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What do you do when the hostess holes up in the kitchen?

My husband and I (with 3 year old) were invited to lunch the day after Christmas by our friend and his girlfriend. The girlfriend was in charge of preparing lunch and she really made a big effort. But she spent the whole time holed up in the kitchen preparing stuff. We hadn't been briefed on the structure of the meal (we had never been to their place and she is Polish). First there was lots of bread, olives, cold meats, etc and we were hungry and sort of went to town on that. An hour later came huge bowls of beetroot soup with dumplings. And a big platter of mushroom croquettes. By this time we were nearly bursting. An hour later came oven-baked salmon with rice and salad. I could hardly eat it, even though it was lovely. Then there were 4 kinds of cake, and coffee! We finished lunch at around 7pm! And the hostess was in the kitchen for about 6 of the 7 hours we were there. I was busy keeping the 3 year old out of trouble, but my husband kept going to the kitchen to ask if she needed any help. The kitchen was at the far end of the apartment, away from the room where the food was being served, so it was a bit awkward to carry on with her slaving away in a separate room. When we asked if she was going to eat with us, she said, that's ok, I ate before you came! My guess is she was nervous about entertaining and wanted to make a good impression, but we were left feeling a bit bewildered.

Any suggestions on how to tackle this sort of a situation?

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  1. This is only what I'd do personally, but I'd try to thank her with a present of some sort and acknowledge either in person or in a thank you card that I appreciated everything she put into the party, but I would love to be able to socialize with her more. So maybe I'd offer to take her and her boyfriend out on a double date as the present. Something like that.

    Depends on how much you like her and your friend, I guess. If you meant how you tackle it at the actual party, well...I would just tell her while you're leaving (or y our friend if she was still holed up in the kitchen) that everything was lovely, but half the party was being able to enjoy the hosts, and you hope you can return the favor some other time. At that point, I would gather either one of them would accept/tell the other, or just tell you that they don't mind going through the trouble. I understand how awkward it feels when this happens though, so I don't know how to avoid that guilty feeling!

    1. If the food was good, I'd have stuck hubby with the toddler, and hung out to see what she was doing in the kitchen. The opportunity to watch a person cook their native food doesn't come my way too often.

      2 Replies
      1. re: pikawicca

        +1 on that. I'd be asking for another invite to hang in the kitchen and help. That meals sounds wonderful.

        1. re: pikawicca


          What a wonderful opportunity - sounds like she was putting a lot of energy in to making traditional fare!

        2. If you liked the meal and it sounds like you did drop her a note thanking her for all her effort and hard work. If you plan on spending time with this couple again make sure its not in their apt. My guess is this was an easy way for her not to interact with her guests but still impress them and ensure they were happy.

          4 Replies
          1. re: princeofpork

            I agree with your advice. The only thing I'd add is that it may not have been social anxiety, but it may simply have been how her mother taught her to entertain. But you are right - set up future events in a neutral territory so no one has the burden of entertaining, so that OP can have a chance to get to know the girlfriend better. The one thing I wouldn't do is say something about wishing you'd had more time to talk, b/c it might make her feel bad about her hostessing.

            1. re: Cachetes

              That is what I was thinking too Cachetes. It might be a cultural thing. At least if you get invited again medgirl you will know to pace yourself and really enjoy the whole feast.

              1. re: Cachetes

                I agree this must be a cultural thing. My former husband was Portuguese and his mother basically never left the kitchen. She turned out delicious meals, but never sat down with us. I was never comfortable with it, but from what my ex's aunts told me, that's how it was done in their culture.

                1. re: Isolda

                  It is a cultural thing, a lot of European Country and Asian Country do similar things like this, but 6-7 hrs for lunch (usually 2-3 hrs the most for dinner) is a bit much. May be she didn't do party very often and/or didn't prepare anything a head of time (feels like she did everything from scratch when you arrived) I always bring gift to the person house to show them I appreciated the invitation. May be next time just say let’s go somewhere for lunch or dinner, It's a nicer way to avoid the same thing happen, and don't have to look like you are "showing her how it's done".

            2. invite them back to your house and show her how it's done, meal all prepped, apps, entree and dessert in good time with you at the table apart from going to get what's next and removing plates. Maybe she just hasn't mastered the art of planning a meal for guests so that she is with you 90% of the time or maybe that's just how it's done where she comes from.

              4 Replies
              1. re: smartie

                I wouldn't put it as 'show her how it's done' but you can certainly reciprocate in a more casual way. Over the years (and perhaps more significantly over the addition of several kids!) my friends and I have scaled down the way we entertain and it's much more relaxed and FUN this way. It was such an honest relief to me when people invited me over when their houses were less than perfect, for less than gourmet meals. Not everyone can pull off being the perfect host/ess and it takes time to learn what one can reasonably pull off and still be sociable.

                  1. re: MissusLisa

                    Thanks all for your comments. We have had them over to our place before, which is why they were keen to reciprocate. We cook Indian food (our 'native' cuisine) and do it in huge batches, mostly at night, then reheat in big bowls the next day to put out on the table for everyone to dig in. Most curries taste better the next day as the flavours marry more. Indian cuisine doesn't tend to have a multiple course structure, which is why we got royally caught out by the Polish festive meal! We also are lucky to have an open-plan kitchen/dining/living area which allows people to mingle even if someone is busy in the kitchen.
                    We will reiterate our thanks to her (we did thank her profusely for the wonderful meal and hard work) and say maybe a Polish restaurant next time so we can chat to her about Polish cuisine?

