The ‘Wrong’ Answer

Hey Everyone! Thank you for participating in my little poll regarding who gets ‘served’ first. I deeply appreciate the responses and read every single one of them. Some, several times.

I want to clarify a few things. When I say ‘serve’, I mean anything from being offered a beer off the platter to handing over a cup of gelato. When I asked ethnicity, I was asking about your race and ethnicity.  I asked this because among my friends the answers seemed to vary slightly based on race / ethnicity / immigrant status etc. I asked age, because I wanted to see if the answers might skew generationally. When I said my SO and ‘his boys’, I meant his friends 😉

Now, here’s why I asked. I know I say that I hate talking about my dating life, but that’s not quite true. I just kind of hate being asked how it’s going. Especially because I rarely have something to report! And I hate it being followed up with statements like needing to ‘put myself out there’ or being told how great it is to not have to date anymore because they’ve found someone. But, when I do have something to talk about, I can barely keep my mouth shut!

(disclaimer: Now, I do have a problem. I have a thing for alpha males.  I know I can take care of myself. I run a department with staff and a budget. I problem solve all day. I like to come home and someone else is able and willing to make some decisions. I like men who watch / play football, fix cars, hang shelves, shoot guns and be a ‘man’. I also like them to be well read, go to theater shows with me and watch my foreign films without moaning that if they wanted to read they wouldn’t have come to the movies. I don’t like sexist, bullheaded, insensitive men. But, again, I like men’s men / alpha-male types.)

So, I’ve been quasi friends with someone for the last couple of years. We had like 2.5 dates two years ago. In the last year we socialize, talk, email regularly. Essentially, he’s dating me without dating me. But, that is an entirely different topic.

Over dinner, he asked me what I would do in this situation — relating it to a former partner. I said what I thought was the obvious choice: company first.

 He did not go ballistic. He did not tell me it was my place to serve the men. He did not insult me.  But, he made it clear that in his home or with his partner, he felt it an outward show of respect to place your SO (male or female) first in an informal setting. We both agreed that a formal setting called for oldest first, then the women, the men, then the kids.

I was originally totally surprised that any man would care in this situation. So, I asked two girlfriends of mine who are also of West Indian descent. Both said serve your SO first. They felt that it was the respectful thing to do, that it it showed you put him first. They felt this was the same as him making a fuss / paying special attention to you when you go out.

I asked several white females I work with. They said company.

I asked my parents. They both said company first.

I asked several men I know (three black, one white — all blue collar yet middle class) and they wouldn’t even let me get the question out my mouth before they said ‘ME’.

So, I posed it to you. I wanted to have proof positive that I wasn’t out of line in my thinking.  92%  of you say company first. 7.9% say your SO first.

I will in the future likely go with what the Selfish Seamstress was kind enough to research:

Cocktails being served by a bartender or by a member of the family are never served first to the host and hostess, and neither the host nor the hostess… Hors d’oeuvres equally are passed first to guest, next of last to the hostess and finally to the host.

When guests are seated around the room, they come forward to take the teacups from the hostess – she does not rise to serve the guests. Gentlemen present take tea to women guests, of course.

But, I’m going to be honest with you. Knowing that this person cares, I would hand him his drink first. If he didn’t care, I would serve company or whoever is closest to me first.

I’ve spent the last two years working with people with an international or immigrant background. I don’t presume to know how people were raised in their homes or expect to be treated. But, if I can accommodate them without going against my morals I will.

My friend Kristy says that’s not acquiescing. That’s just picking my battles.


  1. Yesterday I answered the quiz, then commented that it depends on the company; if it were his boys, I’d serve him first. I’m Metis and Ukrainian (aka caucasian), live in central Saskatchewan, Canada, and am 36 years old. Admittedly, I’m kind of a backwoods savage.

    I was raised in a buffet-style home, where if you don’t have the gumption to fill up your own plate, you can just go hungry. I know that culturally, in many households, Guest is God, and there’s a lot of etiquette surrounding who eats what, when. That’s quite lovely, and when I find myself a guest in that situation, I am secretly uncomfortable with being fussed over, but I try to be a good guest.

