Politeness at what cost?

I was raised to be polite. Yes, sir, no, ma’am polite. Thank-you note polite (although I can’t say I never forgot a thank-you note, but I do try). Eat what was put in front of you (or at least as much as you can) polite. For me, politeness helps me go with the flow: I know what the rules are. I abide by the rules. Everything is good.

There has been a debate raging among my friends about two food-related issues: Whether I am too picky and whether I am overly polite. I vote no on the first but I am willing to concede that there is a possibility of the second being true.

The great politeness debate started just after Christmas. Mike and I went to Scott and Kelly’s to help throw Scott a birthday party (if you ask Kelly’s mom, for some reason she thinks I threw the party, but I see no need to correct her. I am a wonderful person who throws birthday parties for my friends, yes I am). Kelly got an ice cream cake for the four of us in his favorite flavor, mint chocolate chip. Let me tell y’all, I hate mint chocolate chip. But it was all there was, and it’s not very festive to refuse birthday cake when there are only four people, so I was eating it because that’s what I thought (and still think) I should do. Until Mike looked at me and called my bluff. I would have made it just fine, eating just enough for it to be acceptable, but then he had to go and ruin everything by announcing to the entire room that I don’t like mint chocolate chip. Amy Vanderbilt would not be pleased with him, that’s all I’m saying. Kelly was enraged and tried to forcibly take my plate away from me. She still hasn’t forgiven me. Just this weekend, she said that she and our friend Melissa were talking about it, and they feel that our level of friendship demands that I be more honest with them. It’s true that they are two of my very best friends, so if I was going to be honest with anyone, it would be them.

But, y’all, when I do that, they tell me I’m too picky! (I say that with love, and also to give them a hard time because I know that many of them will be reading and defending themselves.) I say that I’m not overly picky because there are only a few things that I absolutely cannot eat when they are placed in front of me: scrambled eggs and peas. Everything else I can eat at least some of (even corn, as long as I can swallow it whole and don’t have to bite into it, so probably not corn on the cob). I don’t care for a lot of things, this is true, but I think being picky is more about making a big deal about things. I don’t make a big deal about things. I am low-key. If there’s really nothing I care to eat, I can always go make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (but not with grape jelly, because . . . ew). But mostly I go with the flow and I eat what I can and I eat things I don’t even really like because it doesn’t really hurt me to do that. It’s not going to kill me to eat mint chocolate chip ice cream or sweet and sour chicken even though I don’t like sweet meat (which I will tell you if you ask me, but if you don’t, I’m going to eat it). I feel like group eating is often about making sacrifices and I don’t mind making sacrifices for my friends. I will go ahead and say that I have eaten things I don’t like with most of my friends. If you are reading this and we have shared a meal, I’ve probably eaten something I don’t like. Because, yes, I have a long list of dislikes. And some of them are weird. But you didn’t know, did you?! I ate it just fine and it didn’t hurt me! It’s not a big deal to me!

There are a couple of problems with this that I can see. It reminds me of the great pizza topping debate of 2004, where I admitted that it’s hard for me to put forth my preferences in certain situations. Many situations. Okay, a lot of situations. So maybe I am being overly polite. But, again, politeness seems like a good thing to me. I don’t see the harm in it, except that if I were in my friends’ shoes, I would be horribly offended if someone ate food they didn’t like at my house and I didn’t even get the opportunity to offer them something, anything, even just a PBJ instead. So I do see their position. I just don’t know how to speak up without feeling rude.

Let me tell you a story. When I was growing up, my family went to church 45 minutes away. Youth group was on Saturday nights, so often the parents would drop me off at youth group and I would stay that night with a friend. One friend in particular, her mom always Martha Stewart-ed it up the next morning when it came to breakfast. She always made egg casserole (aka breakfast medley for those of you playing along) or pancakes. And other things to go with that. And she would serve them up and hand you the plate piling over. Now, I am not a huge pancake eater, but that’s mostly because I get hungry again so soon and it really messes up my blood sugar and I feel yucky all day. So, if you’re serving pancakes, I can eat ’em. I would prefer not to feel so bloaty (which is a word), but I can eat ’em. Eggs, though, are my nemesis. I used to eat them, but they turned on me at one point, and I really hate the smell. But she would serve up the plate (which I do not advocate – I think people should be allowed to get what they want on their own plates), and I didn’t want to be rude, so I would force them down. So, who was wrong here? Her for not asking, or me for not telling? In my house, my mom always asks and makes sure she has something you can eat (even if it’s just the aforementioned PBJ). But maybe I should have just said, without making a big deal about it (which is key! Go with the flow as much as you can, I say!), “Mrs. X, I have very strong feelings about eggs. Negative ones.” I look back on my 13-year-old self, sitting at that table, forcing down those eggs, and I want to cry because the smell of eggs makes me nauseated. And also applaud, because I appreciate politeness.

So, it seems like the issues are: Should you make your preferences known or just eat what’s put in front of you? Is there a certain level of friendship at which you should feel free to make your preferences know, and, if so, how do you know what that is? What constitutes picky? How come some people are picky and others just have discerning tastebuds (I am in the latter, if you were wondering)?

Readers, weigh in.

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