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Holiday Manners: Don't Refuse the Cranberry Relish

Nov 17, 2006 (Morning Edition)

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With the annual brace of holidays approaching, it's a good time to remind dinner guests and hosts of a few basic rules of etiquette, beyond the obvious ones: arrive on time, use your napkin, help clear the table, say thank you when you leave.

Thomas Blaikie, author of To the Manner Born: A Most Proper Guide to Modern Civility, offers a few tips.

First, for the host or hostess, don't make the menu too complicated, he says.

Blaikie cites a story by Nigella Lawson about a dinner she once attended where the hostess was trying to impress the famous food writer.

"There was course after course and huge, great long gaps between each one," Blaikie says. "And after about the fourth course [Lawson] heard the poor hostess sobbing in the kitchen because she was just so overwhelmed by all these terrifically complicated recipes she was trying to cook."

The lesson, he says: "Keep it very simple and very straightforward."

Now, if you're a guest, what to do if you spill red wine on the white table cloth?

"I think that the polite host will always blame themselves. 'Oh, you know, my table's a bit wobbly. We've been meaning to get that mended for a long time.' You should always make your guests feel that it's not their fault and just make light of it."

And what about fussy guests, who aren't satisfied by what they're served, should they speak up?

"They've very annoying, these picky eaters," Blaikie says. "I think it's good manners if you go to dinner to do your best to eat what you're given."

What if it's something as horrible-sounding as a mother-in-law's cranberry relish (mixing in onion, sour cream, sugar and horseradish)?

"I don't think guests should be expressing their dislike of your food — outrageous!" Blaikie says.

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An NPR Tradition

Every year since 1971, NPR's Susan Stamberg has managed to sneak on the air her mother-in-law's recipe for cranberry relish. The Thanksgiving tradition continues.

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