    In my household, though, Guest is Family, and family feeds from the common trough. That said, when my husband had his boys out to our house this summer for a couple of BBQ’s, I served him first; he got the first beer and the first dish of ice cream. I put no thought into it; it just came naturally. I’m not sure where that comes from, except I remember my grandma taking care of my grandpa, and my baba taking care of my gido.

    I honestly don’t see anything at all wrong with handing my husband the first beer, as long as I brought enough for everybody. And I don’t feel like it’s an issue of subservience or service, since when our situations are reversed, he does the same thing for me. We take care of each other, as well as our guests. As long as nobody gets left out, I don’t any problem.

    • And I don’t feel like it’s an issue of subservience or service, since when our situations are reversed, he does the same thing for me. We take care of each other, as well as our guests.

      I think this is exactly the point the man in question is making.

  2. I think what you’d want (the everyone you, not you specifically!) is a man who could quietly explain why this mattered to him, without making a scene or causing a huge fight. Then I’d agree with you – pick your battles and if it’s that big a deal to him why not.

    Course he’d have to serve you in front of your girlfriends next time around 😉

    • Course he’d have to serve you in front of your girlfriends next time around!

      He says he would!

  3. Rachelle – it’s funny, when I read that you’re Metis + Ukranian, my first thought was “Oh, she must live in Edmonton, or right near it!” But central Saskatchewan makes a lot of sense. I spent several years in Edmonton for school. I have to admit, coming back to southern Ontario felt like returning to civilization. I’m a WASP from Toronto, now living in Kingston.

    I mention this, because I think there certainly are some definite cultural distinctions regarding this question (even amongst people not just in, but from the same country). For me, it would be serve company first, ALWAYS, no matter how informal the situation may be. Company always comes first, unless you’re at an intimacy level where you can say ‘get it yourself’, lol. Additionally, thinking about this I realized that I would actually be uncomfortable serving my SO first because I would feel I was projecting an image of subservience. I’m pretty sure my bf would think the same as me, but I think I’ll ask him just to see ;o)

    I think this is a very interesting example of cultural differance. Obviously, Rachelle and people of other cultures don’t feel that way so they don’t have a problem with it. I’d like to clarify that I don’t think it is a subservient action, in itself it’s nothing, neutral. How it is *interpreted* is entirely culturally determined. Cidell, I admire your ability to implement a middle ground solution. As silly as I feel about saying it, I don’t know that I could. I think it’s one of those little things that’s just too ingrained – but this is definitely one of those reminders that there are many different ways cultures interpret even the small actions in life, and that we should try to be aware of them.

    Thanks for my thought provoking…….thoughts……for the day!

    • As silly as I feel about saying it, I don’t know that I could. I think it’s one of those little things that’s just too ingrained – but this is definitely one of those reminders that there are many different ways cultures interpret even the small actions in life, and that we should try to be aware of them.

      Not silly at all! I’m glad you said this. There were women I talked to who said they too would not on principle (one of them being my mom!) And, it is a good reminder that little things can be interpreted all kinds of ways.

  4. I took your poll and read all of the comments in the original post.

    I’m a single AA female mid 30’s and my father is West Indian; guests always came first growing up. Although, WI men loved to be catered to, most of the men in family would never take issue with not being served first.

    I like your solution but i would be on the lookout for chuavinist tendencies with your guy. BTW, we like the same type of men, maybe it’s a based on family culture.

  5. Very interesting. I agree that if the guy has made his thoughts on this known in a respectful manner, then I’d go with it and definitely say it’s picking your battles. But, I would like to ditto a previous poster in that I’d be on the lookout for other chauvinistic tendencies. This could very well just be something he values and there is nothing more to it, or it could be a sign of larger issues down the road. (Just thinking of a CWs husband that is very clear that there are different jobs around the house for men and women and he will not deviate from this. To the point where I have no idea how she is married to him.)

    Now I’m curious as to how my husband feels about this. Will have to ask him tonight.

    Great post, btw.

      • Oh, I’m TOTALLY the Alpha-Male type too. And in the same ways as you: the alpha male that’s not a jerk.

  6. I agree, pick your battles wisely. And that also goes for men too! I married an alpha male, but he’s an alpha male that believes “A Happy Wife Means A Happy Home” and “If Momma Ain’t Happy, Nobody’s Happy”. With that said, he would have been helping me prepare the food for our guest.

