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Marissa Lingen

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It gets early early here, too. [Jun. 10th, 2010|10:32 am]
Marissa Lingen
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Here in Minnesota, 10:00 to 1:00 began, as it so often does, at 8:30. When we lived in California, when the internet was broken (as it so often was), the people who were scheduled to come out to fix it would say 10-1, and we would know, absolutely know, that there was no way they would get there before 11, and the likelihood was that it would be more like 2:30 or 3, and that was just the way of it, you couldn't leave your apartment if you wanted the internet fixed. Here, about half the time we're having work done we'll get a call: "Do you mind if we come early? It's just that we've finished the thing we had scheduled before, and it'd be awfully convenient...."

Mostly this works great for us with our circumstances; getting stuff out of the way sooner is lovely. But the thing non-Minnesotans who live here need to know is that you are absolutely within your rights to say, "Sorry, no." They may passive-aggress at you. But if you arranged to be off work and home between 10 and 1 and they are sighing and twitching over the phone at you about how convenient it would be for them to show up at 8:30, if it is not convenient for you, you can say, "I'm sorry, I'm afraid that just won't work, I'll see you between 10:00 and 1:00 as planned. Thank you," and hang up the phone. They are the one asking you a favor, even though it may work out better for both of you.

Anyway, very soon we will have fully carpeted basement stairs, padded against falls, and the peasants rejoice.

Another thing I want to clear up, because it came up recently in an e-mail, is that I have heard the misconception that you have to be offered something three times before it's polite to accept it--coffee, say, or cookies. Either this is absolutely not true or I have the rudest Scandosotan family on the planet. (Note: this latter case may, I suppose, apply.) Never once have I waited for the third offer if I actually wanted a cookie. Someone offers me pepparkakor? I am on that. Ya sure you betcha. I may even articulate, "You don't have to ask me twice!" Does this make elderly Scando ladies sniff and draw back at my forwardness? Not at all. They are delighted. (They like to see a young woman enjoy her pepparkakor. Or coffeecake. Or like that.)

I was trying to think where this myth might have come from, because I have never, ever seen it work that way around here. I have known lots of Lutheran church ladies in my time, and never once have I seen the dance of, "Would you like some coffee?" "Oh, no, I couldn't trouble you!" "It's no trouble, are you sure you don't want some coffee?" etc.

The only conclusion timprov and I could come to is that some of the Lutheran church ladies we know--and this applies to Catholic and Presby and Methodist and Quaker and Episcopal and Jewish and Buddhist and atheist ladies too, and also some ladies who are perhaps gentlemen and so on--are physically incapable of understanding that someone might be saying no to an offer of cookies.

"No, I am allergic to everything you have in the house," okay. But other than that, there are just people who are going to keep offering. And keep offering. And just. Keep. Offering. Because, "I do not care for a cookie, thank you," is not a thing they can really believe in. I think my grandmother has some friends, and I'm pretty darn sure I have some great-aunts, who believe with all their hearts that there are some cookies that I secretly wanted in 1983, and I was just being shy, or trying to be polite, or it was an attempt to look like those silly stick-thin fashion models, or something inexplicable about Kids These Days or my own personal quirks. So if they offer three times in the hour that you are there, and then you go home, it's not that there is a ritual around threes. It's that you didn't stay all weekend, so they didn't get to thirty-seven times for the cookies plus setting out the cereals in a row on the counter plus the late night row of grapes and Doritos and inexplicable cinnamon and prunes.

I try not to do this myself. The way I get around this is by instructing people that I will wait on them for their first visit here but after that they are family and must get their own beverages and second helpings and things. This is not strictly true--I will often serve up helpings of dessert to order. But telling you to get into my cupboards to get yourself a glass of water if you want one (the glasses are to the right of the sink and the mugs above them; the wine glasses above the stove) is my way of not repeating every fifteen minutes, "Are you sure I can't get you anything?" Because, y'know. It's sort of genetic. Or possibly environmental. Either way, I got the full dose.

[User Picture]From: sartorias
2010-06-10 03:45 pm (UTC)
Or cultural. I grew up at the edge of the "ladies do not eat much, and when they do, they eat delicately" prohibition, which was reinforced by older fiction of the sort that is long forgotten now. Being offered several times, refusing politely, then at last "Maybe just one, they look soooo good!" was supposed to gratify the hostess into thinking that she really was such a good cook, she'd managed to overcome the ladylike appetite ("I only exist on air") of the visitor, and the visitor maintains her rep for not being greedy.

