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jaybee

Reciprocating

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We have been close friends with a couple for many years.  For quite a few years we invited them to our home for many, many weekends that included breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Summer barbeques, winter feasts, holiday parties, casual weekends. Never were these invitations reciprocated by an invitation to dinner in the city.  Rarely, if ever was an offer made to share the cost of the food.  After several years of this, I suggested we share the cost of meals, which was immediately accepted.  Several years ago, our friends purchased a weekend home and I thought, now we'll be invited for cookouts, etc.  With rare exception, this has not happened. Rarely, if ever, do they host anyone, yet they are constantly invited to others' homes.  I really like the people, but am irritated by the lack of reciprocation. I finally stopped inviting them, except one or two annual holiday parties. I'd like to know if others have had similar experiences and what was done, besides grimace and bear it.

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jaybee -- If you feel inclined, please consider whether responding to the following questions is worthwhile:

(1) When this couple joined you at your weekend home, would they not bring a gift (incl. a food/wine item)?

(2) Is this couple's vacation home roughly about as far from their/your home as your vacation home?

(3) Does this couple appear particularly thrifty, anti-social towards others or greedy to you? Do they appear to be spending money on themselves (e.g., buying themselves lavish dinners in the city)?

(4) Do you think the couple places a high value on your friendship?

(5) Apart from asking for proportionate bearing of food costs, have you hinted to the couple your dissatisfaction with the situation? If not, why not, from your perspective?

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jaybee -- If you feel inclined, please consider whether responding to the following questions is worthwhile:

(1) When this couple joined you at your weekend home, would they not bring a gift (incl. a food/wine item)?

(2) Is this couple's vacation home roughly about as far from their/your home as your vacation home?

(3) Does this couple appear particularly thrifty, anti-social towards others or greedy to you? Do they appear to be spending money on themselves (e.g., buying themselves lavish dinners in the city)?

(4) Do you think the couple places a high value on your friendship?

(5) Apart from asking for proportionate bearing of food costs, have you hinted to the couple your dissatisfaction with the situation? If not, why not, from your perspective?

All excellent and well put questions, Cabrales:

1.  Rarely, until recent years when I overtly suggsted sharing cost of food.  Since then, all the time.

2.  Yes, it is very close.

3.  They spend quite generously on themselves, eating out quite frequently, if not "lavishly" certainly quite well.

4.  Very definitley. They consider us very close, and we, they.

5.  Not directly, as I do not want to insult them.  I have spoken about my lack of enthusiasm for others of our mutual acquaintance who don't reciprocate, to little apparent effect.

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Perhaps they just can't cook and are slovenly in the privacy of their own home. While I'm sure, jaybee, from what I know about you from your posts, that the quality of meals presented to guests would be wonderful.


"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Perhaps they just can't cook and are slovenly in the privacy of their own home. While I'm sure, jaybee, from what I know about you from your posts, that the quality of meals presented to guests would be wonderful.

Thank you, Jinmyo.  I care a lot about what and how I serve guests.  It gives me great pleasure. That makes it doubley irritating. But they are neither slovenly nor devoid of ability to serve a meal. It is due either to laziness, anxiety, lack of social graces, or a combination of all of the above.  In other respects, they are enjoyable to be with, good humored and interesting conversationalists.

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Perhaps they just can't cook and are slovenly in the privacy of their own home.

my hunch as well, jinmyo.   and then there's the basic truth that marriage [or partnership, or whatever you want to call it], is a mystery.  my husband and i know folks who sometimes won't show up to parties, or one will come without the other.  they are wonderful people but almost never have anyone into their home.  it's disappointing, but it's who they are.

in regards to our friends and the myriad ways they might make us a little crazy, my husband and i just try our best to be a little blind, a little deaf, etc.

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Interesting, jaybee. I think that some people derive joy from serving others. Whether in preparing and presenting a fine meal, giving funds to charities, doing charitable work or whatever. Generosity can be so natural to some people that they don't even consider themselves to be generous. Other people simply don't notice what effort is involved all around them to make their lives possible at all. I don't mean misers or greedy people, people who pinch the air when they breathe so that they get a bit more. I mean people who habitually don't notice what other people are really doing, whether at a restaurant or a home, to make a meal possible, let alone delightful.