  7. VERY interesting backstory. I agree with your solution as well.

    (And I prefer alpha males, too)

  8. Interesting. I do agree with picking your battles.

    I am of Cameroonian descent. In my culture, women typically serve men except when you are the host. If you and your SO are hosting the event, then you serve all the guests first. However, if you are not hosting, but are all out together e.g at picnic etc, you are to serve your SO first before serving any of his friends.

    Our events are usually buffet style. In more recent times though, I notice that even when it is ‘ladies first’, the ladies go get food for their SO and serve them. So though the host may have announced that the ladies are to go first, in essence, men with SO get served first, then the women serve themselves, then the few men whose partners ignore such rules or who neither have a partner or close female friends at the event serve themselves.

  9. I’d just like to issue a caveat that the etiquette book from which I was quoting was written in the early 1950s – I think that serving advice is still relatively sound, but there may be more contemporary rules. You DO NOT want to read what they have to say about how a female boss should behave in the office as compared to a male boss 🙂

    • I can’t even imagine. Probably something like my mid 50s book that told me blacks looked terrible in green!

  10. Hmmmm, I can agree that picking prioritizing your needs (vs. picking your battles) is wise but it would also be wise to investigate whether this issue is a sign of something deeper that you would not be able to tolerate. I’m Latin, but married to an american (caucasian) and I think even in my own family of origin it would be guests first. However, I did have a moment when my grandfather was shocked that I was sitting down to eat at a BBQ without serving my husband (then boyfriend) a plate first. I told abuelo that Mr. Man was a big boy and he was able to get his own plate, in fact able to get me one too. 😉 My husband had a chuckle with that one. Do I still offer my husband to get him a plate? Sure, but after almost 10 years of marriage it alternates and really just a courtesy because I love him.

  11. Very interesting.

    My husband is so ‘alpha’ that the cats obey him (!), but if *I* were cooking and serving the food, he would leave the service of that food up to my discretion. And he’d expect me to do likewise. So that’s just not a battle for us.

  12. Hmmm… I’m thinking that a truly alpha male would want his guests to be made comfortable first, to be able to be a really great host. I’m sure that part of my attitude comes from being raised in a family that valued self-sacrifice to a degree that sometimes is unhealthy. But honestly, I’d be a little bit on the look out for anybody, male, female, or whatever age, who feels the need to say “me first”. If you’re a strong person, you’re strong enough to put others first. If you feel the need to put yourself first, or to ask others to do so, that bespeaks a certain insecurity to me.

    (Note that all of this is to be read in a conversational, non-combative tone! 🙂

    • I think we can’t forget that he said he would do the same for his SO. He would serve her first too.

  13. Tangent, but – I have a friend, she is beautiful, educated, smart, funny, and, last I heard, single. I talked to her on the phone for the first time in a year or so, and, remembering what you said about hating to be asked about dating, I deliberately did not ask if she was seeing anyone. I figured, if she was and wanted to tell me, she’d bring it up. She never mentioned it. So, thank you for educating me.

  14. The alpha male is the “socially dominant male in a group.” That is it. Therefore, an alpha male can be the bully. Being an alpha male doesn’t [necessarily] make you the smartest chap in the group. The alpha male doesn’t mean you are the most creative–if, at all–male of the group. It doesn’t even mean, in the long run, that you are the best male provider (for your children). And, the alpha male, most often, is not the kindest or most caring of the males in the group. The alpha male has the biggest balls, so to speak. He dominates by being the most testosterone-laden of the bunch; he’s the guy that gets first dibs on banging the youngest and most fertile of the females in the group.

    • It doesn’t even mean, in the long run, that you are the best male provider (for your children).


      It doesn’t even mean, in the long run, that you will [prove to] be the best provider for your children, of the males of your group.

      By the way, I am a woman, and if my above comment on the alpha male [human] tells anything about me, it is that I am not attracted to the alpha male–not as someone who will stick with me for the long haul. Yeah, when it comes to that first-glance, animal musk sort of attraction, the alpha male will catch my eye; but it is from the group of the boys below him where I have done my choosing. At present, I am “in love with” and loved by a non-alpha male, and it is pleasurable.

