Miss Conduct

I may (or may not) have given a guest food poisoning. What do I say?

Plus, an inappropriate time for a Tupperware party-style sales pitch.

Lucy Truman

You have two friends to your house for dinner. One gets sick later that night, the second one does not. They ate the same food. What do you do or say?

R.M. / Anaheim, California

Offer up whatever you normally would when a friend gets sick (prayers, flowers, Netflix recommendations, hilarious imitations of the sound of their bodily functions), perhaps with a joking “Hope my salmon mousse didn’t do that to you!” if your friend is a reasonably non-litigious type. That’s all.

The human digestive system is a dynamic, multivariate system — some people’s more than others, and trust me, I know — which means that there’s no reason to scapegoat your salmon mousse unless more than one person falls ill. But do avoid serving the salmon mousse to that guest in the future — if he got sick after eating it, he’ll probably develop an aversion to it even if that’s not what caused the whoopsies.

I am hosting a neighborhood girls’ night for a woman who lost her husband, to help cheer her up and let her know she isn’t alone. One of the moms invited has just begun a second job selling merchandise at parties. She e-mailed me that she is excited for the event because she can bring all of her products and start her new career with a “bang.” I don’t think this is the place for that kind of thing. How do I let her know that her products aren’t welcome?

S.V. / Boston


You let her know clearly and unmistakably, that’s how. If you can do it in a kind and nonjudgmental way, you get a cookie, but, frankly, you can be only so tactful with someone who wants to hawk overpriced home goods or fashion accessories to a bereaved woman.

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As hostess, it’s your responsibility and right to set the tone of the event, which means shutting down even the possibility of Polly Pyramidscheme taking over your neighborly, bittersweet gathering. “This party is about Michelle Mourner,” you explain, “and I don’t want it taken over with a business agenda. Please don’t bring your products.” If she brings them anyway, ask her to leave them in the car, and if she refuses, ask her to leave your house. If Polly wants a products party, she can put it on herself. I’m sure her new career of alienating friends and family with sales pitches will take off just fine without your help.

My daughter is graduating from college and wants to send announcements to her older cousins on my husband’s side of the family so they can have a picture of her. My husband does not want her to send them as he does not want the cousins to feel obligated to send money. What is the proper way to address this?

J.M. / Dallas

Graduation announcements do not require the receiver to send a gift. Some people, to make this wholly clear, put “No gifts, please” on the bottom, but that’s about as appealing as a performer waving off an audience’s applause before he’s gotten any.

Also, your daughter is a legal adult, and the announcements are her property. She doesn’t need her father’s permission — or mine, for that matter — to send them to whomever she would like to inform them about her accomplishment. The three of you can choose to make this into a huge intra-family power struggle, or not. I’d suggest you choose not to.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.