Ask Danica De La Mora Proper Etiquette

An Occasion with Not-So-Elegant Guests

Dear Ms. De La Mora,

I would like to share with you an experience that happened to me recently and I just can’t seem to shake it.

Every February, my husband’s entire family flies in from all over the country to celebrate their family reunion. This year, unfortunately, the reunion coincided with the passing of our beloved uncle. To provide some comfort, I decided to hold an elaborate dinner at my home and spent several days cooking and preparing the house for guests. I had arranged a beautiful table.

The first thing my sister-in-law did when she arrived on Saturday was tell me that my dinner may have to be canceled because everyone (excluding me) would be going to dinner at a local restaurant. She accepted a handful of phone calls and finally it was decided that they would postpone the dinner for the following evening. Everyone knew that my dinner was arranged for that evening, but I think she might have done that just to hurt me.

So, everyone showed up for dinner and my sister-in-law was the last one to sit down at the table. Immediately, she began criticizing my choice for the decorations, the centerpiece, and she even stated that my table was too overdressed for such an occasion and that she couldn’t bear to be part of it. I was absolutely mortified! She stayed for the meal but she continually made ugly remarks about my choices for the meal and other things. It seemed as though nothing I arranged was appropriate. I tried to sit through it and say nothing but I had to excuse myself toward the end and I went to the washroom and cried my eyes out. I have never been so humiliated in all my life!

I later told my husband about it and, although he tried to be sympathetic at first, he ended up telling me that I was overreacting, that she is just who she is and I shouldn’t have taken it personally. How could I not take it personally??

To make matters worse, everyone discussed the plans for dinner the following night and my husband and I were excluded from the invite. I guess I should be relieved that I didn’t have to sit through more abuse, but I felt horribly disappointed. Am I in the wrong? How do I handle this?

Sandi M.


Dear Mrs. M,

I am sorry for the passing of your uncle and I am also very sorry to hear of this terrible experience. You really have been through the wringer! It sounds as though your sister-in-law is quite a challenging character.

I think you handled the situation with an elegance that is neither easy nor demonstrated by many. You were very gracious in the way you handled her criticisms by not calling her out in front of your guests and by excusing yourself politely to handle your feelings about the situation in private. Your silence said many things with which everyone surely agreed.

You also showed great strength, restraint, and respect by waiting until you were alone with your husband to discuss with him any issues surrounding his family members. This avoided causing him any discomfort or embarrassment and that was very considerate on your part. Matters of family are some of the most uncomfortable and most complicated; oftentimes we find ourselves in situations where we must go along to get along. Asking your husband to choose sides obviously is not something that you want to do, but protecting is deeply embedded his DNA and you certainly rank as a priority in his life. He should be more delicate with your feelings and perhaps pull his sister aside and tell her that the way she behaved was inappropriate.

You conducted yourself as a lady and for that you should be proud. No one is likely to forget that occasion or her behavior anytime soon and the good thing is that you did not have to respond to her indecencies because everyone at the table likely was taken aback by her comments. Perhaps there is some jealousy where you are concerned and it seems as though this woman may feel threatened by your familial inclusion (especially if you conduct yourself with the elegance of a feminine lady and run an efficient and beautiful home!). She was highly inappropriate and disrespectful in numerous ways and know that you did nothing wrong by the way you chose to handle it.

It is unfortunate that you were not invited to dinner and I feel your disappointment as I have been in similar situations. The best thing you can do is to try to limit the amount of time you spend with this person, while trying to deal with your feelings on your own or discussing them with your close ones and limit the venting you do around your husband. Yes, communication is important, but it is wise to limit the critical discussion of his family members as he may feel uncomfortable, pressured to choose sides, or even attacked. Fortunately, she doesn’t live nearby so hopefully that will help to limit your exposure to her.

Many of us have that unpleasant family member, but you are a shining example of how a real lady handles her conflicts with grace and warmth so hold your head high! Thank you for sharing your story with us and please know that you are not to blame. When considering the larger picture, you’ve already won.


Danica De La Mora

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