                    1. re: medgirl

                      Invite her over to your place, make some perogies and get a bottle of vodka, sit back and enjoy

              2. Maybe the food required alot of last minute preparation. I don't think it should bother you. Enjoy the food and thank her. At least she was there. When our kids were very little and I was very young, I made a Greek dinner for my husband's colleagues. I was so exhausted when they arrived that the first glass of wine knocked me out cold and I was in bed while everyone ate. I will never forget how mortified I felt and quickly learned how to make things ahead and to pace myself.

                1. Was this perhaps cultural? And maybe something to adapt to in their home? This isn't to say you can't express your surprise (and delight!) but I kind of wonder. This may have been her gift to you, in her way. ???

                  1. I'd say it is indeed a cultural thing. When, several years ago, our nephew was first engaged to a young woman who was originally from Italy, we were invited to her parents' house for Thanksgiving dinner. We sat down at about 2 pm, and she and her mother brought course after wonderful course at a fairly leisurely pace from antipasti through pasti, segundi, meats, vegetables, pallet cleansers, cheeses, pastries, all with accompanying drinks along the way. The meal officially ended at about 9 pm, after some of the aunts and uncles had joined us for coffee and dessert. In their home they had two kitchens, both of which they used to prepare for a meal like this. We felt honored by the hospitality. I certainly did not feel as though I should try and teach them how to entertain. (And we were not stuffed at the end of it all, because we were aware of the many courses that come from the Italian kitchen.).

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: junescook

                      "I certainly did not feel as though I should try and teach them how to entertain."

                      I love this.

                      And personally, the last thing I'd want is people in my kitchen watching me cook and asking me questions as I'm cooking.

                    2. A woman spends all day in the kitchen cooking, serving and cleaning a fantastic meal for her guests....theres not enough of that going on these days.

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: princeofpork

                        Yeah, they're too busy voting and working outside the house. Women...too dumb to know what's good for them.

                        1. re: yfunk3

                          damn, I wish we were back in the 50s, you know, when they know what they had to do. Who's going to clean the dishes and make me a sandwich?

                          1. re: vanierstudent

                            SO true right. They had it the right way in the 50s. The man would come home to a cooked meal, kids bathed and playing quietly, man gets handed a cocktail when he walks in the door. I was born 50 years too late. Now I do all the cooking and bathing of the kids

                            1. re: princeofpork

                              I love when sarcasm is either totally ignored or totally unrecognized.

                              1. re: yfunk3

                                Sorry, I recognized it, but didn't comment. Then again, I actually have a good job, no kids and the right to vote ;)

                                1. re: gaffk

                                  A MAN can also spends all day in the kitchen cooking, serving and cleaning too, I believe guys can do a better job staying home.

                                  1. re: gaffk

                                    It's all that damn education and fancy man learnin'. The smaller female brain can't handle it. ::pets fellow women on the head::

                                    1. re: yfunk3

                                      How about take it one step further? Put the kitchen behind the purdah.

                        2. I can see where it was a bit bewildering not coming in with an understanding of what the meal and timetable was.

                          "Holing up" in the kitchen conveys a feeling of avoidance of guests. In this case it seems that she was honoring her guests by preparing a special meal which shared her culture and traditions. It would have been helpful if her boyfriend had let you know to pace yourselves...

                          If you are uncomfortable with her expending the energy or with the time needed to be hosted in this manner then perhaps meeting on neutral turf, like a restaurant would be best in the future.

                          You could bring her out for a girls lunch if you are interested in knowing her better. That would be a great time to ask her about her traditions and learn more.

                          1. In my Portuguese family, it is not unusual for us to sit down for a holiday dinner at 1 and not finish dessert until 6 or 7. Even now, my mother rarely sits down with us until the main entree is served. If you are used to a different approach, I can see where it would disconcert you, but now that you know how she rolls, go with it or don't.
                            It sounds like she prepared a special XMAS holiday lunch and maybe it will never happen again. I think that I would just find a nice hostess present and take it over to her and chat about the lunch. I think it would open up a dialogue without the negative perspective of "showing her how it's done".

                            1. I know, it could be cultural - but for me, it's a social anxiety thing. I have Asperger's syndrome and can be socially awkward, if you catch me on a bad day. The kitchen is where I feel most comfortable. I might not always be able to contribute with scintillating conversation, but I love to cook - and I love to have people outside of the usual spouse and 1 offspring to cook for. I usually do prepare in advance so that I do have some time sitting down with visitors, but returning to the kitchen is sometimes very useful if I'm starting to feel socially drained. I'm very blessed by a partner who understands this and can explain it to our guests if he feels the need to.

                              I'm also lucky in that our home is open plan, and the kitchen is not tucked away from the living areas, so that I don't appear to be *completely* antisocial.

                              1. Being part-Polish myself, this sounds like a very typical, traditional holiday feast and I would have been honored to have been presented it. I do not think the girlfriend was being anti-social at all, but being social in the traditional way she had no doubt learned to be from her own family: to present guests with the best meal possible, much of which canNOT be prepared in advance and simply plated/reheated at the right time.

                                That said, it can be easy to be confused if your friend did not explain in advance what to expect, meal-wise and this was not part of your own culture or traditions. The same thing happened when I went to my in-laws for the first time for their Christmas meal; I did not realize we would be eating from 11am - 9pm and had to pace myself for the affair. Theirs was an Italian tradition, and again, the head "mother" of the house spent the entire day in the kitchen, did not want help (except a little bit from her daughter who was "in training", visitors were underfoot and discouraged, and she did not really join us until dessert to relax for a bit.

                                I would be sure to thank your friends for their hospitality (if you had not brought a hostess gift with you for the event), and perhaps invite them both over to your home some time for a meal as per your traditions and habits. But don't do so with the expectations that you're going to show her how she was "doing it wrong" or even suggesting as much.