Reciprocity is the response that generous people naturally make. For others it requires an effort. Others try to avoid it. For others, the idea never really occurs.

I hope your friends are among these last rather than being aware of avoiding reciprocity.  :wink:


"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Jay,

My gut reaction to your predicament is that your friends are so impressed with how they are treated when in your home that they can't even imagine how they could reciprocate in kind.  I have actually been in that situation.  If entertaining is not something that you like to do, it becomes a huge undertaking.  Of course, thats not a very good excuse and they should reciprocate in any way they can.

Personally, I think you should actually have a conversation with them.  If the results are bad, well then, so be it.  If you don't approach them in  attack mode you may end up with a stronger relationship.  Either way I don't see that you lose.  Obviously you are not happy being with them as it stands now anyway.

Just my two cents.

SB

PS  Tell them how much you like eGullet and that they should check it out :wink:

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Stellabella, Jinmyo,StefanyB, thanks.  I think perhaps there is something to what you say Stefany.  I am so involved with good food, wine, and hospitality.  Most of the people we entertain and who entertain us operate on this level.  I think these people have no experience and/or don't feel comfortable trying to match this level and therefore avoid trying, even though they can well afford to.  I also think there is a degree of selfishness or self involvement that prevents them from thinking about entertaining others.  Just as you say, Jinmyo, they simply don't derive any pleasure from giving pleasure to others.

I wish I could be more like you Stellabella, and turn a blind eye, deaf ear, etc.  That never comes easy to me.  I have cut off from our social lives several other people who are like this, but we have too much else going for me to do that here.  Maybe after a few bottles of vino I'll bring up the subject in, as you suggest Stefany, a non-aggressive way.

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Jay, is there something about your friends that you don't know or don't realize; for example that their apartment isn't suitable for dinner parties (have you been there for other occasions such as cocktails before a restaurant visit); that neither of them cooks; that they don't have the accoutrements for entertaining? In our vacation home we entertain a lot while in our New York apartment we rarely do because it's a small, untouched Art Deco one configured, furnished, decorated and lived in by a designer who didn't care about having a dining room. But when we are invited over to dinner, I always bring wine that is much better than the host would serve. In other words I overcompensate. I am wondering if your friends think they are leveling the playing field in some way. Also, what happens when you go out to eat with them and it comes to bill-paying time?

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The whole reciprocity situation is fraught with difficulties. We have a very close friend who is studying to be an Anglican priest, and as a result is _very_ short of cash. So, inevitably, when we meet up, it's always us who end up paying. I don't mind this at all, but the fact that she automatically assumes we'll pay really irritates me. A while ago, we met for a quick sandwich/espresso lunch and our friend got to the cafe first. She was sat at a table waiting for us to arrive (it was a select your sandwich, go to up to the counter, order a coffee and pay kind of place - not Starbucks but of that ilk). And that really, really got me going. But you can't possibly say anything. And if she offered to split the bill, I'd immediately say 'No no, we'll pay'. I think it's the perception of being taken for a ride rather than the reality that annoys.

On the other hand, she is a superb cook, and we occasionally dine at her place, and eat very well indeed when we do so. (But these dinners are reciprocated by her and her partner dining with us).

In the end, I think you have simply to grin and bear it, if you value a friendship sufficiently. Which is fairly easy for me to do, being an Englishman  :wink:

Adam

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Is it me or does anyone else get annoyed when couples turn up with one bottle of cheap white but only drink vast quantities of good red?

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Jay, is there something about your friends that you don't know or don't realize

Not really Robert. The issue is more one of attitude or lack of prediliction to entertain others. They can accomodate company for dinner in either their apartment or country home. When eating out, the bill is always split, never an offer to pay.  In fact the ordering is always very "tit for tat" too, never allowing an imbalance in our favor.  I will say that in recent years there is always an offer of "what can we bring" when invited to our place, and a willingness to come with the ingredients for a meal, hors d'ourves, or breakfast.  That makes me feel better.  The more we discuss this here, the less bothered I am becoming.  My inclination, as Adam and others have said, is to simply let go of the desire to change them and accept what is and go on.  There are far worse things in the world to get bothered about.  Well, this has been very therapeutic!  :biggrin:

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Jay - the next time they are over make sure the wine flows then say "let's play truth or dare".  :wink:

