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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

          +2

          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.