Now that America is opening up and we’re allowed to go outside and play, it might be time to brush up on some basic etiquette. Things like small talk and dressing appropriately for work are skills that can atrophy without use.
Let’s start with a potential land mine: the potluck dinner.
If a friend invites you to a party at their home, it is customary to ask if you can bring something. If the host says no, then you’ve got it easy. You should still bring something (of course!) but your options are endless…a bottle of wine, a pie, some flowers.
No need to sweat it.
The potluck is a is a different story. If you are unfamiliar with the term, a potluck dinner is one in which the host provides the main dish and/or some beverages and sides, but does not prepare the entire meal. Instead, each guest brings a part of the meal—drinks, side dishes, desserts, appetizers, cutlery.
In theory, the potluck takes the work and financial burden off the host, and allows each guest to bring their signature dish, and the guests have a variety of scrumptious dishes.
In reality, you end up with seven artichoke dips, six pies, and a bag of chips per person.
A well-executed potluck requires the diplomatic skills usually reserved for international hostage negotiations. The host needs to ensure that a full spectrum of foods will be available, without putting too much pressure on the guests.
No one wants to be asked to bring their pulled pork recipe that takes multiple days to prepare when they were planning on grabbing a bag of pretzels on the way.
The expectations on what each guest should bring are heavily dependent on two seemingly unrelated things—marriage status and children status.
Married mothers, as always, are expected to bring the most critical dishes, because between taking care of their young children, running a household, driving kids around to soccer and t-ball games, and (potentially) working outside the home, they obviously have plenty of time to whip up a roasted turkey, stuffing, and a home-baked apple pie. A mother wouldn’t dare try to get away with bringing plastic forks and napkins.
Single, childless men bring the beer.
Married women without kids bring the slightly complicated, trendy dish that meets unusual dietary restrictions—think vegan burgers, gluten free cookies, or homemade sushi rolls.
Single, childless women? We’ve got it easy. Expectations are low, and we’re allowed to be unpredictable. We can bring silverware and a bottle of wine to one potluck, and we’ve met our quota. But if we bring the homemade pie or green bean casserole that is simply expected of the working mother, we’re praised like a baby who just took her first steps.
And what do the married men bring to the potluck? Don’t make me laugh.
You may think in 2021, this is an outdated and sexist view.
Hey, I don’t make the rules, baby. I just observe and report.