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Jaybee,

An interesting dilemma you presented and universal. Here, in the south of France, inviting and being invited for meals is a regular thing, without much thought about reciprocity. But now and then there are instances when you wonder about the right thing to do. We have very good friends who regularly invite us, but we seldom return the invitation, because we know that he is happier at home, where he will get the meal to his liking (the list of things he doesn't like goes from here to Rome). So we compensate by bringing the best wines, spring flowers, etc. Then we know a couple like your friends, who always eat here, but never, never, return the favor. Though I love to cook and have people over for a long lunch under the oak trees,  one day it began to bother me. Not so much about the cost, but the general idea. For the next meal I called my friend and invited her to join me for an early-morning shopping trip to the market of Saint-Tropez, to buy the ingredients for the upcoming lunch. We looked at the mussels, inspected the saffran, the vegetables and more. On the way home, we stopped off at a favorite domaine for a couple of bottles. When it came to paying, I sometimes held back and looked at my friend who quickly drew her purse. Later we cooked together and it changed something. We're still waiting for an invitation though..

Frieda

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No doubt, having friends, and wanting to keep them, involves compromises, understanding, and a willingness, as Adam Lawrence said, to grin and bear it once in a while.

My wife and I entertain in our small New York City apartment in spite of the problems just because we enjoy doing it. For the several times a year that we have large groups to sit down, we actually convert the living room into a dining room, taking out the furniture, and bringing in a table and chairs. On Thanksgiving, we have a policy of taking in any of our friends - and their friends - who have no place else to go. We've had as many as 20 for this buffet-style setup. It's close quarters, but it's always a lot of fun. My wife will cook for a week, and go the last 48 hours without sleep to offer the best experience she can.

We don't expect our friends to go to the same lengths to reciprocate. Most of them invite us in return, some don't. We don't feel as if we're being taken advantage of because we do what we do because we want to do it. While we might bitch some to each other about the efforts, or lack of them, of some of our friends, we try to take them as they are.

I'm still surprised, though, about the tit-for-tat thing when ordering in restaurants. I never imagined such a thing existed until my wife pointed it out, and, sure enough, there are those times when the other side of the table will match us as close as they can dollarwise. Likewise, there are those who will seemingly order the most expensive items on the menu, just to be sure they're getting their money's worth out of the evening. I never quite got that. I was brought up always to be the first to reach into my pocket.

Anyway, I think that a generous attitude is a gift that should be given with no expectation of something in return. What you may receive in return is also a gift; maybe that's part of the nature of successful friendship.


Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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Well, this has been very therapeutic!
That's what we're here for.

:wink:

On a more serious note, one of the food professionals I know is also a therapist who has described therapy as the restaurant business without the food.

:biggrin:

The restaurant "value matching" subthread is an interesting one. Especially when dining for the first time with new friends, or with people I know are price conscious, I try to aim for the middle of the menu when ordering. If I spot something I really must have at the high end, I have a tendency to announce that early. With old friends or a large group, I tend not to be as self concsious. Wine tends to be the bigger discrepancy anyway. Some of my friends don't drink and others are borderline alcoholics.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Wow, just saw this thread and it already seems to be concluding. But, therapy-like, I have something I need to get off my chest. Most of the time, when going out with other couples, we split down the middle and money is never an issue.

However, Jason and I frequently go to restaurants with a single person. Generally, we put the bill on our credit card and that person pays 1/3 in cash to us. However, the onus is always on me to check the bill and announce how much is owed. The last few times we've been out, I haven't specifically done this and the person seems perfectly content to go home without paying their portion of the bill. When this happens the next time out I will mention that they still owe us for the previous time out. Occasionally, if they owed us for dinner, and the next time out is lunch, it works out so that they'll pay for lunch completely and it balances out.

All I want is for them to be the one to initiate the money exchange occasionally, asking "what's my share?" or something. Is that so wrong?

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Jaybee, as you have been close friends with this couple for several years, you are undoubtedly quite fond of them for more than just making dinner plans. You are right that it is unfortunate and awkward that they do not see the discrepancy in their dining habits, but they undoubtedly offer you something other than that, like companionship and shared interests and surely a good laugh or two along the way. I am (as I usually am) in agreement with stellabella - a blind eye or ear would be of great comfort to you, because it would free you to see what it is otherwise that you like so much about them- they are surely much more than non-reciprocating diners to you, they are your friends of many years.  That is not to say that a light-hearted and playful, "So when are you having us by for dinner?" would not be inappropriate here, unless you are too attached to the answer. I say just try to love the other things that they DO do for you.