It was such a RELIEF in the early seventies to be able to indulge guilt free, but enough of the guilt lingered on that I was aware that I was guilt-free, in effect.
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[User Picture]From: txanne
2010-06-10 03:59 pm (UTC)
Yes. My mother grew up slightly farther toward the middle of that prohibition (oh, the midcentury American South, may its heirs and assigns DIAF) and I'm very glad she made an effort to keep it away from me.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-06-10 04:10 pm (UTC)
The person who mentioned it seemed to have a perception of it as regional, and if anything, I have a perception of the Upper Midwest as less prone to delusions of female delicacy than the rest of the US.

This may be related to both of my grandmothers coming from farm families, but I'm not sure that's all of it.
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[User Picture]From: sartorias
2010-06-10 04:20 pm (UTC)
Yes--judging from diaries of pioneer women and other stuff, I think it was a city thing, as well as a class thing. Pioneer women thought women who tried this stuff were putting on airs . . . though a really charismatic woman could get everyone to buy into it, in order to belong to her exclusive circle.
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[User Picture]From: mamapduck
2010-06-10 04:34 pm (UTC)
Now you have to explain "inexplicable cinnamon and prunes" or at least tell the story behind it. :)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-06-10 05:17 pm (UTC)
Oh, I don't know. It's just that it seems like people who aren't me offer completely inexplicable late-night snacks, whereas my late-night snacks are always completely explicable.
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[User Picture]From: redbird
2010-06-10 04:44 pm (UTC)
I'd heard that "offer three times" thing, but not assigned to a location, I only knew it wasn't my culture. But there are several cultures existing in the same city I grew up in; maybe there are people who do that style of thing, along with the more straightforward people I know.

Late in life my Grandma Pauline would press cake on us when we visited. Her doctor had told her she couldn't have those sweets anymore, so she enjoyed them vicariously by feeding her family, especially her grandchildren. This wasn't about showing off her baking skills; the cakes came from the Entenmann's bakery. It was about seeing us enjoy them, and maybe about knowing that she had enough, that she and her children and grandchildren weren't going hungry, and had money for things like chocolate cake.
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[User Picture]From: dichroic
2010-06-11 12:53 pm (UTC)
That's pretty much what I grew up with. People didn't keep offering things because they thought you were refusing to be polite, they kept offering because they wanted to feed you as a way to show affection, and the sooner (and more often) you accepted the happier they'd be. (My mom and grandmother were pleased when I brought my husband home, because he wasn't a finicky eater and, unlike me, always cleaned his plate.)
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[User Picture]From: cathshaffer
2010-06-10 04:57 pm (UTC)
I have never heard of such a rule of etiquette, and those that hold to it ought not to come over to my house, because I typically don't offer more than once. If someone says they do not want a cookie, I believe them.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-06-10 05:22 pm (UTC)
See, for me the problem doesn't go like this, extended over half an hour or more:

Me: Catherine, do you want some cookies?
You: No, thanks.
Me: Cookies?
You: No.
Me: How 'bout some cookies?

It's more like this, again, over an extended time frame with conversation in between:

Me: Catherine, do you want some cookies?
You: No, thanks.
Me: Could I interest you in a cup of tea?
You: Oh, no, thanks, I'm good.
Me: How about some lemonade?
You: I'm fine, thanks.
Me: Would you like some raspberries?
You: No, thanks.
Me: A glass of water perhaps?
You: Had some just before I came over. But thanks.
Me: We have some trail mix.
You: Um...no.
Me: A sandwich?
You: No.
Me: Ovaltine?
You: Wait, has this been an extended Young Frankenstein reference?
Me: If I say yes, do I get to pretend I've been doing it to be funny?

Because I totally believe you that you did not want cookies. Absolutely. No cookies for you, check, got it. But surely there must be something! Surely! I MUST HOST YOU! I MUST!

