Vanity Fair Caricature: Mr Justice Bucknill (1900) from Wikimedia Commons

The time for one of my periodic keep-my-lips-buttoned challenges is upon me.  K-man’s parents are arriving tonight.  In the dim fog of the past, and speaking through a haze of exhaustion during which I would have promised to fellate George W. Bush if it meant I could go to sleep, I agreed that we should invite them for the weekend.

They’re staying for approximately 90 hours, spanning four days.  But they booked the flights without checking it was OK, and now we are stuck with them for every minute of the entire weekend plus a working day either side.

When they arrive to the decorative horror of the current state of the house we just bought, they will make suggestions.  To the untrained ear these will sound like innocuous helpful statements or simple questions, but in reality they are veiled criticisms.  Any sentence beginning with “you should” or “have you not thought about”, or “why have you” is really about judging us to have failed in some way because we don’t do things exactly as they would.  I will hear, at length, suggestions on how to weed a garden or prune my shrubbery.  If I’m really unlucky I’ll get a book about it for Christmas, like the time my ornamental napkin-folding was clearly below par.

Suggestions will also be forthcoming regarding my current job-hunting and lack-of-career woes.  Things I already know will be pointed out to me in the patented Patronising Teacher tone.  Never mind that I live in a wildly different environment, with a wildly different career path, in a wildly different job market, during a different century, to any of those of which they have even one scintilla of experience.  I am younger than they, so I know nothing.

I am fragile at the moment, and the wispy threads holding my lips together are sure to be rent asunder if mention is made of the Anti-Christ’s new book.  The Anti-Christ’s old book has lain on the shelf under a mound of dust since they posted it all the way to New Zealand many moons ago.  My parents-in-law think they can educate me by telling me things I don’t know.  I am open to learning new things and potentially changing my view, but we have covered the limited realm of their expertise multiple times, and it turns out that I already know everything they tell me, it’s just that my world-view is broader so I see things with greater concern for fellow humanity, and especially those who are worse off than me.  Which, I recognise, is 99% of people.

It’s not helping that the nation now has a Conservative government.  I will hear about how the Lib Dems are at behind-the-scenes fault for anything and everything the Conservative government does that blows up into a hurricane of WRONG.

A typical conversation will begin well enough but then leap-frog from nowhere, via a pointed but irrelevant statement, to variations on the theme of the negative effects of immigration.  I will ask why they are so bent out of shape when they live in an area with 0.001% immigrant population, whereas I am perfectly calm about it having lived in an area of something like 50% immigrant population for the past 25 years.  If anyone should feel threatened by immigration, I argue, it is me.  But because I actually have some direct experience, having met real live immigrants on a daily basis for as long as I have physical memories of my own existence, I’m not in the least bit threatened or challenged.  Quite the reverse.  You, I will tell them, are simply responding to the fear-mongering and misinformation to be found in those dreadful rags you read, and then their flabbergasted flapping will commence.

I will be required to go into battle over the content and timing of meals.  Because they do not have jobs, they eat a full meal at lunchtime and subsist on cake and cheese through the evening.  I do not.  For two of the days I will deal with it.  But when I’m working, and am the one cooking the meal, I get to say what’s what.  This will not go down well.   This visit, because I prefer food with flavour, I have decreed that I will not pander to the black hole where their taste-buds should be.  Normally I would move to accommodate a guest’s dietary preferences, at least to some degree.  But this is a special case.

“My father doesn’t like leeks”, K-man will grumble.

“Your father doesn’t like anything with a taste.” I reply.

“He likes boiled mushrooms.  And luncheon meat.”

“Your father is a grown-arse man.  Most people learnt when they were very small that you eat what you are given when you’re in a guest’s house unless you are going to fall down dead from an allergy.  I am not eating boiled mushrooms.  I am cooking leek and pancetta risotto and they can eat it, make their own meal, or starve.”

Things always get a little bit tense when a visit is pending.


11 Responses to “Incoming!”

  1. 1 cardinal June 25, 2010 at 8:18 am

    Before I commiserate, may I beg for just the tiniest taste of risotto? I’m drooling just thinking about it.

    I live in very close proximity to my in-laws, who are both 80. My f-i-l is still very much the patriarch, despite very obvious initial signs of dementia/alzheimers. My husband works in the family business. I really, really, really understand your feelings. My advice is to remember to breathe, and don’t forget to drink heavily.

  2. 2 Nic June 25, 2010 at 9:34 am

    @ cardinal: Thank you! It’s my FIL who is particularly bad as well. It’s partly a kind of ornery arrogance, and partly that I don’t think he can remember a time when his every need wasn’t anticipated. His modus operandi is passive aggression, which I can’t stand. I have to stop myself shouting GROW THE FUCK UP AND TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT.

    I cannot comprehend living very close by. I think *we* should breathe in and out together a few times in unison.

  3. 3 Jonathan June 25, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    Do I need to apologise for grinning all the way through that post, and nodding a little bit too much?

    If only we lived closer, we could have excellent bitch-fest coffee shop sessions. My life seems to be a scary parallel of yours at times :)

  4. 4 Ashley June 25, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    Fake work emergency that you need to run off and deal with?

  5. 5 Suzanne June 25, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    Stick to your guns, says I!

    Make a big deal about what a treat it is that you’re preparing for them (Seriously, leek & pancetta risotto? YUM!!), how you ate it once at a hoity-toity famous restaurant, and had to track down the recipe so you could enjoy the tasty extravaganza at home and share it with those you love.

    While it may not exactly be the truth, the subtext is “see how much I care about you by going to all this effort and making something this special for you!” It’d be that much harder for them to complain without seeming like total loutish ingrates. Have some cereal or sandwich makings on hand in case the f-i-l doesn’t like it, so he or your poor m-i-l can make something else for themselves, if absolutely necessary.

    But I completely agree that they should be gracious about whatever you prepare, as well as offer to take you and K-man out to dinner, at least once while they are there. Why must families always be so difficult to please?? Harumph.

  6. 6 Chelsie Cuneo June 27, 2010 at 4:53 am

    Had some difficulty viewing the website in Safari on the Mac, but apart from that loved the post!

  7. 7 kellyg June 27, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Wait. Are my in-laws visiting you soon?

    So is Melanie Philips your Anne Coulter with a bit more religion? I’d do more research (googling) but I don’t want to contaminate my computer.

  8. 8 Susan June 27, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    Have you ever seen the TV series United States of Tara? Well, if you are having a tough time with the in-laws at dinner, you could always shift into an alternate personality that would easier deal with the situation.
    Barring that, have another glass of wine and smile and nod a lot.

  9. 9 bramble June 28, 2010 at 3:25 am

    Breathe deeply,( or Dep-ly!) many times! Have a good supply of cocktail fixings at the ready. Try to think of yourself as the inlaws in the future. Respond accordingly! This worked wonders with mine. I started to question some of the wacky shit they did or didn’t do and the Spanish Inquisition of Passive Agressiveness came to a screeching halt! Good luck and godspeed, may the visit be on warp drive!!!

  10. 10 nic June 28, 2010 at 10:21 am

    Well, I made it through. Yes, I drank heavily – it was the only way.

    @kellyg: you’re right, Melanie Phillips is the UK’s Anne Coulter.

  11. 11 Elizabeth June 28, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    Oh dear. I think I could have written this post. Thank you for explaining about suggestions. I have a hard time describing why these billions of suggestions are so offensive. And the food. Lord help me with the food. They want it constantly and the blander the better. They think nothing of suggesting that I serve something else when they don’t like it.

    Yes, tense over here too. We see them in a month and its already weighing on us.

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