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Should I let my son-in-law's parents pay for Christmas dinner?

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The question

We'll be having Christmas dinner at a restaurant with my daughter's new husband and his parents this year. I have been told that the other family may want to pay for the entire table. Never having met them, I am not comfortable with this. The solution I have come up with is to discreetly ask for a separate bill for my family (including my daughter's partner). Is this reasonable?

The answer

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Few social situations get ugly faster than a fight over a dinner bill, as it's never actually about the bill. Pride, class, custom and expectation are the supply lines of check wars. Throw in family and Happy Christmas, Dutchie. This one has the makings of Red Dawn. My best advice: Before the check arrives, tell them it's important to you to pay half. If this seems too difficult, ask your daughter do it in advance; with any luck, she won't hate you forever after for putting her up to the deed. And either way, if the in-laws refuse, don't make a scene about it. Insist once (but weakly; weak insistence is what separates the gracious from the freeloaders). Then let them pay and host them at your place another time. There's nothing in the laws of social reciprocation that says you need to match the dollar value of their treat to you.

Follow food writer Chris Nuttall-Smith on Twitter: @cnutsmith. Have an entertaining dilemma? E-mail style@globeandmail.com..

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