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The question

When invited to a gathering of friends or family I’m regularly accused of bringing an overabundance of bags with food and drink hopefully appropriate to the occasion and tastes. I joke that I am, indeed, a “bag lady.” The items I bring are usually consumed. I hear a chorus of “Oh you shouldn’t have!” “You always bring too much!” “Next time just bring yourself!” I live in a small space and can’t accommodate a crowd so my offerings are, in my mind, in lieu of hosting. I always try to bring items the host/hostess would not offer. I always ask “What can I bring!?” and follow the request. Dave, where am I on the slippery scale of social acceptability in this instance?

The answer

Before I get into the meat of my answer, I want to say watch out for this “bag lady” stuff. Keep an eye on it. Put a pin in it. It could work against you in the long run.

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This might seem hypocritical coming from a guy like me. I’ve always been a maestro of self-deprecation (if that’s not too oxymoronic a thing to say). Obeying some inscrutable impulse, I don’t “one-up” people; I always “one-down” them.

Someone: “Oh, why did I wear this shirt today? This is a really dumb shirt!”

Me: “Your shirt? Your shirt is Einstein compared to how dumb my shirt is.”

Why do I have this reflex? Go ask it on the mountain. I began my first book, Chump Change, basically a 230-page farrago/fandango of self-deprecation, with the words: “I am a failure.”

An editor I knew pondered this line, and the rest of the book, and finally said words to the effect of: “You should be more careful what you say about yourself, Dave. Don’t forget: People are bored and lazy and busy and gossipy. They don’t have time or energy to peer through your smokescreen of self-deprecation to determine if what you’re saying is true. They’ll just take you at your word and next thing you know everyone will be saying: ‘Dave is a failure.’”

So I pass that thought along to you. It might stick, which could hurt you. People peeking through curtains: “Oh, look who’s coming: ‘Bag Lady.’ Wonder what sort of crap she’s gonna foist on us this time.” “Next thing you know she’ll be pushing a shopping cart full of junk up to our houses.” Snarky snickers.

As to your central question, “Where do I stand on the slippery scale of social acceptability?” I have to say: right at the top.

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Now, I’m not traditionally an etiquette-based advice columnist. The word “etiquette” to me has always conjured images of finger bowls and antimacassars. But I’ve had to rethink that stance a bit, lately. Suddenly so much of our health and so many lives and livelihoods – even whole countries – could topple depending on what might once have been dismissed as mere etiquette.

For example, how we greet one another. Am I the only one who cringes a bit these days when watching an old movie or TV show and people are hugging, kissing or shaking hands? It’s weird, I know, but I feel kind of grossed out.

I’m hoping in future we will forget all the awkward elbow- and fist-bumps and air-hugs everyone’s experimenting with now and land on simply bowing to one another.

You don’t mention post-COVID-19 protocols, but as far as pre-COVID-19 ones go I’d say you’re top shelf.

Not only do you not show-up empty-handed, but you have the thoughtfulness/decency/courtesy to call in advance to inquire what might be helpful/useful for you to bring. Fuhgedaboudit, you’re part of very mature fraternity, an ultra-thoughtful minority.

Bottom line: Let the naysayers neigh, and the squawkers chirp. You should hold your head, and your bags high, as you approach any house to which you come bearing gifts.

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