Electronic Thanksgiving Invitations, Vol. 7, Issue 21

Dear Etiquetteer: My husband and I decided  to throw a potluck Thanksgiving Day Open House to best accommodate our expanded family, including mothers-in-law, babies, cousins, and their busy schedules. We thought it would be much more fun and convenient for people to come and stay as long as they want rather than having one fixed formal mealtime -- and we all know how long those last during holidays! 

We posted an invitation on [Insert Name of Electronic Invitation Service Here] that included the line "Family and friends welcome." To my surprise, a distant cousin responded that he and his wife would not be able to attend because they were going to Thanksgiving at her family's house. I don't know either of them terribly well, but invited them as a courtesy and because we hope to get to know them better. However, even though he responded that they could not attend, he added six other people to our guest list (this was before I thought to disable that function!), none of whom I know -- I think one or two may be his children. 

I would have had no problem if he and his wife had attended and brought their adult children and spouses with them. But to send them along to a party (only 20 or so people were invited in total) that they would not attend seemed inappropriate. And it seemed a large number of guests to invite without checking with us first. 

I wound up deleting them from the guest list and "hiding" the replies. I am not in regular contact with the cousin, so I don't expect any complications. But what would be the appropriate response in the future? And am I correct in assuming that he crossed a courtesy line? 

Dear Perplexed Potluck: To answer your last question first, Etiquetteer gets the impression the courtesy line was so blurry here that it was difficult for your cousin to know just what he was crossing.  With statements like "Open House" and "Family and friends welcome," you led him to believe that all were welcome.  

Plus your use of [Insert Name of Electronic Invitation Service Here] makes it FAR too easy to add as many additional guests as one wishes without contacting the host or hostess. This is one of several reasons Etiquetteer dislikes such services. [Secretly, Etiquetteer's Evil Fraternal Twin, Madame Manners (the Etiquette Dominatrix) wants to invite hundreds of strangers to someone's wedding on [Insert Name of Electronic Invitation Service Here.] It would serve them right.] When Etiquetteer issues invitations electronically, they are sent e-mail to e-mail without an electronic intermediary. For those who insist on using an Electronic Invitation Service, Etiquetteer highly recommends suppressing the guest list (to respect the privacy of guests) and disabling any function that permits the guests too much control over YOUR party (such as the ability to invite their own guests). 

Etiquetteer does agree with you that, if a party guest is going to invite more guests to a party, he should accompany them to the party. But without realizing it, you created two opportunities for your cousin to invite his entire family to your home: first, by not disabling the "Invite additional guests" feature on your electronic invitation; and second, by saying "Family and friends welcome." It's also an open house, which you said you were giving because "it would be much more fun and convenient for people to come and stay as long as they want . . . " Even if your cousin and his wife WERE coming to the party, perhaps it might have been "more fun and convenient" for his six guests to come or go at times different from theirs. You'll infer from all this that Etiquetteer really prefers a set mealtime for holiday gatherings, whether formal or informal.

Etiquetteer remembers with great pleasure the many Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Easter Sunday meals of childhood. At the homes of different family members in the 1960s and 1970s, Etiquetteer could expect long lines of card tables in every room set with snowy linen just like the dining room, the good china and silver, and a buffet in the kitchen groaning with turkey and all the trimmings. Having everyone together to break bread at the same time remains special. And of course early arrivals with fully laden plates would always use the Bible verse "When two or three are gathered in My name" to begin eating before everyone was seated. Ah, those halcyon days . . . 

Etiquetteer also calls to your attention a little but significant contradiction. You begin by saying you "invited them as a courtesy and because we hope to get to know them better," but later that you are "not in regular contact with the cousin, so I don't expect this will cause any complications." You can't get to know them better without starting some sort of regular contact.  Etiquetteer encourages you to consider another open house, for New Year's Day, and to make a special point of inviting this cousin and all his family to join you. You might end up starting the New Year by making new friends within your own family. 

An Update on Etiquetteer, Vol. 7, Issue 20

Note: This is really more a blog entry than a column, but something must be said after this period of infrequent columns.   What, regular readers may have been asking, has happened to Etiquetteer? And where has Etiquetteer been, that weekly columns have not been posted with much, if any, regularity this year?   Frankly and candidly, Anno Domini 2008 has not been kind to Etiquetteer.  In spring, the Times of Southwest Louisiana cut Etiquetteer's monthly appearance in its pages as part of a much larger editorial reorganization. Etiquetteer does at least have to give the new staff kudos for communicating with Perfect Propriety as well as Perfect Promptness during a transition which could not have been easy for them.   In addition, the New England Blade cut Etiquetteer back from weekly to monthly publication and finally suspended its print operations altogether. For an organization in the communications business, their leaders find it impossible to keep their freelancers aware of changes at the paper. Indeed, Etiquetteer has yet to hear about the print suspension from anyone on the staff there!    Crippling as these blows were, they also sapped away Etiquetteer's weekly routine of filling a deadline. It takes 21 days to form a habit, they say, and only three to break it (or something like that, unless it's smoking).   Then something happened that made me wonder whether or not I have any business telling anyone how to behave. We have all met Mean Old People Who Will Only Be Happy In Death (And Maybe Not Even Then). Unfortunately one such lives near me; and at a neighborhood business meeting I totally lashed out at her in the presence of others, concluding "You are not going to be happy with anything!" Now you may be sure that I was not raised to make scenes in public, and that I was raised to respect my elders. But frankly, that's all this Mean Old Person was giving me to work with: longevity.  And it wasn't enough to keep me from making no better than that Mean Old Person.   So this has been a period of questioning for me, interrupted by a two-week vacation in Paris, France, where saying "Je regrette, je parle jusqu'un petit peu de français" paves the way for more understanding, or at least tolerance, from Parisians.  Negotiating a foreign capital with one handful of phrases and another of words was an interesting experience, and Etiquetteer Himself may have something to say about it at some point.   Whither Etiquetteer now? Having taken an unofficial sabbatical over the last several weeks, I'm going to take an official sabbatical now until the New Year. I may interrupt to post a column on Christmas in an Economic Downturn and Etiquetteer's Year in Review, but I may not. By January I should have sorted out what the next steps are for Etiquetteer.   I remain very grateful to all my readers, family, and friends for their support of and engagement in Etiquetteer's journey. It seems impossible to believe that the New Year will be Etiquetteer's sixth anniversary! My gratitude especially goes out to those I think of as "Team Etiquetteer:" Zane Kuchera, who designed this wonderful new Web site this year; Craig Hughes of Grailtech for technical support; Michael Willhoite for his delightful illustrations; Etiquetteer's Sweet Mother, JoAnn Dimmick, the best proofreader a boy who grew up reading Emily Post could ever have; Ann Rice, the eminence grise behind Etiquetteer; and Jim Lopata, who has opened doors for Etiquetteer in many ways.    So please continue your preparations for a Perfectly Proper Thanksgiving and Beyond! I look forward to hearing from you at query _at_ etiquetteer.com sometime.