Two Delicate Situations, Vol. 4, Issue 5

Dear Etiquetteer: A terrible situation has arisen: in planning a surprise for my husband’s birthday, I conspired with a very good friend of his, who happens to be very wealthy. Because of the friend’s extensive travel schedule, we agreed to have an "early" celebration this weekend. We will meet up at a local cultural attraction in the afternoon then dine together afterward. My husband’s friend recommended a restaurant and I agreed to make reservations, which I did.Then my husband’s friend subsequently e-mailed to offer to pay for dinner (for four) and other "festivities." Because my husband’s friend always pays for dinner, I thought it would be best to say, "No thank you. I am delighted to do this for my man’s birthday." After all, I am his wife; this is my surprise to him, so I feel I should pay. Well, when I went online to get more information about the restaurant, I received a shock when I calculated that dinner for the four of us would cost approximately $500 - $600, conservatively. I can’t possibly afford that; the most I could afford is half. Is there anyway I can take up on our friend’s offer now? Dear Surprised and Surprising: Yikes, what a situation! This certainly highlights the importance of advance research. It’s dicey to ask for a previously declined favor, but there are two ways to do this:
  1. E-mail your friend and apologize for your insensitivity in excluding him from co-hosting the dinner with you. You realize how much he wants to contribute to making this a special birthday for your husband – blah blah blah – and you would now like to include him in an equal arrangement where you would both pay half the bill.
  2. Change the reservation to another restaurant in your price range that your husband would still find special and tell the wealthy friend that your husband had just been talking about it so you knew he’d like to go there for his birthday.Of these two, Etiquetteer vastly prefers the latter, since you made it clear the first time that you really wanted to do something where this wealthy friend would be truly your guest.

Dear Etiquetteer: A dear friend of mine lost her father recently after a long illness. After some indecision, the memorial service was scheduled by my friend’s stepmother to be held in the Southern town where they live, so that my friend and her siblings would have to travel from New England. Stepmom (they were married for over 30 years, so this is not a new relationship) had told my friend that she and one of her brothers would need to board elsewhere, as there simply wasn’t room in the house. Stepmom said that she’d ask some of the neighbors if they could put them up. In the worst case, Stepmom would find them a motel room.While waiting at the baggage carousel at the airport, my friend was informed by Stepmom that the neighbors hadn’t come through and that she and her brother would be staying at a motel that they were expected to pay for. My friend has been chronically underemployed for months and months, and was forced to book a longer stay than she might have because Stepmom couldn’t decide whether the service would take place in one or two days. Does my friend have any recourse at all, or does she just have to suck it up and pay her share? Dear Hand-holding Bystander: Death really does bring out the best and the worst of people, doesn’t it? What a pity that Stepmom didn’t make clear that she would only find the hotel room and not pay for it as well. While Etiquetteer can feel how taken aback your friend must have been at the baggage claim on hearing this news, Etiquetteer wishes she had spoken up then, saying "Steppy, you know how difficult my situation is right now. Work has been so difficult to get and it was all I could do to fly down here. There must be some corner of my father’s house where I can hole up until after the funeral." Silence is often taken for consent. Knowing nothing about the relationship between these two women and how it might have been changed by the death of their father and husband, Etiquetteer will take the plunge and allow your friend to ask her stepmother to cover part of the hotel bill. Etiquetteer can only suggest that the reading of the will should reveal who really needs recourse.

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