  15. Wow, I find it really interesting that a modern man would even care! I wonder how he’d feel if you asked him to help you serve? :-O

  16. Wow, isn’t it funny how a little scenario opens up a discussion? I think it’s very generational. I forgot to add in my comments yesterday that I am Native American, 40, and I said I would definitely serve company first. My mother, on the other hand, would serve her SO first, above other family or company, which I find a little backward. We even talked about the differences recently and realized how I must seem a little odd to her.
    I’ve had people over and I tend to serve the elderly first, children and then adults. That’s my general rule at any gathering. If my SO had a problem with that, then we would definitely have issues. It’s a little different when its your SO and his boys. I think company should always be served first.

  17. Interesting! I didn’t even think about women before men. All equal as far as I am concerned. But SO does have a point. And if it is important to him then yes serve him first. If I was there in the group, I wouldn’t even notice. But Aussies are very casual. And don’t take offence easily. Actually thinking about it, I would take offence if a male told me how and who to serve – who does he think he is? And what issues does he have about his position that he needs to assert over such a minor thing??

  18. Well I guess it just goes to show that we are not all the same. And yet it just goes to show that we are not all different! I love that there is such diversity in this blogosphere where I have felt this kinship… and such attention and such thoughtful response. I’m a 37yo backwoods yankee whitey, and what is dear to my beloved’s heart is near to mine. It’s fascinating to me to hear WHY people find certain things important.

    ps: Cidell, I’ve been lurking for far too long. I want to Thank You! And I’ve love the name of your blog since I first found it. Reading AW first lead me away from sewing straight from patterns and into the Generosity of sewing for others and myself! Bravo!! cheers, Kim

    • Yay! Thanks for taking a minute to delurk! I love what you said. What is dear to his heart is near to yours 😉

  19. My connection croaked, I hope I’m not posting a second time. Interesting. I tried to not think too much but just reflex what I’d do. I’m also a very independent sort, and rather aggressive, and in a vocationally quite assertive position. And none too shy. Southern white, if it matters. I would kind of sideways hand the home guy his drink, quietly, then the female guest, then the male guest. And I don’t agree about the guests coming forward to the hostess to be served. I was taught the host/hostess stands to serve the guests, female first, and serve themselves last. And only sit when everyone else is served. So there you go. 🙂 K

  20. Is this the person that took you to the target range because this person found a pink gun for you to use?

  21. Hmm, I almost took part in your poll, but figured it was irrelevant. I would serve his buddies (guests first) then him. Mostly in part because he would do the exact same for me, situation reversed. And because he wouldn’t expect me to do it. And he’d probably help.

    And yes, I found an Alpha mail exactly as you described. They do exist, miraculously. And he’s cute, too!!

  22. I agree that in order to make a relationship work(romantic or otherwise), you often need to pick your battles. No one is ever going to get everything they want all the time, so you may as well be lenient on the things that don’t matter that much to you. In my opinion, its the only way to stay sane and avoid resentment.

    That said, I wonder why this particular issue matters so much to him? I understand that if the situation was reversed that he would serve you, but if you personally don’t care one way or the other, is it even relevant?

    Thanks for telling us the back story! I find this sort of conversation very interesting. I’ll have to ask my SO what he thinks when I remember!

  23. I’ll have to say you certainly gave me food for thought….but, I’m with your parents on this one. It seems like this is mostly important to the fellow when the ‘boys are over’. Honestly, I’d never heard of giving the 1st beer/food to my SO, just as I would never serve my child 1st, even at their birthday party. It’s most important to me to be gracious and hospitable and to ensure my guests feel comfortable and welcome in my home. But, I live on an island! Vancouver Island that is. By the way, I have an alpha male type and he’s adorable and adaptable.

  24. Cidell, you’ve sparked an interesting conversation here. I like the way you related the back story and enjoyed reading all of the comments. Personally, I don’t think I’d give any thought to whom I served first in such an informal setting and would think the SO is making a big deal about nothing if he complained. But this is a perfect example of why we shouldn’t make snap judgements about people and how important it is to be mindful of cultural diversity in our interactions.

    I love a guy who can fix things too!

  25. It seems to me that the operational distinction here is gender – we women all say serve company first, your male friends say serve them first. I too have a male partner who I’m sure would say to serve company first, so maybe there’s another distinction as well. But if you’re looking at how the groups break out, there’s your clear line. (PS are some of us wrong about our partners? Not me, I’m sure, ;))

    Fun conversation.

