get-togethers so that the situation doesn't come up.
lunabee34: (Default)

[personal profile] lunabee34 2017-07-23 10:33 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm a little conflicted about this letter. On the one hand, it reminds me of the way my parents used to act about spending money. They are extremely frugal. We rarely went out to eat when I was a child/teenager, and there were always rules about what we could eat (price point, only get water, etc).

When my husband started working at a nice restaurant, we took them to eat there a couple times, and it was so uncomfortable the way they talked about how expensive the food was and made a huge production of choosing the cheapest thing on the menu. Finally, my husband said something like, "Look, we invited you out for dinner. We're paying. If you genuinely only want to eat a salad, go right ahead, but we're offering to buy you anything on the menu and your excessive posturing about money is making everyone feel awful." And then my dad said, "Alrighty, then," and ordered a rack of lamb.

So I wonder if the LW is coming from that kind of background where you must only order a sandwich or a salad and just drink water and is using their frugality as an unfair measure for the SIL.

I'm also wondering what kind of restaurants they're going to. If they're going to super upscale places where his meal is 70 dollars more than everyone else's, then LW may have a point. But if they're going to Outback once in a while and he's getting a steak instead of chicken tenders, the reaction seems completely ridiculous.

The only part of this letter that I agree with is the part about him drinking alcoholic drinks. It sounds like he's the only person drinking at the meal, and I think it would be rude, possibly taking advantage to order drinks for yourself if no one else is drinking.
shirou: (cloud)

[personal profile] shirou 2017-07-24 02:13 am (UTC)(link)
I could be this son-in law. I was lucky to be born to a family that can afford to regularly go to expensive restaurants, and I tend to order steak or lamb because I can't eat seafood (allergies) and see chicken as rather too boring for a dinner out. Ordering a couple drinks and a dessert seems perfectly ordinary, and the idea that it would occasion comment surprises me. Dinner at home includes a couple glasses of wine, so why would dinner at a restaurant be any different? Unless the son-in-law is ordering expensive bottles of wine or single-malt scotches for himself, his behavior strikes me as altogether normal.

Ordering dessert when nobody else does is the one thing that might be rude, not because of the cost difference, but because everyone else will have to wait while the son-in-law eats it.

From this perspective, I disagree completely with Abby's advice that if the LW's parents bring it up, it would not be well received. I guess it depends on how it was brought up. In the son-in-law's place, if the LW told me in an accusatory way that my behavior was inappropriate for violating a rule I hadn't been told, I might not take it well. But if I was gently told that they normally limit their spending when dining out and would prefer I not order drinks/steak/whatever, I'd be fine with that. I'd probably wonder why they didn't tell me sooner.

In fact, what bothers me most about this letter is that the LW makes clear that this is a pattern and she has said nothing. I hate it when people expect others to infer things instead of just saying them aloud.

I'm from a Euro-American family, fairly recently immigrated, and while my parents never got drunk that I could see, wine was part of daily life. Now I constantly watch people around me to see how my moderate but regular drinking will be received, not because I'm worried about the price of the wine, but because some people are teetotalers with ideas about alcohol that I find bizarre. In the son-in-laws place, I'd probably feel relieved that my in-laws seemed okay with my drinking, despite not drinking themselves -- because they hadn't said anything! -- without once thinking about cost.

As an irrelevant aside, despite a privileged upbringing, I have no idea what it means to upgrade a salad.
Edited 2017-07-24 02:31 (UTC)
jadelennox: Judith Martin/Miss Manners looking ladylike: it's not about forks  (judith martin:forks)

[personal profile] jadelennox 2017-07-24 02:55 am (UTC)(link)
I absolutely agree that this could just be different sets of cultural mores, and the LW is angry because they assume their unspoken mores are universal.

I'm not saying the SiL isn't being a thoughtless creep -- we've all known that person -- but it's not reasonable to assume he is. (Except, as you said, I do think it's a relatively universal courtesy not to order dessert if you're the only one, just because then people are watching you eat dessert.)

More over, the daughter and SiL are adults. The parents don't need to pay for their meals. Here are some reasonable scripts for them:

  • "Daughter, would you and SiL like to come over to our house for dinner?"
  • "Daughter, you Other Parent and I love going out with you and SiL, but we realized we've been infantilizing you by always paying for your dinner! We're sorry, but we're so used to thinking of you as our baby girl and not the Excutive Widget Designer you've become. Shall we go out to Kitten Chops House of Klaus on thursday and split the check?"
  • "Daughter, can we take you out to Taco Bell this weekend?"
  • "Daughter, we always take you to our favorite restaurant! Why don't you take us to yours sometime?"

