The Price of Hospitality, Vol. 14, Issue 3

It's one thing to dream idly of exacting vengeance on Those Who Have Wronged One, but it is never Perfectly Proper to follow through, as Julie Lawrence of Cornwall is discovering, Etiquetteer hopes to her sorrow. Ms. Lawrence held a birthday party for her child. And just as at parties for grownups, someone who said he was coming didn't come after all. In this case it was five-year-old Alex Nash, who was already scheduled to spend time with his grandparents that day. Now double bookings happen, and when discovered they involve a certain amount of groveling from the Absentee Guest and tolerant understanding from the Neglected Host (who may choose to use caution when issuing any future invitations), if the social relationship is to continue.

Ms. Lawrence, for whatever reason, chose instead of send an invoice for the cost of entertaining Young Master Nash to his parents. You will not be surprised to learn that Etiquetteer has a Big Problem with this, for a few reasons. First of all, how on earth is this going to affect the ongoing social relationship of Young Master Nash and the Unnamed Birthday Child? How embarrassing for both of them, especially since they will continue to have to see each other at school whether or not their friendship has survived this Social Mishap. For Heaven's sake, won't someone think of the children?!

Second, hospitality is supposed to be freely given, without expectation of reciprocity. Though recipients of hospitality are moved by Perfect Propriety to reciprocate, this should not be expected. For hospitality to be freely given, in this case, means accepting the expense of Absent Guests with Good Humor. Etiquetteer understands how frustrating it is spending money on guests who don't show up, but if one is not willing and able to suffer absentees more gracefully, one should not be entertaining socially. And to describe oneself as "out of pocket" suggests that one is Entertaining Beyond One's Means.

And lastly, for this to be paraded so publicly - well, Etiquetteer can see the entire community questioning Ms. Lawrence's judgement and ability to raise a child by behaving this way.

The Nash family, however, comes in for its share of disapproval, since it appears they didn't try to contact Ms. Lawrence before the party to say that Young Master Nash would be unable to attend.

Under the circumstances, it doesn't look like these families have any interest in Social Reconciliation, but if they do it will involve Lovely Notes of Contrition on both sides.

Long story short, don't make a scene.

Family Occasions/Deterring Signage, Vol. 10, Issue 6

Dear Etiquetteer: I'm not even the one being slighted and I don't know how to act.

My paternal grandmother is nearing a milestone birthday, and my parents have organized a party for her at their home. This party is in less than two weeks, and original invitees included friends and her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Over the past week, my father's brother has been telling-- not asking-- my father to invite my grandmother's siblings' children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. He lives out of town and has offered no help whatsoever in the planning or execution of the party. My father has not invited any more people, explaining on the one hand that he's not even sure that he saw some of them at the last funeral, and on the other that he doesn't want to have to rent more tables and chairs and buy more food. Today, my father received an RSVP in the positive via text message from one of these suggested invitees.

I am grown and live with my own family, and so in that sense I am every bit as much an invitee as my uncle. In that respect, I have no grounds for indignation. That said, these are my parents and I am very protective. Is there anything at all I can do to make this miserable situation less so for them?

Dear Daughter:

Family Occasions are incomplete without Family, but it appears that your uncle's definition of Family includes more branches of the Family Tree than your father's. While Etiquetteer does have to fault your father on one tiny thing -- family is still family whether or not they came to the last funeral -- it's his party and he therefore has the Unquestioned Right to invite (or not) whoever he pleases. Uncle Trouble is officially Out of Line by inviting other family members without the permission of your father (and presumably without even his knowledge).

This matter concerns your father and his brother, and it's up to your father to decide how he wants to address these issues. (For all Etiquetteer knows, they've been treating each other like this since childhood.) Unless you want to look like a real Madame Buttinsky, you'll stay in the background. But since your uncle is telling, not asking, your father who to invite, Etiquetteer thinks your father should tell, not ask, his brother how he is going to contribute to the success of the party through ordering extra furniture, food, etc. And for you to protect your parents, this may mean that you need to fulfill this function by actively getting involved in the preparations before, keeping these disagreements from your grandmother, and seeing that everything goes smoothly at the party, no matter how many "extra" family show up. Because above all, no one should be turned away once they show up! Whether their invitation came from your father or not, it will only reflect badly on him if they're told "Oh sorry, Uncle Trouble wasn't supposed to invite you."

And if things go well, perhaps Uncle Trouble will get his comeuppance when someone announces that he'll be hosting the next family reunion . . .

