Etiquette Questions, Answered: Entertaining and Guests
Q. How do you deal with hosting family members who aren’t on speaking terms?
A. I have two words for you: place cards. Seat the warring parties at opposite ends of the table, and with any luck they can pretty much avoid contact even when they are forced to be in the same room.
Of course, that’s assuming both family members will behave like adults. You may not be able to count on that, since they’re already acting like children. If you fear fireworks—perhaps the gathering isn’t that big or they’re really, truly not willing to be in the same place at the same time—then before the event you need to have a polite but frank conversation with each of them. Issue firm reminders that they are not to allow their squabble to ruin everyone else’s holiday. “Please remember the spirit of the season while you’re a guest in my home” should suffice.
If it doesn’t, follow this plan B: Tell a trusted family member to be on alert to assist you in a worst-case scenario. Then, if your relatives become embroiled in a vicious argument in the middle of your living room, you can intervene gracefully by hustling one combatant off to the kitchen to “help” while your accomplice “invites” the other outside for a walk. And take some comfort in this: Someday, in a year or two or 20 from now, even the worst blowup will morph into a “wacky family” story. “Remember that time Cousin Helen tossed the mixed nuts at Aunt Vina’s head?”
Read more advice about your etiquette conundrums, and see our Modern Manners blog.