Q: I go out to dinner a lot with my sister and her boyfriend, who always picks up the tab. It's generous of him (we go to nice restaurants), but because he's paying, he thinks he can finish my food! My sister always offers him whatever she hasn't eaten, and now that they've been dating for a while, he's actually started asking me, "You gonna eat that?" too! I'm a grad student—taking leftovers home means a break from ramen noodles and PB&J. Yet I can't afford to pay my own way. Is he really entitled to eat my food if he pays?
A: Who is your sister dating, Homer Simpson? No, of course he is not entitled to your leftovers! When he asks, "You gonna eat that?" your answer should be "Yes—for lunch tomorrow. We poor, starving grad students live for leftovers! Thank you so much!"
And you know it's not cool to let someone treat you to dinner repeatedly without reciprocating somehow, right? (Even if his manners are rather dreadful.) Invite your sister and Homer over for a simple dinner at your apartment if you can't afford to take them out—it's the right thing to do.
Q: What do you do if you have to attend an elaborate holiday meal but you can't eat most of the food they're serving? My girlfriend and I are traveling to spend Christmas with her family, and they have a huge Seven Fishes dinner on Christmas Eve… but I'm terribly allergic to seafood.
A: Have her tell her family in advance, so they're not surprised, but don't worry too much—you can't help having an allergy. You should say something along the lines of, "That smells amazing—I wish I could taste it!" as often as possible. Also, make sure you eat anything you're not allergic to… and compliment the chef.
Q: If I'm staying with my aunt over the holidays, do I need to bring her a hostess gift and a present? Or does a present alone suffice?
A: Bring two gifts, or give one present and send flowers the day you return home. You want to acknowledge your aunt's hospitality separately from wishing her happy holidays.
Is Privacy Possible at a B&B?
Q: A friend of mine recommended a B&B, so my fiancé and I stayed there. We liked our room and the inn itself… but we hated having to make small talk with strangers at breakfast. Can you kind of keep to yourself without looking like a jerk?
A: That's kind of a tall order. Having breakfast with other guests and/or the innkeepers is a big part of the B&B experience. If you just want the first B but not the second, you might be better off in a regular hotel, where you can be as antisocial as you please. Otherwise, check with the innkeeper before booking—you might be able to arrange breakfast in bed (though there may be a fee) or a table for two.
Lesley Carlin has been writing about travel and etiquette professionally for more than 10 years. As one of the Etiquette Grrls, she is the co-author of "Things You Need to Be Told" and "More Things You Need to Be Told" (Berkley). Have a travel etiquette question of your own? E-mail Lesley at email@example.com.