how can I avoid my manager inviting my parents to dinner?

A reader writes:

I recently accepted a job abroad. I’m newly out of college (and therefore young, and moving out from my parents’ house) and I got this job because my dad does business with my current manager. 

In a couple months, my parents are coming to visit me as sort of a spring break vacation for them. I am meeting them in another city and then they are coming to the city I work in for a couple days, then we are off to another city for the remaining few days of their (and my) vacation.

My concern is that if (or when) my manager finds out my parents are coming to visit, he will want (and feel obligated to) invite my parents over for a big dinner with their family. Due to their culture, it would be a 3 or 4 hour ordeal. Therefore, it would take up an entire evening (of the mere three that we have in my new home).

As I mentioned before, my parents and I will be in three cities during the week they are here, and therefore we are crunched on time for me to show them around my “hometown.” I did not take days off work for the days they will spend in my town, because I planned on spending the evenings with them after work shopping or dining.

Things would be different if my dad hadn’t seen my manager in a long time, but back (a couple months ago) when he dropped me off here for a week, my dad and I spent quite some time with my manager, as well as his family (a big dinner, in fact).

I am really close with my family, and since this is the first time I am moving out from living with them, I want to spend every waking minute with them here, especially showing them around my new stomping ground. Is it selfish for me to keep my parents’ visit a secret? Or would it ruin the relationship between me and my manager, or my dad and my manager?

You’re totally entitled to want to keep your parents to yourself on your short visit. Do the following:

1. Tell your dad how you’re feeling. This shouldn’t impact his relationship with your manager, but that’s his call to make. Tell him what you said here, and ask him how he thinks you should proceed. You might discover that your dad would like to have dinner with this guy.

2. Consider the fact that it’s okay to say no to invitations. If your manager does find out that your parents are coming to town and invites you for dinner, it’s perfectly fine to thank him but explain that they’re only in town for a few nights and you’ve already booked up that time with other commitments. That’s a lot easier than keeping it a secret and hoping that he doesn’t find out.

{ 24 comments… read them below }

  1. Wilton Businessman*

    Just another thought…
    Alone time with my manager in a social setting: priceless.

    Plus, a great reason for your parents to visit again!

    1. Anonymous*

      “Alone time with my manager in a social setting: priceless”

      Great opportunity to score brownie points ;-)

  2. Joey*

    I’m guessing the dinner thing is more a result of the culture where you’re at as opposed to just the friendship between dad and boss. If that’s the case would you risk offending boss by not accepting his invitation? Why not compromise and suggest lunch instead? Even if it’s during the workday your boss will get to see your fam and you’ll have a built in out.

  3. Under Stand*

    I would disagree. You have the job you have specifically because of your dad’s relationship with your manager. Suck it up and deal with it. You risk insulting your manager and his family if you do not attend. Like others, I see this as a culture thing. Insult him and you hurt your career.

    1. TrixMix*

      Culture aside, when you take a job due to personal relationships, you have invited your employer into your…wait for it… personal relationships!

      Refusing a social invitation of this sort would be like saying “Thanks, but no thanks. I’ve got what I want from you now.” Your boss may have hired you for the chance to get more face-time with your father.

      At best it’s ungrateful and at worst it’s foolish.

      1. Dan*

        This is exactly what I was thinking.

        If you’re cought trying to hide their visit, it will hurt you. And if you decline the invitation, it will probaly make you look bad too.


    2. Harry*

      I am with Under Stand. It sounds like this is a culture where these type of events or gatherings are expected. Sounds like your father’s customer went out of his way to hire a freshgrad. I’m pretty certain wherever you are at, not many people are being hired right out of college. I would take some time off so that can spend more time with your family. Your boss will find out your parents were in town one way or another.

  4. Mike*

    I think you might be off base on this one. Depending on the culture this could be a must-do event. As some of the other comments mention, I would suck it up if it is a big deal for the the manager.

  5. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Interesting. I suppose that if this is a culture where this kind of thing would be obligatory, you’ve got to factor that in! I’m just a big fan of setting boundaries, but perhaps you’re in a culture where that’s not going to be feasible!

    1. Anonymous*

      The thing is, OP got this job because of his parent’s relationship with the manager, so the boundaries were broken at the outset.

      I say, put a smile on your face and go. This might be an opportunity, not an ordeal.

      1. Clobbered*

        Yeah, another vote for treading very carefully – depending on the culture and the precise nature of the business relationship between the father and the employer it really may be a case of saying “no” would be a bad idea. It is important to understand that favor A does not cancel favor B in many cultures – it is more like a pendulum. If your father had done your employer a favor, and this was a factor in your employer hiring you, it would not mean that they are quits – it would mean that your dad is in the guy’s debt.

        It is even possible that it would be offensive not to mention that they will be in town. This isn’t worth it. Chances are that if there is a dinner party you will be invited too, so you will be with your family anyway.

        At the risk of sounding way off-base, you are now really missing your family because you are abroad and havent’t seen them in a long time. Once they are there the edge will come off, and having to share them for an evening is not going to be quite as big a deal as it seems now.

  6. fposte*

    I’m kind of in agreement that it doesn’t sound like that much–it’s not one of your only three nights to see your parents on the trip, just in this town. Your reasons sound like reasons that may be a factor every time your parents visit you, which could be a problem–from the sound of things, you may want to get away from ever having a long dinner with your parents and your manager and I don’t know you’re going to be able to do that. Obviously, this depends on your parents’ feelings on the matter as well, but you might be able to make clear that this visit is already planned out but they’d love to see Manager when they return in June.