Dear Etiquetteer:

I have the problem that professional sex workers are using my backyard to entertain their clients. Is there a Perfectly Proper sign for my gate to gently dissuade them from doing so?

Dear Trespassed:

Your query reminds Etiquetteer of the story of the Boston theatre with the perpetually leaky roof. It was replaced and replaced, and kept leaking and leaking, until the building management threatened to sue the roofers. Someone got the idea to put up a videocamera to see what might be happening. To general surprise, it was discovered that Ladies of the Evening were bringing their Gentlemen Clients up to the roof via the fire escape, undoubtedly to Admire the View. Their spike heels were puncturing the rubber roof.

Etiquetteer is at least relieved that your neighborhood's Ladies of the Evening have not yet mounted your roof. Etiquetteer can suggest Perfectly Proper signage that might be found at the local hardware store: "No Loitering/Police Take Notice" and "Premises Under Surveillance" (with a small graphic of a camera). While Etiquetteer is unacquainted with your views on gun control, you would not be best served by posting "Proud Member of the National Rifle Association." Heaven forbid some Fatal Accident take place, your entire household would be put under suspicion.

It might be more effective to invest in a motion-detecting light that will turn on whenever anyone enters your backyard. While such solutions have their drawbacks, the last thing any of These People want is to attract attention. In the meantime, Etiquetteer hopes that you have notified your local police force about these occurrences.

Please do send Etiquetteer all your queries about Perfect Propriety to queries <at> etiquetteer dot com.

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.

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to notify <at>

Birthday Parties for Grownups, Vol. 4, Issue 49

Dear Etiquetteer: I recently suggested to my only sibling, my younger sister, that perhaps we should do something in honor of our father's impending 85th birthday (two months from now). They all live in a different, though nearby, East Coast city, and I proposed that I come down the weekend of our dad's birthday, gather his youngest sister and four or five of our cousins, and take our parents and the relatives out for a very casual, very low-stress birthday dinner at a local restaurant in Dad's honor. I asked my parents if they'd be up for something like that, too, as neither cares at all for surprises (both said they were willing).Suddenly, though, my mother and my sister start talking and concoct a very different plan, producing a guest list of 20+ relatives, including some from across the country (but leaving out one cousin in California who has been a huge support to both of my parents). My sister announces that my mother "expects" a rented hall and a big spread. When I complained that such a large affair was not my intention, either emotionally or financially, I was told by my sister, "but it's not supposed to be about what you want--it's his birthday."I, admittedly somewhat crabbily, told my sister that I had not been consulted at all before she and my mother co-opted my suggestion and morphed it into something I had never agreed to, and that I was not sure at all if I were comfortable agreeing to such a big party. I wanted something much quieter, more intimate, and personal with my dad, and now I'm cast as the bad guy and the skinflint if I don't play along.So, my questions are:a) was it a breach of etiquette for my sister and mother to re-invent my plans without consulting me, and was it a further breach for them to continue on in that vein even after I objected?b) was it a breach of etiquette for me to have complained in the first place--i.e., should it not matter what I prefer, even if I'm the one who raised the issue in the first place?c) is it wrong to leave out my cousin in Northern California, when my dad's eldest sister and her daughter from Los Angeles are invited?Dear Hijacked:Great Jehoshophat! You’d think this was a wedding with all the drama going on. Your sister is only partly right when she says your father’s birthday isn’t "about what you want." It’s alsonot about what she wants, and it’s not about what your mother wants, either. It’s really about what the honoree wants. On the other hand, and Etiquetteer’s been put in this position before, honorees will agree to whatever is asked of them because they don’t want to be seen as demanding divas.So, to look at your specific questions:a) Your mother and sister, while they may have had the best of intentions in planning a larger affair, owe you an apology for not bringing you into that discussion immediately, especially since they expect you to pay half the costs. Once you’d objected, it was up to both sides to create a compromise. Etiquetteer hopes they will apologize. You may have to explain again how hurt you are, and why you thought a smaller celebration would be what your father wants instead of a bigger one.b) No, Etiquetteer can’t say it was out of line for you to raise objections, but it wasn’t Perfectly Proper of you to do so in an admittedly crabby way. Etiquetteer’s dear mother has said more than once "When you lose your temper, you lose your point," and of course she’s absolutely right.c) Etiquetteer is grieved beyond belief to hear about the callous exclusion of your cousin from Northern California, especially if she has been "a huge support" to your parents. Put your foot down and insist that she be invited. Even if she doesn’t attend, she will have had the opportunity to decide for herself.Now the kind of compromise Etiquetteer would propose if he was running this party would be to reserve a small private room for 20 at a local restaurant with a three-course menu plus birthday cake for dessert. Best of luck as the arrangements continue!

