Should I bring a gift to dinner at a prof's house?
April 27, 2005 4:01 PM   Subscribe

EtiquetteFilter: An undergraduate professor of mine invited his entire class to a traditional Indian dinner at his house tonight. It is somewhat mandatory, as we will lose points on our final paper if we don't show up. Should I bring a gift, and if so, what? Dinner is in 1 hour, so hurry please!
posted by muddgirl to Human Relations (43 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
If it's mandatory, I don't see how your professor could expect to receive a gift. Even if it were an optional activity, I don't think bringing a gift would necessarily be appropriate. Have you asked your classmates what they're doing? Maybe the class could bring a group gift of some sort...
posted by rooftop secrets at 4:04 PM on April 27, 2005


Yeah--if he's requiring attendance, there's really no way you can be _expected_ to bring a gift. (Especially since depending on his personal ethnic/religious background--given that he's apparently Indian--even a common gift like a bottle of wine may not be appropriate.)

If you can think of something that's appropriate to the class (and I presume you can't, if you posted this), then great. Otherwise, don't worry about it.
posted by LairBob at 4:08 PM on April 27, 2005


Mandatory party at my house. Everyone must bring a gift!
posted by cadastral at 4:09 PM on April 27, 2005


I think a nice gift/courtesy would be to offer to help with the serving and/or clean-up. Or, if you have a camera, take it with you, get some pictures and share them with the professor/class. A thank you note following the dinner would be a nice touch.
posted by PY at 4:10 PM on April 27, 2005


I went to class-related dinners at professors houses a number of times in college (I guess it's more normal at small liberal arts schools). Nobody ever brought a gift or offered to help, as far as I know. Most college students have limited funds and are either living in dorms or sub-par apartments, so for a professor to expect a lot -- especially at a mandatory dinner -- seems unreasonable.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:15 PM on April 27, 2005


It's very, very unlikely that you would be required to bring a gift, but for around ten dollars, you can always bring a nice bottle of red wine. Should you feel so pressured.
posted by interrobang at 4:16 PM on April 27, 2005


Would you take a gift to a mandatory test? Those are, I believe, called bribes.
posted by mischief at 4:19 PM on April 27, 2005


The other students will most likely be less than thrilled if you bring a gift and they haven't. Don't be a suckup. I say bring nothing (but do offer to help clean up or set the table or something).
posted by null terminated at 4:23 PM on April 27, 2005


I suppose this dinner serves an educational purpose?

Whatever you decide to bring, hide it in a bag of some sort, and only reveal it if it is indeed the status quo.

The whole thing sound like crap to me.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 4:24 PM on April 27, 2005


Don't bring a gift. I imagine the dinner serves the educational purpose of being the final class meeting of the semester, Jack.
posted by redfoxtail at 4:27 PM on April 27, 2005


Bring a bottle of wine! Sure it's mandatory, but I imagine it's supposed to be fun.

Besides, it's fucking polite.
posted by Specklet at 4:31 PM on April 27, 2005


Woah - What sort of lecturer asks people to his house for mandatory marks? Are you sure other people are going to this? And what is it that you'll be learning?

Unless the lecturer is a lecturer in ettiquette and dinner parties. If that's the case, then take along a bottle of red wine and a series of interesting yet deprecating anecdotes.
posted by seanyboy at 4:32 PM on April 27, 2005


I suppose this dinner serves an educational purpose?...The whole thing sound like crap to me.

We are presenting our final papers. And getting free food. I'm not arguing.
posted by muddgirl at 4:37 PM on April 27, 2005


No gift for the prof; presumably the dinner's coming out of his salary / your tuition anyway, nevermind the mandatory part. If you want to stand out as a helpful type then help clean up afterwards, or bring some kind of dessert or nibbly item for everyone.
posted by fleacircus at 4:42 PM on April 27, 2005


In that case, good luck with your presentation and don't worry about a gift.
posted by PY at 4:42 PM on April 27, 2005


Christ, you people are cynical.

The prof is obviously trying to make the presentation of final papers fun. And yummy.