  26. This is very interesting, and as I was writing this I called my dh of 37 years and asked him the question, without hesitation he said company, as did I. We are the same age, race and religion, Jewish, and I would wonder if this is more a generational thing, but I know that my dd who is 23 would say the same thing. We pass on what our parents taught us, and this is how my parents raised us. Social behaviors do change, the treatment of women on Mad Men makes me cringe, but guests in my home are treated with respect and to me that means they get served first. A significant other, if co hosting is not a guest so no, he would not get served first.

  27. I posed this question and received the following answers:
    -Why would you do that? (cook for him and his boys, which I thought was totally the right answer!!!!)
    -You should just put the platter down and have everyone serve themselves.
    -OK fine, if I *have* to answer the question, guests first.

    He’s 35, white, and Southern (which I think makes a difference).

  28. I would serve guests first, but if my husband’s friends expected me to serve him first, then I wouldn’t mind doing it that way. But it would be hard to change my habits.
    I grew up in Minnesota. When I first moved to the east coast, I couldn’t figure out why I never got served drinks at other people’s homes. Finally I realized that in Minnesota, you are expected to refuse twice and only say yes the third time you are asked.
    “Would you like a drink?”
    “No thanks.”
    “Are you sure? I have coffee or tea.”
    “No, I don’t want you to go to any trouble.”
    “Really, it’s no trouble at all. Coffee or tea?”
    In New York and New Jersey, most people thought I really didn’t want anything and didn’t ask again! There I sat, thirsty, wondering why I never got a drink.
    I had used the “refuse twice before saying yes” rule for years without even realizing that I was doing it, because everyone around me did the same thing. I think everyone has lots of assumptions and rules that we are not even aware of.

  29. I went so far as to ask your question at the dinner table the other night. My pre-teen boy-child answered the question correctly: guests first, then mom, then dad, me (ie the youngest) last. Actually, that’s only almost correct, because we always do “server last” regardless. We hold to this even when the only guest is my young son’s same-age best friend: the buddy, since he’s a guest (and a frequent one at that!) gets served first. Always. I like to hold to this rule, because doing so helps my son internalize social graces till they become second nature.

    In a pass-the-platter round robin situation the first platter is always offered to the lady guest, and the second to the male guest. And we have an additional caveat on all that serving – no matter who’s served first or last, no one picks up the fork to eat till everyone’s ready to do so. We don’t have restaurant-sized gatherings at my house, and “but the food’s getting cold” just doesn’t cut it as an argument against. Besides, in my experience even in large restaurant settings people wait till everyone’s been served.

    I might add, if already-filled plates/bowls/glasses etc, are brought out for everyone to help themselves, the same order implicitly applies – people simply know to sort of hang back till the senior guest plucks up the first one, etc. I can see that if it’s just a bunch of peer-group guys or gals, a first come / first self-serve might apply, but it smacks as a bit too kindergartenish for any sort of familial-social adult gathering.

    These things are pretty automatic when one’s social circle is made up of individuals from the same culture, but I can see how points of friction might arise if that’s not so.

    As a final comment, any male, alpha or not, who expressed “me first” ideas in this context would be quickly disabused of them; if he refused to learn otherwise, well, he’d be gone.

  30. I have the advantage of viewing this from 2 cultures. From a certain Caribbean (aka West Indian, hate this wrong name) and a certain European country. In my Caribbean country it would be the man serving drinks to his friends, then the woman would, if it is not a sit down meal, open the buffet and each man feeds himself or she would load the plates and pass them to the guests first. Caribbean men like to sit on their duffus’s and be catered to. In this European country, it is usually the man of the house who serves drinks. Among all of our friends and acquaintances, it is the man who is in charge of seeing that guests are ‘watered’. The woman of the house runs herself to a frenzy keeping the food on the plates and again, that is definitely guests first. So here in this European country, the host couple are equally in charge of taking care of their guests.