EXAMPLES FROM THE DAILY LIFE OF ETIQUETTEER: Sacagawea appeared at Symphony Hall a few weeks ago. At least Etiquetteer thinks it was Sacagawea; it was rather hard to tell given that her fur hunting cap and nappy, scruffy-looking brown yarn poncho concealed most of her features. Etiquetteer recognizes how difficult it is to balance Basic Warmth with Perfect Propriety, but really, it isn’t THAT difficult. Anything that looks like you might also wear it stalking game in the woods should not be worn to a theatre or concert hall. That includes hunting caps (yes, even fur ones), down jackets, hiking boots, and especially denim.But the character who really took the cake was the man in the front row obliviously wearing his bright white-and-crimson Harvard baseball cap throughout the concert. Every time the conductor approached the podium, this man would standand wave his baseball cap in the air as though he were at Fenway Park. At the end of the concert,he shook the concertmaster’s hand, and then even the conductor’s! (Those worthies took it in stride, without even batting an eye. Noblesse oblige . . . )

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to


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 . . .

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to


Birthday Parties and Thank-You Notes, Vol. 4, Issue 31

Dear Etiquetteer:My stepfather and I are planning a surprise 60th party for my mom. My stepfather is paying for almost everything, I think I'm just paying for the decorations and cake. The party will be in Florida and so far we know there will be at least six out-of-town guests who have to fly and stay in a hotel. The party is a Saturday night at a hall.The next day I'm planning on hosting a brunch for the out-of-towners at my house, and for the afternoon/evening I think a one-hour boat tour of the island where we live would be nice. The tickets for the boat tour are $15.00 each. If I suggest we all go on the boat tour, do I have to pay for all the tickets myself, or is it possible for me to say politely that each guest pay for him or herself? Is it crazy for me to even think that I should not pay for everyone? I don't want to offend anyone, but I don't want to buy $150.00 worth of boat tickets, either. Any thoughts? Dear Partying: If you present it as an optional activity that people can choose to do or not, Etiquetteer thinks you may be excused from paying for the tickets. You could say "For those who are interested, a boat tour of the island is scheduled every day at 4:00 PM. The tickets are $15 per person, and I’m happy to reserve non-refundable tickets for anyone who might like to go. Just please let me know by [Insert Deadline Here]. You may pay me when you arrive. Otherwise we can always hang out at Dad’s."Have a great party!

Dear Etiquetteer: I recently had a baby, and gifts have been arriving by mail for the past few weeks. We received two gifts that I thought were from childhood friends of my husband. The cards were simply signed "the Blanks." My husband now informs me that these gifts were from the PARENTS of his childhood friends, who of course share the same last names.My dilemma: I have already mailed Perfectly Proper lovely notes of thanks to the offspring of the actual gift givers. Part of this gaffe is easily rectified. I will mail thank-you notes to the appropriate parties posthaste. However, the couples who will shortly be receiving notes of thanks from me will probably be quite confused as to why I am so grateful for gifts they know nothing about. And more than that, these childhood friends did not send us baby gifts and my concern is that I am highlighting that fact in a most inappropriate manner. I'm mortified!What do I do? Should I call or e-mail my husband's friends and blame this regrettable episode on "Mommy brain?" Do I camp out by my local mailbox and accost the postal carrier? I have visions of me getting arrested for fishing around inside the mailbox up the street with an unbent coat hanger. Please advise. Dear Gifted Mommy: First, let Etiquetteer congratulate you and your husband on the birth of your child. Etiquetteer wishes you all long lives of Happiness, and of course Perfect Propriety. Next, Etiquetteer thanks you for getting out those Lovely Notes so quickly. What a pity the Blanks didn’t sign their card "Boaz and Jezebel Blank," which would have eliminated any opportunity for confusion, but alas, we are not all perfect. Etiquetteer finds your concern for your friends touching – so many mothers would simply tap their feet waiting for more Glorious Tribute for their Sweet Precious Darlings. But you need not fret so much. This sort of gaffe is easily passed over with a quick e-mail or phone call. "If you haven’t gotten it already, you’ll be getting a thank-you note from me and Jehoshophat for a baby gift that we actually got from your parents! So sorry for mix-up. Please just fling it wantonly into the trash when you get it." DO NOT even for one moment reference that you haven’t received a gift from them. Only your misaddressing the thank-you note is relevant to the discussion. And if this little faux pas prompts your friends to send a gift for Baby, Etiquetteer knows you’ll acknowledge it with a doubly Lovely Note.

