Thanksgiving was lovely, thank you for asking. Thinking over it, there is something I’ve never quite settled with myself comfortably. My aunt, who hosted, has been in AA successfully for so long I can’t remember if I ever knew she had an issue with alcohol. Her eldest son, my cousin, drinks occasionally and responsibly (so far as I know). He will bring a bottle of wine to dinner – sometimes two if he’s not sure what people will like; he’s fine with opening bottles and not finishing them. I have the impression they will have several bottles open at home at any given time, and that it can be quite a while before he finishes them.
Now, I enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, and the clean white he brought tasted particularly nice with the shrimp and cocktail sauce we had for hors d’oeuvres. However, I feel awkward sharing wine at my aunt’s dinner table, and avoid it almost instinctively. Yesterday I allowed myself a half-glass of wine before the meal, when we were sitting and chatting in her sunny, lovely living room sprinkled with objets d’art. I felt a small pang, as I usually do when I accept alcohol in her home. Should I drink if my hostess doesn’t? Am I offending her?
She doesn’t seem offended, but you have to know that my family’s etiquette is nearly Edwardian. A gracious hostess doesn’t cause a fuss, quite the contrary – she makes sure there is no fuss, so that everyone in her care can relax and enjoy. Theoretically, if it bothered her, she’d have insisted years ago that no one bring wine along, ever. Because my cousin has brought some to share, I assume she accepts its presence, though I can’t remember ever seeing her drink any herself. (I must’ve when I was little?)
That pang I felt used to be a whole lot more severe, as I was a lot more self-conscious than I am now. My rather formal upbringing didn’t have any rules or even guidelines for dining with people who didn’t drink when it wasn’t for religious or cultural reasons, just like it didn’t have any rules for vegetarians. I am so grateful the world has relaxed enough that you can just plain ask folks in regular conversation ahead of time what they do and don’t eat or drink!
(As an aside, I’m occasionally quite shocked at how picky and loudly rude dinner guests can be these days. If you don’t want to eat something you’ve been buy nexium 40 mg served, just don’t. You don’t have to make a declaration about it to everyone unless it’s actually life-threatening.)
The whole point of etiquette is to make everyone in the room comfortable so they can enjoy themselves. Neither my cousin nor I absolutely crave a glass of wine, nor are we offended if we aren’t offered one – though there are surely days when I enjoy a nice glass at the end of a day. My aunt does not appear to be uncomfortable having it around – somehow she has found her way to being perfectly sound in her own conviction and choice. I can’t recall ever seeing her struggle once she got used to the choice of sobriety, now that I think on it. I do remember her being shyly proud about her AA coins, and I think she’s always had the latest one in her pocket.
If I’m uncomfortable because we might make her uncomfortable, maybe I should just ask to find out what she prefers, especially in her own home. There’s always the chance that she’s simply humoring her son. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But there is no pathway in our elegant rituals to ask one’s hostess about this sort of thing once we have gathered for an occasion. I have to remember to do it some other time. So it’s good that she’s my aunt, and we’re both old enough to have stopped worrying so much about these elaborate standards. I’d say we’d stopped worrying at all, but a) good manners, especially good table manners, really do make everyone else’s life more pleasant, and we like them; and b) we both have high standards for ourselves. We haven’t given it all up. We’ve just allowed ourselves a lot more choice about which practices matter, and when.
My mother would never, ever have understood.
Codicil: I notice neither my cousin nor I drank wine at the dinner table. We all switched to sparkling non-alcoholic cider for the shared meal. Happily, I like sparkling cider – any bubbly drink is cheerful and celebratory – and it goes well enough with turkey if it’s a dry cider, but there I go, being a picky brewer. It also gives us a way to use her lovely crystal, which is a pleasure of its own, of course.
I tried looking up the etiquette of drinking with someone in AA, and came up with nada.
This is the only bit of awkwardness I experienced with my family at Thanksgiving. How many of you can say the same?