Dear Carolyn: We belong to a 10-person gourmet group where eight of us get along well. One person is very picky about all kinds of things and makes snide comments during conversations where her input is not appropriate. All of us have been polite, accommodating and forgiving, but in the last few months she has chosen to single out one person for especially unkind treatment. Everyone listening to the insults is appalled, but rarely does anyone stand up in defense of the picked-upon person for fear of upsetting her more or becoming her next victim. Her husband is very passive and does nothing.
This situation is causing a great deal of unhappiness at a monthly event where we should be relaxed and enjoying ourselves. Everyone is walking on pins and needles trying not to upset her. She has been confronted about her rude behavior, but it did no ultimate good, and we would like to see this couple leave the group. We don't know how to broach the subject because this group is a subset of a larger group, and we would have to deal with her anger and possible consequences in other settings. What do you advise? — Santa Fe
Answer: One of you, grow some habaneros, please. Upset her with gusto. "'Mean Girl', that was uncalled for."
You can't tell me this Hydra has such power that cowering in the face of her meanness is the only thing standing between you and dining alone.
If she does lash out at you in response, then there's this: "I really don't care what you think of me. But I do care how you treat my friend."
Granted, you're not in a movie, where the other seven foodie bystanders back you, her timid husband rises up to deliver the improbable coup de grace to her reign of verbal terror ("shut" and "piehole" are in the dialogue somewhere) and she stalks off the scene in disgrace. But imagine the worst that could happen: She does turn her fangs at you now — the horror! — and everyone else in your group lets her (an actual horror, no snark).
If that happens, then you need to ask yourself which is worse: being subjected to her cruelty, or remaining in such weak company that you routinely witness your comrades bypass the obvious right thing to do and instead seek shelter in the safe.
Maybe when bullets are flying that's an understandable lapse, but here? There's nothing at stake but steak. Don't let another gathering pass without defending the person she's bullying. Trust the right thing to be its own kind of shelter.
Even better: When it's your turn to host, tell Hydra upfront that she's out — and say exactly why.
Dear Carolyn: When an old friend attends the same event as you, and you notice the person has a large scab on their forehead, what if anything is proper or correct to say to them? Is it impolite to ask what happened? Does one just ignore the person's face and get on with small talk? — Did I Do Wrong by Asking?
Close friends can show they care by asking. All others can show they care by not asking — by giving the person a chance to feel like him- or herself, and not just a giant scab.
Email Carolyn Hax at email@example.com, or chat with her online at noon each Friday at Washingtonpost.com.
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