  31. So here’s a double-standard – I would totally serve company first, but if the situation was switched, I would expect the boy to serve me first. (As a proxy for caring/concern.) Which made me think that what your friend is saying seems perfectly reasonable. The conclusion – when in doubt, ask how you’d like to be treated in the same situation…

  32. My perspective is from a 67 year old Caucasian and U.S. citizen. As a Realtor I’ve had experience with many clients from all over the world. As a woman in the work world before Feminism and therefore the victim of the male dominated business world (one couldn’t get any kind of loan if you were female),I bring with me an ingrained aversion to the need for this discussion. I’d serve the closest person first.

  33. Missed the poll, but from a white, over-50, caucasian, I was taught – serve the guest of honor, the rest of the guests, then your co-host(ess), and yourself last. If your SO/spouse was the guest of honor, they get served first. We haven’t done any “entertaining” other than family potlucks at holidays in years though, those are strictly buffet-style. We do try to get the grandparents served first though.

    I wonder if sometimes 2 SO’s involved(I’m refering to ones that don’t live together) have a different view of whether the SO is a guest or host when the party is held at the other person’s home? Is there a different thought pattern if it’s a case of “hey, why don’t you and your friends come over and watch the game” vs “hey, why don’t WE have friends over to watch the game”?

    • True. I think if it is he and his friends I would feel like I am hosting them as a group. Not co-hosting.

      Sent from my iPod

  34. Interesting how complex this gets! Especially in a world where cultures and upbringing backgrounds mix and so do expectations. I’m not sure there is one answer that would apply to all situations here. Even etiquette advice from “experts” reflects the culture those experts come from. There is something to say for keeping the peace between significant others! They are the ones who must spend the most time together and have the most at stake, more than with any guests that visit.

    Even among the men from my husband’s culture, there is such vast difference. One good friend sits at the table and hold his glass high above his head when he wants his wife (an accomplished woman with a PhD and full-time career) to rise from the table, take it to the sink and refill it and deliver it back to her husband. And she does. Obviously I have my reaction to that, but keep it to myself. It’s not my business. We just enjoy their friendship. My husband actually does most of the cooking and he actively serves to guests. We are equal partners in that. So even when coming from the same culture, there’s so much difference in attitudes and behaviors.

    People are really fascinating, aren’t they!

  35. Without even asking him, I know that my (midwestern farmboy Caucasian) husband would say “serve guests first.” That’s the way his mamma raised him.

  36. Wow, this kind of thinking is totally alien to us Swedish folks! I have never heard of such a thing, not even in my grandparents generation. And it would be socially rude. If a guy said something like that to me I would be like bye, bye, forever. I am not kidding – I got my principles! To me that kind of attitude is a symbol for views that could easily be translated into other areas in the domestic/relationship balance and I would not wanna go there.

  37. I came off a bit harsh there, I was just a so shocked. I might not throw him through the door (but be tempted!). But I would never serve him first, even if it was important to him. I would just assume that he understands that he is important to me, serving order regardless 🙂

  38. I’m with Johanna Lu. I’m Scandinavian too and that sort of request would never, ever fly with a Scandinavian woman. Nooo way, baby. She’d give him a pitying look and walk away.

    In my home I was raised to serve the senior female guest first, then her male companion. I all social settings it’s always the senior lady who gets the best treatment. To not do that would be unforgivably louche. The only exception is when the occation is in someones honor. Celebrating a big aniversary or accomplishment. But even then the senior lady guest would be seated next to the guest of honour if that person were a man.

    Also. Serving the drinks/wine is most often the hosts responsibility. So he’d obviously serve himself last. At a dinner party the host is responsible for topping up the guests glasses. If you have a non-live-in SO he would act as the host even if the dinner or whatever was held at you place, and again the senior lady guest is served first and as host he would get his drink last.

    Finally at least in my extended circle) its quite usual to serve the dessert first to the children. Then the smallest child gets his or her icecream or cake first. Especially if the party contains so many young guests as to be almost a childrens party. (Wich also tends to be the case in my circle).

  39. I know this is a late response but this has been a very interesting read. I’m West Indian also and had a long term relationship with an alpha male. When guests were over, we both served them together. While he was doing that, I fixed his plate. He’d eat only after I got my plate and was seated with the group.

    If he was hosting his boys — I’d help him prepare the food and set it up buffet style, but once hellos were said … I exited stage left and they were left up to their own devices … 🙂 If they didn’t eat/drink it was because they didn’t want to cause

    At family functions, the elderly and children were fed first then everyone else get their own

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