Yes, you have to go. No, you don't have to bring a gift. But you're getting free food, and the prof is trying to make it fun, so be polite and bring a bottle of wine.
posted by Specklet at 4:47 PM on April 27, 2005


Bringing a bottle of wine to an undergraduate dinner seems like a bad idea. Are you even 21 and able to buy the wine? Are all fo the people in your class over 21? Seriously.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 5:02 PM on April 27, 2005


I'd also like to add, for all you cynics, that at smaller schools dinner at a professor's house is really normal. People choose to go to small liberal arts colleges in part because of the sense of community. I had lunches and dinners at a number of professors' houses over my four years of liberal arts school. I don't know if any of the profs ever said, "this is mandatory." But having the meal was part of the community experience of being in the class, and I can't imagine ever not showing up.

Nobody ever brought wine, however, or anything else. It seems to me as though bringing a gift to a professor could look like bribery or an attempt to curry favor, if the gift is presented within the academic environment of having dinner with your class.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 5:07 PM on April 27, 2005


I like the idea of having a camera handy, in case things get merry and it seems like it would be cool to have some group photos of the evening. Also, I don't care if you're having dinner with a prof or your parents or your future in-laws or a friend -- always offer to help clean up, even if it's just a case of clearing a few plates and glasses, and even if the person in question shoos you away and says "wouldn't dream of it! Enjoy your coffee!" It's called good manners.
posted by scody at 5:25 PM on April 27, 2005


Bringing a bottle of wine to an undergraduate dinner seems like a bad idea. Are you even 21 and able to buy the wine? Are all fo the people in your class over 21? Seriously.

The traditional bottle of wine brought by a guest to a dinner is considered a gift to the host. Although it is usually opened and drunk during the course of the evening, it is not at all considered rude for the host to keep it.

It seems to me as though bringing a gift to a professor could look like bribery or an attempt to curry favor, if the gift is presented within the academic environment of having dinner with your class.

This may be so. If your prof may take an offering of wine as bribery, skip it.

On preview, I like scody's suggestion.
posted by Specklet at 5:27 PM on April 27, 2005


Going along withg don't bring anything. Unless everyone was explicitely told to bring gifts (and usually that would be to exchange with fellow students), they aren't a requisite.
posted by jmd82 at 6:15 PM on April 27, 2005


Giving a gift to someone who is about to grade you would be inappropriate.

Requiring students to come to your home on pain of grade reduction is also inappropriate, as far as I care, and it doesn't matter whether or not the professor thinks that it will be fun.

I don't know if any of the profs ever said, "this is mandatory."

A requirement is a vastly different thing from an invitation.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:15 PM on April 27, 2005


I would bring a bottle of wine, but as a gift to the entire class (who will be drinking it), not as a gift to the prof.
posted by Jairus at 6:26 PM on April 27, 2005


You probably already left for the "party" but I'd like to point out that in the Indian culture there is very little, if any, expectation of gifts (besides a food item, maybe) being brought to a party. I think it's even more likely for the host to give gifts.
posted by foraneagle2 at 6:30 PM on April 27, 2005


In all of the classes that have had some kind of optional post-class/presentation dinner at the prof's house, I've usually brought wine, cheese, or cookies. Obviously none of this was required [attendance or gift], and as far as I know it was never interpreted as bribe for some kind of grade. We're all adults here, people; bringing a food item to a dinner party is hardly, "oooh please bump my grade up so I can get into law school....." [That's what office hours are for.] It's more like, "hey, thanks for a nice semester and meal, I've brought a small something to contribute." But then again, I've been fairly close to profs at both undergrad and grad school so maybe this is all very odd? I never considered it so.
posted by fionab at 7:06 PM on April 27, 2005


Requiring students to come to your home on pain of grade reduction is also inappropriate, as far as I care, and it doesn't matter whether or not the professor thinks that it will be fun.

My gosh! I really think this is a matter of different cultures at different kinds of schools. I don't think having a class meeting at the professor's house is so much weirder than having it meet anywhere else outside the classroom. The grade reduction part here sounds to me like the professor is making the final paper due at that meeting. I bet -- maybe I'm being really presumptuous here, but I don't think so -- you could have turned it in early without a penalty.
posted by redfoxtail at 7:27 PM on April 27, 2005


Another vote for a nice red.
posted by ori at 7:31 PM on April 27, 2005


Are you even 21 and able to buy the wine? Are all fo the people in your class over 21?