My other mode of coping with this--other than showing people where things are and instructing them to help themselves, I mean--is to put not-very-perishable fruit out on the counter in bowls where it will be an explicit invitation. "EAT THESE GRAPES," it will say, and then I will not have to stand there and say it myself.
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[User Picture]From: cathshaffer
2010-06-10 05:39 pm (UTC)
LOL. I think I could handle this. But I am completely baffled and a little nervous about a guest who would refuse something she really wants, because she thinks I will ask her two more times. Ack. Maybe putting them out is the right solution. I can say, "Would you like a cookie?" and then just put them on a plate on the table with, "Well, if you change your mind, please help yourself." That probably doesn't constitute an extra two offers, but it's the best I can do.
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[User Picture]From: columbina
2010-06-10 05:48 pm (UTC)

This is also a common syndrome in the Deep South.
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[User Picture]From: telophase
2010-06-10 06:04 pm (UTC)
Way back when I was in my senior year of college, S, a roommate of mine had a Lebanese boyfriend (later husband). His family moved over from Lebanon that year, and she reported to me that his mother had that I MUST HOST YOU! I MUST! thing in spades, to the point of not accepting a refusal. S had to be continuously eating at their house, or SOMETHING WAS WRONG. It would go something like this:

*Mother notices that S's mouth has been empty for, say, thirty seconds.*
Mother: Do you want some peaches?
S: Oh, no, thank you, I'm fine.
Mother: We have some wonderful peaches.
S: No, no, thank you, I couldn't.
Mother: Are you sure?
S: Quite sure, thank, you.
Mother: You should try some of the peaches.
S: No thank you.
*Someone else in the room gets up and goes to the kitchen to get a drink*
Mother: Get S some peaches!
S: No, please, I'm fine!
Mother: They're wonderful peaches. You'll love them.
*S is given a bowl of peaches*

She told me that having to be constantly eating wasn't that bad when it was peaches but much worse when it was, say, Kit-Kats.
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[User Picture]From: skwirly
2010-06-10 06:27 pm (UTC)
I am also a genetic recipient of Hosting Syndrome. The 'help yourself after your first visit' rule generally applies around here, too, although it does not stop me from cooking unnecessarily elaborate dinners for, say, my husband's D&D group, who are appreciative though baffled.

Incidentally, my chromosomal hosting heritage comes straight from my maternal line, who were innkeepers in Poland until two generations ago. The family name was Solomianski, and my mother has a faded sepia portrait of the entire clan standing in front of the inn, with the sign visible: "Ristoranski Solomianski." I'm thinking of getting a plaque for my dining room. ;)
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[User Picture]From: tiger_spot
2010-06-10 09:47 pm (UTC)
But surely there must be something! Surely! I MUST HOST YOU! I MUST!

Hey, I do that!

I think possibly not to the same extent.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-06-11 07:24 pm (UTC)
I think this is part of why I often will accept a cup of water or tisane: because even if I don't actively want one, I can't really think of a time I actively don't want one, and then I have accepted a thing and everybody can be happy and relax.

Also possibly why I don't go to Greece, because of those things I only really like olives, and then only sometimes. Zucchini is sometimes all right I suppose, and shrimp if you let very talented Chinese cooks prepare it.

Edited at 2010-06-11 07:24 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: cissa
2010-06-15 02:56 am (UTC)
I had an unpleasant experience once with someone who was self-consciously Celtic, and who offered a "host cup" as one entered her house- and woe betide you if you didn't drink it! to the point that one time I DID, because I knew she had this fixation, and her husband then refilled my cup, and then she was convinced I HATED her because I HADN'T DRUNK THE CUP. Ye gods.

I will admit to being susceptible to the I WILL HOST YOU!!!! thing, though.
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From: swan_tower
2010-06-11 11:38 pm (UTC)
Oh boy, have I lived through the second.

As for the first, it's been ten years and I'm still waiting for my mother-in-law to realize that I don't drink tea. (Though, um, I may be starting to do so. Which will really just scuttle any future attempts to convince her I don't consume Food or Beverage X.)

On the topic of bowls in the open: and yet, people seem reluctant. I just don't get it.
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[User Picture]From: aamcnamara
2010-06-10 10:40 pm (UTC)
I have noticed that sometimes people have to ask me three (or, um, more) times before I will say yes to something I technically do want. However, it's usually things that I don't need (or want very badly), am not certain they are offering from anything other than politeness, and believe would be annoying or inconveniencing for them.
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