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December 25, 2014
The Real Issue
Grocery Shopping with Guests
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Editor's note: Cyndie Swindlehurst is on a much-needed vacation. Here's a link to one of her golden oldies, which was originally published May 16, 2013. You may find it especially helpful if you are hosting out-of-town guests this week:


What is the rule for grocery shopping with house guests?

They come with me to the store to pick up something they forgot, and soon I find them tossing things into the cart that fit their “vacation mode”—expensive out-of-season produce, favorite sodas or juices, things they think I would love to try, something their kids “must have” to get though the day.

The guest usually offers to pay for his choices, but I find it awkward at the register, like I'm too cheap to be truly hospitable.


Never fear. Although you have a duty to provide your guest with food and drink during his stay, you do not have to buy him everything he tosses into your grocery cart.

Hospitality means graciously providing for your guest within your means and budget. It does not mean buying him anything he wants at the store.

In fact, a polite guest, who knows that his end of the hospitality bargain is to graciously receive what his host provides, would be embarrassed to load up your cart with goodies and expect you to pay. Instead, he would want to know what kind of goodies you and your family like so he could provide them as a special treat.

When you enter the store, pick up a basket or cart and offer it to your guest. Ask kindly, “Would you like a basket?” If the guests accepts the basket, proceed to shop together, filling your respective baskets. At the checkout, each of you pays for his own basket of goods.

If your guest declines his own basket, you will have to find some other way to distinguish his purchases from yours.

So when your guest adds his first item to your cart, say something pleasant like, “I’ll put my things on this side of the cart.” Then move your things away from his item. This will send the message that whatever he puts in the cart will be on his tab.

Any comments from your guest about how delicious such-and-such an item is should be met with something like, “Oh,” or “Really?” delivered in a pleasant, interested tone of voice. Do not add the item to your cart unless you actually need to buy it.

Instead, oblige your guest’s taste by consulting him on things you were already going to buy, like breakfast cereal or ice cream. But don’t ask his opinion unless you actually intend to buy what he suggests.

When you get to the register, unload only your things and put the plastic divider behind them. All the while, keep up a pleasant patter of conversation, as if it were the most normal and comfortable situation in the world.

Finally, remember that your relationship with your guest is more important than what goes into your grocery cart. For example, if the price of harmony with your very-sensitive sister who visits once a year is an $8.00 box of cereal, just buy the cereal.

And go shopping alone next time.

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