I'm a little shocked that there are still places where that's the age limit. WTF? You can enlist at age 17, you can vote at age 18, you can fuck at age 16, but you can't drink until 21?

Inconceivable.

I think a dozen India Pale Ale would go over well. An unusually hoppy beer, it'll fit right in with the meal.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:45 PM on April 27, 2005


Requiring students to come to your home on pain of grade reduction is also inappropriate, as far as I care, and it doesn't matter whether or not the professor thinks that it will be fun.

Requiring students, especially for an upper division class, to meet once outside of class at the end of the semester isn't inappropriate. It basically serves the role of a final exam, since they are presenting their final projects. Having this meeting at the professor's house, as far as I can see, is no more or less inappropriate than having it in some dingy classroom. It is in fact more of a burden on the professor, and quite possibly a more pleasant environment for all concerned. Having one student to the professor's house to meet about a project might be strange, but the entire class? This seems perfectly fine to me.


I'm a little shocked that there are still places where that's the age limit.

You appear to be canadian so you may already know this and have been being sarcastic but, afaik that's the age limit all over the US. Most undergraduates are below it. It's really not good advice assuming this is an undergrad class in the US for them to bring wine or beer.
posted by advil at 8:22 PM on April 27, 2005


I'm a little shocked that anyone cares whether or not everyone's over 21. You people need to learn a little about the difference between laws and morality. The only legitimate reason to follow that law is fear of punishment, and I certainly don't expect the cops to be busting down the professor's door to ID everyone.

Did you people go college? Some wine with dinner is the least of your worries if you want to get all moral crusader.

Just as a piece of trivia, here in New York underage drinking is actually legal if it is for a college class, thanks to an exception obtained by Cornell.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:30 PM on April 27, 2005


My gosh! I really think this is a matter of different cultures at different kinds of schools. I don't think having a class meeting at the professor's house is so much weirder than having it meet anywhere else outside the classroom.

Requiring students, especially for an upper division class, to meet once outside of class at the end of the semester isn't inappropriate.

It's appropriate if there's a good reason. But I don't think that "I think this would be fun, and I think you should think this is fun, so I'm going to make you do it" is a very good reason.

It's one of those impositions that people who like forced social gatherings tend to make all the time on everyone else, and I'm not keen on people imposing their judgments of what's fun and what isn't on other people just because they have enough authority to do so.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:49 PM on April 27, 2005


Did you people go college? Some wine with dinner is the least of your worries if you want to get all moral crusader.
Ever hear of someone in this situation getting a DUI and then telling the police who got them the wine? Both the buyer and prof would be in trouble. Not a good idea.
posted by jmd82 at 10:39 PM on April 27, 2005


by the time I am writing this, muddgirl is returning home after the presentations/dinner - but I want to add this to the discussion: the professor is a person who is inviting you and the entire class to dinner at his home.

Do as you would normally do when another human being is inviting you to their home for a dinne)r - bring a small gift (how about flowers for the table? or chocolates for dessert? it doesn't have to be wine!) and make yourself useful before and after dinner (offer to help at the table, offer to clean up).

Frankly, I hope the entire class helps out - if the class is sizeable, that's a lot of people to feed, and therefore probably many plates to pass around.

He may be your prof and he may be giving out grades later, but prof salaries are not the highest, he's doing this from the goodness of his heart (he could have just asked you to come in to class!) and making dinner for an entier class is certainly not /expected/.

So behave as you would, if you were to receive an invitation from a respected acquaintance - go, behave, and remember to send a thank you note the next day (take note of the address)
posted by seawallrunner at 10:59 PM on April 27, 2005


the professor is a person who is inviting you

No, the professor is a person who is commanding you to attend him. Were it an invitation, muddgirl would be free to decline without harming her grade.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:11 PM on April 27, 2005


It's one of those impositions that people who like forced social gatherings tend to make all the time on everyone else, and I'm not keen on people imposing their judgments of what's fun and what isn't on other people just because they have enough authority to do so.