    And FYI–dinner parties in people’s homes in the US often run three to four hours too. Much shorter than that and you look like you’re ungraciously eating and running. So I’m not seeing this as a notably extreme ordeal that you’ve been asked to participate in, even if there is a particular character to this one that I’m unfamiliar with.

  7. Anonymous*

    You should also consider your dads business relationship with your manager (since you mention you got the job because of their business relationship). Do they usually have dinner or meetings if your dad is in town?

    While your parents are there to see you, it may also be an opportunity for your father to strengthen his own business relationships.

    I do agree with AAM that you should have boundaries with your manager, but in this case, your manager is also your fathers business contact so that complicates things.

  8. Jeff Cook*

    Your decline could be viewed as an insult. Also, you are predicting that there will be an invitation, but don’t know for sure?

    I think you should think very carefully about the relationship between family and business in the home culture of your new boss.

    I’m an adjunct professor and I’ve had a similar situation with a student who’s parents wanted to have dinner with me. This student was from a country where people like me get a little more cred than I get in the USA. So, it was an easy decision for me and a wonderful experience. I also now have a family to stay with when (if?) I travel to the Middle East!

    You want to meet the cultural expectations of your boss so your boss can also maintain his/her stature/reputation. So, I encourage you to consider how a ‘no’ will impact not just you, but also everyone involved including the stature of the business, your boss, and you.

  9. Emily*

    Sorry, OP, you’ve got to let your boss know of your parents’ visit and graciously accept the impending dinner invitation. While you are right that your time is limited and time after work is your private time, sometimes we have to choose between being right and being effective. In your situation, I’d absolutly go with “effective” on this one.

    When working abroad, I have hauled my parents all over the place, to share meals and awkward conversation with anyone who extends an invitation, ESPECIALLY a manager in a culture more hierarchical than your own. I once dragged my parents around for two days to meet all of my coworkers, then popped back through the office a few days later on my vacation time to pick up a document while my parents waited for me in the car. Everyone was very offended that mom and dad didn’t get out of the car to say hello again (luckily I had learned to read my coworkers’ indirect communication as no one would have said this to my face), and I returned to work after my vacation in full damage-control mode, making sure everyone knew how awful my father’s stomach had gotten during the trip (an invented ailment to excuse mom and dad’s perceived snubbing).

    I sense that you feel everyone will be attending dinner out of some sense of obligation, but especially in countries where your boss has a domestic staff, hosting is not the burden it can be to those without the help of a team of maids and cooks. Most middle and upper class coworkers I know (those with “help” in thier homes) LOVE to host. Even in many humble communities, hosting a guest is a honor that the guest must accept graciously and the host sincerely enjoys.

    The best way to understand and be successful in another culture is to better understand you own. (Trust me: I do this for a living.) Try reading about your (American?) culture to get a better sense of how you can be viewed by foreigners. You could start here (the first link to pop up when I googled “doing business in the USA.” You could also search for guidelines about etiquette in your current country):

    Some key points from the above link to understand how Americans can be perceived:
    The emphasis is on getting a contract signed rather than building a relationship.
    Time is money in the U.S. so people tend to get to the point quickly and are annoyed by beating around the bush.
    If you are from a culture that is more subtle in communication style, try not to be insulted by the directness.
    With the emphasis on controlling time, business is conducted rapidly.

    Can you see how some of these attitudes could be off-putting to others? In many countries, the emphasis is on relationship building, and business decisions are made based on a characteristics that don’t seem directly related to workplace performance: “good” upbringing, even temper, generous hospitality, warmth, friendliness, or political connections.

    I understand you’re navigating an abrupt transition into adulthood mixed with a healthy dose of culture shock. Living abroad can feel like you’re constantly being inconvenienced and your expectations are forever under attack and unmet, but go to dinner, enjoy the good food, and debrief (gossip) about all of it later with your parents.

    PS: Ran your dilemma by some of my Latin American friends, and everyone’s eyes got huge at the thought of you declining a dinner invitation under any circumstances. Some were confused about why you would decline, some laughed awkwardly at the audacity, and a few even winced. I understand you may not be in Latin America, but please go to that dinner.

      1. Claudia*

        And I think that’s the whole point. This is a completely different culture. You can’t be in a new culture and expect to carry on as you did at home. It’s all about learning new etiquette.

        Personally, I think that if the OP got the job through their father’s relationship with the manager it’s a no brainer. Suck it up.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Well, that said, we have no idea where the OP is living and whether this IS a cultural obligation. It would be interesting to hear where she is.

  10. Cara*

    Though the cultural discussion is very valid, this suggestion is unrelated. I wonder if the OP could say something like, “We would love to come over for dinner, we would just need to leave before 8pm because we have tickets to a performance/some other timed event.” It might be a white lie (or maybe not if you actually do plan an activity), but it’s a way to still accept the invitation and ensure that your whole evening isn’t used up.

  11. Ali-R*

    The OP mentions that the cultural aspect is the length of the meal, not necessarily the obligatory invite. It would appear the invite may be based on the existing relationship with Dad, rather than the culture.

    How about Dad’s thoughts on this one? I would hope when the OP approaches him regarding their desire to skip a dinner invitation, he would be the best judge. After all, he’s the one that has cultivated this relationship and is not done teaching the OP. (At the age of 44 I still consider my father my greatest teacher.) I am guessing dear old Dad is going to put a quick halt to anything that might be potentially insulting.

    That said, I do suspect the cultural obligation does extend to the dinner, not just the extravagance of it. I am with the majority of the posters, suck it up! Go and be gracious but most of all, be grateful. It will make you a better person.

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