In general, if you keep giving an open ended blank check gift, and the recipient always cashes it for more than you want them to, the solution is to stop giving a blank check gift. Put constraints on it or stop giving it, instead of seething in resentment.
Edited (oops!) 2017-07-24 02:55 (UTC)
eleanorjane: The one, the only, Harley Quinn. (Default)

[personal profile] eleanorjane 2017-07-24 04:27 am (UTC)(link)
I assume upgrading a salad is "yes, I will have the optional chicken in my side Caesar salad for an extra three dollars please" and the like.
rosefox: Green books on library shelves. (Default)

[personal profile] rosefox 2017-07-24 05:14 am (UTC)(link)
The reason you have no idea what it means to upgrade a salad is that you had a privileged upbringing; it's not really a thing that happens at fancier restaurants. Honestly, if they're eating at the sort of place where salads have upgrades, the prices can't be terribly high and their stress over this seems disproportionate. I'm guessing the LW feels embarrassed about being less wealthy than Brody and his family, and is trying to deal with that by making it about Brody's manners.
shreena: (Default)

[personal profile] shreena 2017-07-25 11:27 am (UTC)(link)
It's interesting that you mention the cultural aspect.

I'm British and, until I started reading American messageboards, I had never heard of the idea that you should consciously order less expensive food/drink when people are treating you. Of course, going crazy just because you're not paying is obnoxious but the idea that it's rude to order as you usually would is really odd to me.
eleanorjane: The one, the only, Harley Quinn. (Default)

[personal profile] eleanorjane 2017-07-24 04:26 am (UTC)(link)
My rule of thumb is always "do as the hosts are doing". If someone is taking me out for dinner - I pick an entree, main and dessert I'd like (assuming I want that much), and then I wait until one of the hosts has ordered first, and pitch my order at that level. If they're ordering a three course meal with booze, I will feel free to do likewise if I wish. If they're sticking to mains-only and cheap drinks, I'll pitch my order likewise.

...I had never really realised that other people don't do that?
rosefox: Green books on library shelves. (Default)

[personal profile] rosefox 2017-07-24 05:07 am (UTC)(link)
It's what I was raised to do. And on the flip side, I was taught that when one is the host, one subtly makes the parameters clear before the order is taken: "What are you having for a starter?" "I'm not that hungry tonight, so I'll have a second appetizer for my main course, but you should get whatever you want." "Make sure you save room for the desserts, they're wonderful here."
shreena: (Default)

[personal profile] shreena 2017-07-25 11:29 am (UTC)(link)
As I said in another comment, I'd never heard of this idea.

As a vegetarian, I would feel bad if people I treat felt that they couldn't order something more expensive than me as the vegetarian dish is often the cheapest on the menu.
eleanorjane: The one, the only, Harley Quinn. (Default)

[personal profile] eleanorjane 2017-07-29 04:20 pm (UTC)(link)
Well, it's not so much that I use it as a hard limit, more a guideline - if I was being shouted food by a vegetarian friend and their meal was a few dollars cheaper than mine I wouldn't worry, but I'm not going to order the wagyu burger if they're sticking to a toasted sandwich, you know? I'd stick to the same sort of section of the menu.
xenacryst: The fanlet with spaghetti (my food is problematic)

[personal profile] xenacryst 2017-07-25 11:52 pm (UTC)(link)
I think all of these comments are interesting and have some good things to say. What stands out for me is the very first sentence: has a very different lifestyle than ours and the one in which we raised our daughter. They're not used to his tastes, his preferences, his behavior when dining out, and they don't seem to approve (at the very least, the difference is causing friction, which the second sentence confirms). Maybe he's a privileged ass and is routinely taking advantage of them; maybe he's simply of such a different culture that the thought that what he's doing might cause resentment has never even crossed his mind. Whatever, though, he's different and that's grating on LW.

It might be best if LW explored why this difference is bothering her, and, if she can get some clarity within herself, try to tactfully discuss it with her daughter - not to try to change SiL's behavior, but to surface misunderstandings. Of course, it may be that what's bothering her is that she truly has distaste for the lifestyle (or culture or class or political background or race or...) that SiL is from and can't get past that - if that's the case, then she just needs to agree to disagree and find tactful ways of not handing him a blank check.

Long story short - this isn't about the price of tea in China, it's about SiL being "different."