Dear Prudence

I Offended My Indian Sister-in-Law by Bringing Groceries for Our First Visit

I thought this was good manners but apparently not!

A woman cringes next to an illustrated grocery bag.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Koldunova_Anna/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)

Dear Prudence,

My brother-in-law married a woman from India shortly before the pandemic. We met her at the wedding and got along well. Now that restrictions are loosening up, my husband and I planned a visit to his brother’s place with our two kids for three days. They are within driving distance, so we loaded up groceries to help keep costs down during our visit. I noticed that my new sister-in-law, who received us warmly, was acting a bit odd, and I asked her if she was OK. She said she was confused as to why we brought groceries—that they are fine financially and looked forward to hosting us for a few days. I assured her we didn’t mean to offend, that we just didn’t want to burden them with feeding our family of four. She asked if I would expect her to bring food if she visited. It was awkward, but I told her that that’s what’s considered polite in the States. While the trip wasn’t totally awkward the whole time, we never really recovered from that conversation. I admit I’d feel a bit put out if I was expected to feed another family for several days’ worth of meals, even though we can afford to do so. Please help me navigate a follow up with my sister-in-law.

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—Just Trying to Be Polite

Dear Just Trying,

This is actually very sweet. You wanted to be a good guest and she wanted to be a good host, and you simply ran into a cultural difference. This difference might have to do with your countries of origin, but also keep in mind that different families and communities within the United States have different traditions and norms, so it wasn’t totally correct to tell her this is how things are done here. (In my experience, it’s more common to offer to pay for a dinner out or bring a gift to show your appreciation when visiting someone than it is to fill their cabinets with your own food.) So instead of thinking, “She doesn’t understand the United States,” your mindset should be, “We don’t understand each other.”

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You should have a talk with her that prioritizes vulnerability, curiosity, and a little bit of humor.
Something like:

“I’ve been thinking about how I brought groceries to use during our visit without asking you and I want to apologize again. I was taught to do that so feeding my kids and me wouldn’t be a burden, but I’m realizing every family has different traditions and I feel silly now that I see it from your perspective, because of course you could afford to host us for a week. I just did what I’ve always done when I visit people, and it really sent the wrong message. Now I’m eager to learn about other ways that we might do things differently—because I want to be a good guest, but also because you’re my sister now and I want to make sure I’m not rude by mistake. Can I text or call you and ask you questions sometime? Sorry again for bringing six boxes of Cheerios. I won’t do that again, and honestly I would rather eat the food you cook any day!”

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And then if she agrees maybe you can open a light, ongoing dialogue about food, gifts, child rearing, celebrations, taking shoes off in the house, and anything else that might come up over the years. Not because you always have to do things her way, but because you should each know where the other is coming from.

Hopefully years from now you’ll be saying, “Remember when I brought all those groceries to your house without asking and you thought I was calling you broke?” and laughing about it.

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Dear Prudence,

My husband and I have been together for seven years now, and things are great! But there’s one thing that happens sometimes that baffles me. Neither of us are morning people, so mornings are generally a series of grunts at each other—fine by both of us! However, I’ve noticed a pattern. Only in the mornings, it seems like there’s a cap on how many negative things I can say before he gets very upset and needs to be alone. The most recent time, he made fried rice for breakfast, and I told him that didn’t seem very healthy (we’ve been making an effort to eat healthier), and when I went to make coffee, I saw he had taken out the new container while the other still had coffee in it, and asked why he did that. Now, it’s possible that I may have been grumpy about it. But I didn’t yell or use mean language. He got upset and said he didn’t want to be around me. This ended how it usually does: I told him I was really sorry for scolding him, and I wasn’t trying to make judgments and he accepted (though still seemed a bit upset) and we moved on, and things were fine. But I’m still so confused! Is this something I need to learn to deal with or is this something we need to figure out on his end. I genuinely don’t think I was being too harsh!?

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—Good Morning. Go Away.

Dear Good Morning,

There’s never a good time to tell someone the food they’re about to eat is unhealthy. That’s always going to be annoying and will never be helpful.

More broadly, can you set aside mornings as a time when you honor that you’re both grumpy and just don’t say negative things? I mean obviously, if he’s started a fire and the kitchen is burning down, let him know. But if you have questions about why he operates the way he does or critiques about things that really don’t matter that much, maybe save them for when you’re both more awake and cheerful. My guess is that when it’s a better time of day for you, you might not feel the need to have a confrontation about how the coffee is being opened.

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Dear Prudence,

I come from a culture that is rather harsh on overweight people, and my own family is no exception. The last time my mom visited me, I was 41 weeks pregnant (one week over my due date), and the first thing she said to me (I kid you not) was “OMG, how are you so big?” Needless to say, that hurt my feelings, but I didn’t say anything. My issue is she is coming again, and I’m three months postpartum, still with a significant amount of weight. I have no doubt she will make crude comments about weight at least 20 times in her 10 day visit, so how do I tell her off respectfully?

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—Tired of Being Fat Shamed

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Dear Tired,

“Mom, I know you have a lot of thoughts about my weight and that it’s normal to talk about it in our culture. But I want you to know that when you make comments about my body, it really hurts my feelings. Can I ask you to agree not to mention my weight at all when you come to visit? I love you and I want to spend time with you, but if you do this, it will make it hard for me to enjoy our time together.”

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Give reminders as needed during the days leading up to her visit. And if she slips up: “Mom, I asked you not to make comments about my weight. You did it again and it really hurt my feelings. I’m going to take some time to myself until I feel better,” and head to another room immediately. Take the baby with you, so she can have time to think about what she did and how it hurt you.

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Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From How to Do It

Recently I had sex with a man who said he had a 10-inch penis. It was, indeed, huge. But when I told my (gay) friend about this guy’s endowment, he told me that specific measurement was statistically very, very unlikely, and that the guy was probably just getting away with it because people have a skewed perspective (mostly because guys lie constantly, making people think smaller sizes are bigger). He said my guy was probably more like 8 or 9 inches, and that is already “huge” by most people’s standards. He said anything over 7 inches is “big,” given that the average penis is more like 5 inches or a little more. Is this … right? How rare is a 10-inch penis? Do all guys lie? Is everyone terrible at spotting actual size when they see it?

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