Miss Conduct

Advice: My in-laws ruin dinners with this terrible habit

Plus, is a wedding officiant supposed to give a gift?

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I don’t mind seeing my in-laws for holidays, etc., but eating with them is another story. They constantly stick their fingers in food that is about to be served. One time, my mother-in-law must have seen the look on my face when someone did it. She asked the person not to do it because I didn’t want hands on my food — however, the person did it again within seconds. These are adults who know better, and who also share a common virus that I don’t want to get. It’s hard to know whether to mention this to my husband or if it will cause more trouble. Should I tell him? Or just avoid eating there but not discuss?

S.M. / Windermere, Florida

They share a virus? Dang. You started off on the path of a fairly mundane etiquette question — in-laws, holidays, all the classic tropes — and then took sharp left into Stephen King/Frank Darabont territory. Heck of a reveal, S.M.!

What are you wanting to discuss with your husband, exactly? The fact that you will not eat unsafe food, wherever that food may be served, isn’t up for discussion. Nor is your perception of what food is and is not safe for you. He doesn’t get to weigh in on that, not at all.


And it seems unlikely that you and/or your husband could convert the family to hygienic holidays — if the disease itself didn’t convince them of the error of their ways, you won’t, either. Feel free to do whatever you have been doing to keep yourself fed and uncontaminated at family gatherings and don’t feel obligated to do the Centers for Disease Control’s job. If you need a cover story you can always concoct your own health condition — a diet, the perpetual belief that you may be coming down with the flu — to preclude breaking shared bread. So no need to enlist your spouse in a public health campaign.

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You do need to have a conversation with your husband if you’re worried about him eating food that’s been touched, or about what may happen when or if you get pregnant. Try to keep that conversation focused less on the finger-lickin’ family and more on the overall context of how you, as a couple, want to manage decisions about health and safety.

I have been asked several times to officiate at the weddings of friends and family members, using my trusty Internet-based minister’s certification. Occasionally, I am asked to perform a wedding for a friend of a friend or a distant relative, to whose wedding I wouldn’t normally be invited. Do I need to give a wedding gift? Do “real” clergy? In some cases, I’m already covering the cost of my own travel. I want to be kind, but sometimes I don’t really know the couple well at all. Help!

K.C./ Boston

Your free service is the gift, my dear! Doing weddings is a lot of work, even if you’re simply handed a script to read and papers to sign, and clergy people usually get paid for doing them.

If you’ve been doing all this for free you have a lot of people who owe you favors — good job building up all that social capital!

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.