Reader Response, Vol. 6, Issue 16

Dear Etiquetteer:

I enjoyed this most recent column, and really applaud your telling the praying family to keep a lid on it. Suggesting doing it in the car was a particularly welcome idea. When I see people praying in a restaurant (infrequently, thank Zeus) it makes me acutely uncomfortable.

Dear Etiquetteer:

I suspect you'll receive many a letter about this. Let me be one more to speak out about your advice on grace before meals at a restaurant. It is quite possible to say grace and not draw undue attention to one's self when dining out. Our family will sometimes hold hands silently for a moment or two in an abbreviated prayer, so sometimes instead of our unison prayer just one person will speak in gratitude for the blessing of food and the hands that prepared it. A simple grace is less conspicuous than a toast over the meal and is as good for one's soul.

As I was growing up our family continued our practice of prayer no matter what the circumstances. Over vacations we'd attend services as visitors at other parishes, even at churches when the service was in other languages when we traveled abroad. It taught us that special circumstances don't change the call to need to thanks.

Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer must respectfully disagree with your assertion that a simple grace is less conspicuous than a toast, because grace is less usual in a restaurant than a toast is.

Dear Etiquetteer:

I am about to have a 50th birthday bash. It is relatively informal and I do not want gifts, but I will be taking donations for [Insert Name of Worthy Charity Here] if people feel compelled to do something. How can I word such an invitation so that there should be no pressure to give a donation?

Dear Birthday Girl:

First, Etiquetteer would like to wish you Many Happy Returns of the Day, and congratulate you on holding your own birthday party. Let Etiquetteer assure you, handling the arrangements yourself is the only sure way that everyone you want to see actually gets invited.

The best way to be sure that your guests feel no pressure to make a donation to [Insert Name of Worthy Charity Here] is not to mention it at all. Etiquetteer doesn’t want to dampen your enthusiasm for supporting this charity, but this particular custom has become so widespread that people are starting to look on party invitations as invoices.

Should anyone ask you what you’d like for your birthday, then you may say that would you’d enjoy most is a donation too [Insert Name of Worthy Charity Here]. Etiquetteer will, reluctantly, allow you to put "No gifts, please" on the invitation.

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Birthday Gift-Giving, Vol. 4, Issue 47

Dear Etiquetteer:I recently was copied along with just about two dozen people on an e-mail appeal for contributions to a milestone birthday gift. Most of these people are strangers to me. The soon-to-be-fifty celebrant has been a friend of mine for more than 25 years, and though we see little of each other (he now lives in Washington and I live in New York), we make a point of staying in touch and see each other in person on occasion. We have not exchanged birthday greetings or gifts for better than ten years. But being aware of his milestone I had planned to send a card and some photographs of our younger days, when both of us lived in Philadelphia, as a gift.The letter I was copied on was written by my friend's partner, who I quite like. The letter reminds readers of the upcoming milestone and shares that the couple has decided to celebrate it quietly by spending a week in Madrid. The letter invites us to contribute to the purchase of an antique bronze mantel clock my friend has admired for some time and valued at several thousand dollars. The letter promises that an inscription with the names of friends contributing to the gift will be affixed to the back of the clock. And the letter ends with the sentence "we will understand if you choose not to contribute."At first I felt we were being provided a polite out. Rereading it, I wondered if it implied something else: that they would "understand" that non-contributors are ungenerous, and unappreciative of our friend? Now I feel my original idea may be unwelcome given that they have signaled a clear "hint" of what they desire (cash). I might have felt better if there was an accompanying invitation to a group celebration, drinks or dinner, rather than the announcement of their quiet celebration in Madrid.A part of me wonders too if they love this fairly expensive clock so very much why not skip Madrid and buy it with that money? While both of these men are middle class – one is a development officer for a prominent art school, the other a legislative aide – it seems they largely socialize with a group of people far more moneyed than they are, and have developed a taste for expensive objects like bronze mantel clocks. The letter has left me feeling a bit offended and unsure how to respond.Dear Clocked:Rereading your letter, Etiquetteer has to ask, what’s in this for you? Your name on a plaque that faces the wall, and maybe a postcard from Madrid? Feh!Let’s do the math here, shall we? Etiquetteer will estimate $5,000 for the clock and 24 for the number of friends sent the invoice – uh, solicitation, sorry. That’s over $200 per person! Perhaps, as you suggest, they are socializing with people for whom $200 is chicken feed. Whether or not they are, and Etiquetteer has said this before, they don’t have any business telling you how to spend money on them. And yes, Etiquetteer uses "they" assuming that the Birthday Boy knows all about this.Group gifts of this sort are possibly more justified when the gift is presented in person by the group, but even then . . . how worthy is a group tribute which you’ve had to ask for (even if your spouse did the asking)? Better to get that room-sized bouquet with the giant card signed by everyone you’ve ever met and not expect it than some coveted bronze clock.Etiquetteer considers your original gift of photographs from your younger days most appropriate for the current stage of your relationship with the Birthday Boy. Assembling them into a small album that would include your birthday greeting on the first page (instead of a card) would dress it up nicely for a milestone birthday. Although Etiquetteer thinks Birthday Boy and his husband should get a spanking instead . . .

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