Sage Advice: Family Dinners Marred by Bad Table Manners

By Amy Dickinson | June 12th, 2019

How can you share a meal with someone whose eating habits make you lose your appetite?


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Dear Amy: My wife and I host a family dinner every Friday night. There’s only one problem: my sister’s ill-mannered eating habits.

She is a wonderful aunt to my kids and does many extraordinarily thoughtful things, however, her eating has taken a toll on me. I simply can’t enjoy my dinner when she is at the table. She attacks her food like a starving animal; she gulps her water so loudly that everyone at the table hears, she chews with her mouth open and she talks while chewing her food. On top of that, she can be counted on to loudly blow her nose at the table at least twice!

She blames her loud gulping on a stroke that she suffered some 30 years ago. I really doubt that, but, OK, what about all the other things?

We’ve always had a strained relationship and the very LAST person that she wants to hear from about this is me.

She greatly respects my wife, but my wife won’t say anything, even though she’s put off by my sister’s eating habits, as well.

If I say anything, I risk that she will not come over again; if I don’t say anything, my weekly dinners will continue to be ruined.

Please, what are my options?

– Disgusted Brother

Dear Disgusted: This topic evidently has come up before – because your sister has offered a (plausible) explanation for her gulping.

Your “option” here is to pull up your trousers and speak – privately and respectfully – to your sister. In one sense, the fact that you already have a strained relationship means that there is less relationship at risk.

Say to her, “We love having you with us. You are a wonderful and thoughtful family member. I’m wondering if you can work on your eating habits while you’re at the table – especially chewing with your mouth open and talking while you’re chewing. I know it is probably hard to change the way you eat, but it’s driving me bananas and I’m asking if you could at least try.”

If your sister is offended and chooses to stay away from your meals for a while, there is not much you can do about it. Stay in touch and let her know that you miss her and that she is always welcome.

After offering a gentle and private correction to her, you should work on ways you might learn to tolerate her poor table habits. Something as simple as changing the seating might help.


In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2019 by Amy Dickinson

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