As for couples matching the cost of their menu orders I have never seen it - doesn't everyone go Dutch? I would be interested to hear from Bux and Robert Schonfeld about the circumstances of such events. Are they corporate dinners, expense account dinners, special celebrations? Robert's experience of seeing fellow diners "order the most expensive items on the menu, just to be sure they're getting their money's worth out of the evening" mystifies me. Aren't the extravagant diners paying for their own dinners? Yoikes - call me small town, but in the 10-person group with whom my husband and I dine periodically, each couple pays for itself, regardless of who invited the gang out. We offer a "perk" to the person who calls in the reservation - we buy him or her one drink. It's a silly little thing but it's a good motivator and it costs us each only as much as $1.

Back in husband's corporate days, we ate out on the company nickel frequently, whether for entertaining out-of-town clients or recruiting potential hires. We always ordered from the middle of the menu and noticed that our guests almost always did the same.

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Robert's experience of seeing fellow diners "order the most expensive items on the menu, just to be sure they're getting their money's worth out of the evening" mystifies me. Aren't the extravagant diners paying for their own dinners?

As I said, or tried to say, it mystified me too until it was pointed out. It's almost never separate checks. It's almost always split down the middle. We still don't see it often, and it still doesn't really bother me when it does occur, but I must say, it's an odd phenomenon for me.

With really good friends, and with people we go out with regularly, credit cards are toosed on top of the bill and that's that. It all comes out in the wash; and if the tide washes a few dollars one way or the other, no big deal.


Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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Jaybee, as you have been close friends with this couple for several years, you are undoubtedly quite fond of them for more than just making dinner plans. You are right that it is unfortunate and awkward that they do not see the discrepancy in their dining habits, but they undoubtedly offer you something other than that, like companionship and shared interests and surely a good laugh or two along the way.

CkBklady, you are quite right here.  If it were otherwise they wouldn't have lasted for more than one or two rounds. We had another couple who spent long winter  and summer weekends and many dinners with us for one or two years, and the one time a return invitation came, it was accompanied by a pitch for money to back a production they were putting on. That was the end for us. Now we say hello when we see them on the street.  It feels good to get this off my chest and read how others feel about a similar situation. In the case of these folks, I wouldn't want to end our friendship over this, and as I said, in recent times they always bring a significant item for our mutual enjoyment.  I'm just so conditioned to reciprocate at least once that it's hard to understand (and not take umbrage) at a mind set that doesn't think to.  But that's what makes people so interesting--and sometimes so irritating.

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I'm still surprised, though, about the tit-for-tat thing when ordering in restaurants.

alas, I fear this is something us generous food lovers will have to put up with.  I started another thread on the similar lines about splitting the bill and have come to the conclusion that some people see food as merely fuel (I know, I know hard to believe but true) and therefore resent paying anything above the exactly what they have had.  They don’t see the whole picture about eating and whilst these people might enjoy coming round to your house for dinner because they are not greatly interested in food -  by this I mean everything from deciding on the menu, shopping for the ingredients, prepping the ingredients, cooking and then eating -   it wouldn't even cross their minds to reciprocate the offer.    

When I go out for dinner I am there for the sheer joy and pleasure of eating and being there with my friends.  I will order whatever I think sounds delicious and drink whatever I fancy at the time, be it the cheapest or most expensive thing on the menu.  When it comes to paying the bill.  I just throw my card in and expect it to be divided evenly because the cost is the least important thing on my mind (don't get me wrong I'm not Miss Moneybags but just see eating out as an essential expense, like a mortgage).  Some people don’t get this and are sat there thinking “I only had a main course, I’m only going to give £15…” or “She ordered the £18 main course, I’d better get a side order in aswell…”

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If you've decided that the imbalance in entertaining is not severe enough for you to end the friendship, yet you're still bugged by it, I've learned a strategy that works for me. You pretend that the person(s) has a brain tumor that causing them to behave strangely. When they act cheap, just tell yourself, "oh, it's that brain tumor acting up again!"

This works for nasty bosses and bitchy relatives as well. Takes the stuffing right out of that bitter feeling.

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