One of my best friends Carol, who was brought up in my area but has been living on the other coast, flew back for a few days to attend a week long family reunion shindig. I had agreed to pick her up when she got here, spend a little time together and then drive her to the shindig, which was about an hour away, and held at her Aunt’s large house.
Because I would be there anyway to drop her off, she had asked her Dad if I could stay for a bit, both to enjoy the activities and to meet her extended clan. Since her Aunt was the actual host, I’m not sure if she asked him because he was more in direct contact with her or because he helped plan the activities.
He said I could stay for the day and dinner, but that there wouldn’t be enough extra beds for me to stay over. Carol told me the plan. At no point did I talk to her Dad, nor did I receive any kind of invite or anything, not that it was a formal party or anything like that anyway. I was her plus one to an informal large family get together.
Though I’m very shy, I made an effort to be polite, friendly, and non obtrusive. I helped people bring in their luggage, I put away my own dishes, I made small talk, I took out the garbage, and I thanked anyone who offered me anything directly.
Dinner was just kind of a buffet style thing set up by multiple people, so there wasn’t any clear particular person to thank for the food, or obvious context in which to do so.
After dinner me and Carol ended up chatting pretty late and there turned out to be an extra couch available so she asked if I could stay over and it turned out I could. I don’t know who she asked so I wouldn’t know who to thank for that. I did thank whoever gave me the sheet and blankets.
The next day I stayed for the parade and a quick swim and then prepared to go. I guess I was expecting to walk through the house and say goodbye to people individually, but by that point everyone had ended up at various spots around the pool. And when I went out Carol just kind of announced I was leaving, so I was forced to just address the faceless mass group of relatives.
I did my best with a kind of generic thank you and goodbye, and everyone just kind of waved and offered a generic farewell back. Her Dad did thank me specifically for bringing Carol, from where he was, so I thanked him back specifically for having me.
The next day Carol told me on the phone her Dad was annoyed that I hadn’t shown enough gratitude and hadn’t thanked her Aunt and Uncle personally for dinner and hosting.
Apparently one of the other guests caused some drama so her Dad was predisposed to be critical, but still I feel like this came out of left field.
I guess in hindsight, I should have made a greater effort to thank her Aunt and Uncle personally for hosting, but it wasn’t at all obvious who should have been the recipient of gratitude for the dinner. And other than the initial introduction, her Aunt and Uncle never socialized with me, so there wasn’t a natural point for it to come up. And they were just introduced by name. There were no social cues like, “this is my Aunt, the one who is hosting and preparing dinner tonight.” And presented in front of the scattered group for the goodbye, it wasn’t even obvious who was where.
In any case I’ll be picking Carol up from there to take her to the airport. I’m wondering how I should address the situation with her Aunt and Uncle. Should I act like nothing happened, but offer a personal “thanks again”? Or offer up some sort of apology?
Even more confusingly, what should I say to her Dad, given his ambiguous role in the invitation process?
In future situations, should I make a point of playing detective to find out exactly which person is responsible for every facet of the occasion and seek each of them out to express specific sentiments of gratitude?