Welcome to a special Thanksgiving edition of Thatz Not Okay, a regular column in which I school inquiring readers on what is and is not okay. Please send your questions (max: 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "Thatz Not Okay."
I am having Thanksgiving at my apartment this year, hosting a group consisting of friends from work and university, who don't make enough money for the trek home. I think it will be fun, but during a recent conversation with an invitee from work I was given cause for worry. My work colleague is lives alone and sends money to her parents (currently unemployed) and occasionally to extended family. So, I appreciate that her financial burden is extreme and try to be helpful with her extracurricular business endeavors. However, during a recent conversation she informed me that she intended to bring her "wares" to sell at my Thanksgiving dinner to my guests. After a moment of confusion I could only say "Of course", but after further reflection I'm worried she intends to turn dinner into a Tupperware party of sorts. Looking back on the conversation she alluded to everyone drinking (she abstains for religious reasons) and I'm worried she thinks everyone will be drunk and therefore easy prey. Is want to request that she leave her "wares" in the car and only bring them out if someone expresses an interest. My apartment is small and I don't think it will be an unreasonable request. Is that okay?
Even the pilgrims, who were pretty damn ballsy, did not have the audacity to use their feast of thanks giving as a commercial opportunity to sell some really fabulous luxury home goods at wholesale prices to their Native American guests.
A good rule of thumb for attending a holiday meal at someone else's house is that you cannot make any requests. ("I'm fatally allergic to nuts and bee stings so please don't put nuts in my food and please don't have bees in your house," is OK. The polite thing to do is sip water all night, compliment the decor—"Interesting use of bees!"—and swing by KFC on your way home.)
A more general rule is that, when someone offers you a generous favor, it is considered bad manners and full crazy to come over the top and try to negotiate a sweeter deal for yourself.
You have already done this woman a great kindness by offering to host her at your holiday meal. She doesn't want to turn your Thanksgiving dinner into a Tupperware party "of sorts." She wants to turn it into a Tupperware party "and that's the end of that sentence."
While you may feel a little awkward telling her that, on second thought, you're not comfortable with her using your party as a free, catered event to hawk her wares to your trapped friends, take solace in the fact that you will not feel as awkward as your grim-faced friends would have felt pulling crumpled Jacksons out of their wallets as she launched into her presentation (which, by the way, would seem like your presentation, since you apparently lured them to your house to hear it, and are the Welch's Fruit Snacks in your coworker's Costco box even labeled for individual sale, and isn't she a little employed to be raising money for her after school youth basketball team?)
You should not extend an offer for your guest to bust out her wares "if someone expresses an interest." This will only cause her to prod people into politely expressing an interest.
"Let's all go around the table and say what we're thankful for. Here, I'll start: I'm thankful for the even heating and no-worry maintenance I get from my Pampered Chef Baking Stone, only $27.99!"
"What a beautiful engagement ring. You know, I actually make twisty wire jewelry with glass beads myself. You should buy some."
"It's so funny you mention golf—I've actually got an entire golf bag of barbiturates out in my car because the square didn't think you folks would want to party. You want to party, don't you, babies?"
Trust that, whatever her wares are (and I am dying to know—Girl Scout Cookies? Avon? Burpee seeds? Catalogue of sexual favors with non-negotiable fees?), she will find a way to trick someone into asking about them in order to circumvent your rule.
She is, after all, a seasoned saleswoman; who else would respond to a generous invitation by saying, "Thank you so much! I see this as a huge business opportunity for me!" She knows you don't move product by sitting around waiting for someone to say, "That four-course Thanksgiving meal was delicious, but you know what I could really go for right now? An entire sleeve of Do-Si-Dos."
While I love your excuse about having a too-small apartment ("Unfortunately, I don't have room for any more objects, even temporarily. We are at max capacity for things and such"), don't sabotage yourself by using it. Doing so only provides an in for her to make a counteroffer.
You don't think there will enough space? Don't worry, it's not much—she can fit everything into the trunk of her car, which is a lot smaller than your living room!
You don't need to give details, justify, or explain your decision because you are not the person behaving rudely. Your reason could be "I have a rule about parties, which is that people are not allowed to ruin them" or "You can't bring your stuff in here because I'm a mean old crazy witch!" and you would still be in the clear, manners-wise, for you are the one hosting Thanksgiving.
If, through some Rube Goldberg-esque machinations of the Universe, this woman does end up extolling the virtues of the Tupperware® Microwave Pasta Maker to a throng of your enthralled, inebriated guests, you can take comfort in the fact that it will probably end up being a funny story for everyone else, in retrospect.
"Remember that Thanksgiving?! The Lions won, and I drunkenly spent $200 on Skin So Soft."
You can take turns telling and embellishing it at next year's Thanksgiving dinner, to which this woman obviously will not be invited.
Submit your "Thatz Not Okay" questions here (max: 200 words). Image by Jim Cooke, source photo via Shutterstock.