When someone invites you to dinner or a party at their house, is there a tactful way to indicate that you can't bring anything, or to prevent them from asking?
posted by venividivici to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I've recently moved to a new town (in northern England) for about 9 months in order to finish up the field work for my dissertation. The people here have been incredibly kind and really "taken me in," particularly since I didn't know a soul when I moved here. They're constantly inviting me over for tea, dinners, parties on the weekends, etc., and all my fears about having no social life pretty much vanished by the end of the second week.
The problem, however, is that I'm absolutely, utterly broke -- fellowships and grants pay my rent and bills and leave me with only $60 a month for food (yes, that's dollars, not pounds, alas) if I'm lucky. I feel very uneasy, not to mention rude, that I can't reciprocate for these people. It's also extremely embarrassing to go to a party and watch everyone file in, dutifully handing over their flowers and bottles of wine, while knowing that I'm the only person in the room who hasn't done the same. So far, I've settled the issue by writing thank-you notes/cards afterwards, and this has worked well. Many have said what a joy it is to get a real, handwritten thank-you note in this day and age.
The problem now, however, is that when people invite me over, sometimes they will casually ask me to bring drinks or dessert or an appetizer. I'm sure it's never occurred to them (most are quite well off) that doing so would force me to blow 20% of my food budget on one evening, and that I'd have to skip meals at the end of the month to make up for it. I don't want to be vulgar by discussing money with people who are, in effect, no more than acquaintances -- and unfortunately I don't have a close friend here that I could use to spread the word on my behalf. But the situation now isn't working, and I get the strong feeling from several people that my constantly showing up empty-handed is coming off a bit rude. Which, really, it is.
A friend this weekend planned a big, lavish dinner for Saturday night and off-handedly said over the phone, "Can you bring over some Ben & Jerry's?" and after a pause I simply said, "No, I'm sorry. I can't." Extremely awkward silence ensued, of course. But isn't that far less awkward than telling these people (who, after all, barely know me) that I really am this broke? I don't know a tactful way to say, "I really appreciate everything you're doing for me, but if you're going to give a starving student a free meal, it really has to be completely and totally free, because otherwise I'm going to have to start lying and saying I'm busy."
I've mentioned to most of them, in other contexts, that I'm living on a very tight budget, and I'm sure this is why so many people are inviting me over. They're very kind people and I'm grateful. But they clearly don't understand the intensity of graduate student poverty, and it's getting awkward.