I agree that it's not an invitation in the ordinary sense, which is why I don't recommend bringing a gift. I wouldn't be offended if one of my students brought a hostess gift under those circumstances, but it would certainly seem a little funny to me, exactly because it's a class meeting, not a social encounter among equals. (I also wouldn't do this for any of the classes I've taught, which have all been lower division courses at a large university; it happened all the time and seemed entirely normal at the small university where I got my undergraduate degree, as well as for graduate courses at this large university.)

But I'd like to say that I, too, strenuously object to the classic examples of enforced fun -- don't make me go to an office picnic, don't make me go play golf with the office on a Saturday. But the underlying nature of an academic class, especially a seminar, is basically a forced social gathering, isn't it? I think the appropriateness of such a gathering relies on its compulsory aspect's functioning in the same way as and to the same degree (or less) than ordinary meetings of the class would be.
posted by redfoxtail at 5:00 AM on April 28, 2005


But the underlying nature of an academic class, especially a seminar, is basically a forced social gathering, isn't it?

More a business/professional meeting, as far as I can tell, without the "requirements" to be witty, charming, urbane, etc that apply to breaking bread together.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:49 AM on April 28, 2005


Since this discussion seems to be continuing, I'll also verify that it's really not unusual or inappropriate to go to the prof's house at smaller colleges. (It's also not unusual to call them by their first names and to have classes lounging on the lawn on nice days... it's not so much a command-obey atmosphere.)

No gift required -- it's the prof who is providing the gift, in fact, in the manner of free food to his students. Hope you all helped with the dishes. Wine/beer would only be appropriate if he offered it, since it's up to him to decide if he wants tipsy college kids at his house.
posted by desuetude at 6:21 AM on April 28, 2005


Having this meeting at the professor's house, as far as I can see, is no more or less inappropriate than having it in some dingy classroom

Except that, as you can see from this thread, it gives rise to anxiety about how to behave. I'm with ROU_Xenophobe on this.

it's really not unusual or inappropriate to go to the prof's house at smaller colleges

This isn't about going to the prof's house -- I've done that, too -- it's about being required, as part of your course, to go to dinner at the prof's house. You may not have a problem with that, but clearly some people do. I think it's an inappropriate requirement, especially without any clear indication of how to behave ("No need to bring anything" would have been a useful thing to say).

*waits for muddgirl to report back*
posted by languagehat at 7:33 AM on April 28, 2005


I concur with croutonsupafreak and desuetude in all respects, having also gone to school at a small college.
posted by furiousthought at 9:50 AM on April 28, 2005


It seems to me as though bringing a gift to a professor could look like bribery or an attempt to curry favor, if the gift is presented within the academic environment of having dinner with your class.

Who's the cynic here?
posted by rocketman at 9:50 AM on April 28, 2005


languagehat: Interesting. I guess I remember so many contradictions in the authority-autonomy/child-adult continuum regarding the expected behavior of college students that this doesn't strike me as odd. Or didn't, I should say, as I was required to have dinner at the profs house as a final class on at least one occasion in college.

I agree that "no need to bring anything" would have been a thoughtful thing for the prof to say. Then again, who expects a college kid to think to worry about proper etiquette, or pause for a moment to think in the face of free home-cooked food? However, stereotypes of the expectations of college students, while common, are obviously not universally accurate or fair, as evidenced by the posting of the question in the first place.
posted by desuetude at 10:15 AM on April 28, 2005


Much too late, but: bring a condiment - a nice jar of mango chutney, for example. Fits with the meal, fulfils the 'bring something' obligation, avoids the 'gift-giving / bribe' overtones, avoids alcohol issues, won't look over-the-top if nobody else brings anything.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:35 PM on April 28, 2005


Hmm, it's been awhile and I don't think anyone cares anymore, but I didn't bring a gift (thought about a nice IPA, but didn't want to make the prof uncomfortable as there were a few minors there). The dinner was delicious, my presentation went well, and a few people didn't show up (and were not penalized). No one brought a gift or a camera, but a few of us offered to help out afterwards. A fine time was had by all.

You cynics :)
posted by muddgirl at 11:09 AM on May 23, 2005


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