The Rules of the Family

by irms

Every time I meet someone new and start getting assimilated into their lives, or bringing them into mine, there are certain ground-rules I have to go over before one of us commits a cardinal sin by offending ‘the family’.  After writing these out, I realize that over half of them pertain to food and the etiquette surrounding meals.  That should tell you something about my family.

I always attribute the need to explain the rules to the fact that my family is loud, Mexican, and mean, and I don’t want any trouble so I cut it off at the pass by letting whitey the new comer know the following:

  1. You always greet my grandmother first.
    It doesn’t matter if you’re sick in bed, dead from exhaustion, in the middle of curing male-pattern baldness.  Stop what you’re doing and go acknowledge her presence.  You don’t have to hug or kiss her (though if she has started liking you enough to speak to you directly, it’s best to go in for a one-armed hug at least), you just have to get close, make eye contact, and say, “Good to see you.”  That’s it.  Not doing this may result in not being invited back — or worse — being invited so that they can shun you when you arrive.
  2. If someone makes food (as opposed to bringing home take-out), you have to eat some.
    Again, it doesn’t matter if you’re sick or just ate a full seven-course meal at The Plaza.  You eat what was made, and you have a little bit of everything.
  3. If you’re a girl-guest, you have to help with, or at least offer to help with the dishes.
    Have we just fed the entire family?  Have we been cooking all day long?  It doesn’t matter.  If there is one dish or a mountain, you have to make a move for them.  If you’re brand new, it’s my job (and the job of all the tias ) to not let you do the dishes.  After your newness is worn off, we will allow it.  If you don’t make for the sink when you’re done eating, you are clearly  not suitable for a man, and it’s no wonder you’re single.  If you’re a boy-guest, you are excluded from this rule, though taking out the trash throughout the day is your duty.
  4. Everyone under the age of 30 must wait until the “adults” have finished eating.
    The family is too big for everyone to eat at once, so we do it in shifts.  Women, especially women that have been cooking, eat dead last.  Children should not even move in the direction of the food until one of their parents has given them the nod.  Grandma is always invited to sit first, but she will always refuse.  If you’re sick, Grandma will offer you one of the first chairs, and you are welcome to take it.  Everyone else should practice saying, “No, you go ahead” until there’s no one else to say it to.
  5. If you stand up, you become the waiter.
    If anyone needs a new glass, a fork, an extra helping – anything – and you’ve just stood up, you have officially volunteered to fetch these items.  You are further obligated to ask everyone in the room (all thirty) if there’s anything you can get for them.  Your innocent act of going to get a napkin has responsibilities that go along with it, and job one is to make sure Grandma’s glass is full.
  6. Never interrupt someone older than you.
    There will be between 2 and 12 conversations happening at once no matter how many people are in the room.  Converstations have little rules all their own:

    • You are never to speak over an adult.
    • Never step on Grandma’s conversation.
    • Laugh loudly.
    • Listen to at least two conversations at once. This last one takes practice but you’ll learn.  Why is this important?  You can never give off the appearance of ignoring someone.  Listening to the two conversations nearest you almost guarantees that you won’t be caught ignoring.
  7. If you are the one that doesn’t show up, smack will be talked.
    This does does not exclude smack-talking on other occasions when you’re not around.  However, if it’s a family event and you don’t show (for any reason) it’s you they’re talking about all night and it’s the whole family involved.  How bad is this?  Well, show up and listen to what they’re saying about someone who didn’t.  It’s not pretty.
  8. Walk Grandma out.
    Grandma will almost certainly be the first one to leave.  The entire house must stop what they’re doing to see her to her car.  This is no joke.  She’ll ask about you if you miss the event.  “Donde ‘ta PeeDee?” she’ll say.  And everyone will glance around with eyes open wide in astonishment.  If you’re PeeDee’s sibling or mother, you better know where PeeDee is and go get her, or explain why she didn’t walk Grandma to the car.  The only acceptable answer here is, “She’s sick.”  Anything else is an insult to Grandma, and therefore the rest of the family.  NOTE:  I realize Grandma probably only requires one person to see her to her car.  This is irrelevant.  Turn off the TV and get off your duff.  Everyone walks grandma out.
  9. Make friends with at least one cousin or aunt.
    You’re going to need an ally.  Choose an easy target like my sister.  She’ll be friends with anyone and she’ll help you look like you make good jokes which is important to being liked in the family.  The funny ones and the ones that laugh loudly (see #6) are the favorites.  Every Hispanic family has someone like my sister, so find that person and get on her good side.  She’ll also let you in on when it’s ok to make inappropriate jokes and when to hold back.  Timing is everything.
  10. Bring presents.
    My family, and families like mine, can be bought.  We never expect anything fancy; by ‘bring presents’ I don’t mean bring a new TV.  When in doubt bring food.  Pie is always acceptable.

There are benefits to being accepted in this weird mess of an organization.  I’ll write that post some other time.  Just so long as you stick to these guidelines, and realize that Grandma wields roughly the same power as a mofia boss, everything should be fine.  Enjoy yourself, and welcome to the family.

(Please leave other rules I may have forgotten in the comments.)