Find yourself at a manners crossroads and don't know where to go? Ask Etiquetteer at!

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to


More Party Questions, Vol. 4, Issue 26

Dear Etiquetteer: While attending a recent public celebration/street party I was perplexed by the following situation. As I finished my beverage, I looked around for a proper recycling receptacle for my can. I spied one close by and noticed an elderly street person hovering over it. Nearby was her shopping cart, filled to the brim with cans. As I watched further, I noticed her occasionally bending over and poking through the trash looking for fresh five-cent gems. I thought, what is the appropriate thing to do? Do I walk over and hand the can to her? Do I wait for her to be distracted and throw the can in? Or, do I throw it into the receptacle while she is watching so that she is aware that a fresh gem is waiting to be added to her collection?Dear Canning:Etiquetteer certainly understands your reluctance to engage in face-to-face communications with street people. Many sane people have been forced from the security of a home onto the streets by tragic circumstances. But one frequently sees the more, uh, shall we say reality-challenged street person instead, anxious to ask you to write to the President about legislation to prevent drivers from honking their horns between 3:00 and 4:00 AM on residential streets where dyslexics live. While one pities their condition, of course, one usually doesn’t want to engage them individually.Ask yourself what sort of street person this "canner" is. If they pass your Impromptu Street Sanity Test, by all means smilingly hand him or her your can. Please do so frankly and pleasantly, without any hint of condescension. Remember, we are all Americans and are therefore created equal.Otherwise, if the street person appears to be "a few cans short of a twelve-pack," Etiquetteer would encourage you to a) find another receptacle, or b) dispose of it as surrepetiously as possible without that person noticing.

Dear Etiquetteer: I am another denizen of cubicles whose work group has seen fit to overcome the calf-pen atmosphere by throwing birthday soirees. These gatherings involve everyone getting up and joining the crowd in the center of the room, where the birthday person is summoned for a "meeting" and must feign surprise at the sight of cake and a communally signed card.The gesture is intended to be thoughtful, but I found myself on the receiving end of just such a party when I happened to be under the weather. I had made it plain earlier in the day to the person supplying the cake that everyone should enjoy without me, but found myself dragged out at cake time nonetheless. Because I was not partaking of cake, I stayed briefly, explaining that I didn't feel well and that people should help themselves. I then departed to my cubicle to complete some work tasks that needed my attention; the party went on without me.Was there some more gracious way of handling the situation? I do owe the cake-bringer an apology; she went to the trouble of bringing something in for me. But not feeling well aside, what is the statute of limitations on how much time one must spend gabbing to coworkers on the company dime, for the sake of team spirit?Love your column. May you be frequently linked and prosper. Dear Caked: The real question here is, how can a guest of honor at a surprise birthday party cut short one’s appearance without showing disrespect to fellow colleagues who only want to celebrate one’s special day? Etiquetteer’s answer, you will not be surprised to learn, is that it’s nearly impossible. Hearing you plead ill health, Etiquetteer’s first reaction is to ask what you were doing at the office that day anyway. At a work party such as the one you describe, Etiquetteer thinks that only a work excuse is appropriate. Your hasty retreat would have been more understandable had you pleaded the advancing deadlines of the projects you mentioned, of which surely some of your other colleagues would be aware – especially since everyone in a cube farm knows a lot more about everyone else’s business than they ought to. Otherwise, it’s best to grin and bear it, or at least stay home if you’re really sick.

Find yourself at a manners crossroads and don't know where to go? Ask Etiquetteer at!

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to


Parties and Invitations, Vol. 4, Issue 25

Dear Etiquetteer: I’m about to send out invitations for a "milestone" birthday party. One of the issues I have is space at the party place. Since the number of people I plan to entertain is limited to 80-100, and since this limitation has financial repercussions (open bar up to a certain amount of money) how can I emphasize that yes, in fact, I DO need an RSVP and we need it as soon as possible, and no, you cannot bring friends so don’t ask and for gods sake don’t just bring them.It’s particularly a problem for me since my guest list is used to my very casual brunch invites, which have encouraged people to bring friends and I long ago gave up even expecting a reply to an RSVP. At first I thought of asking you for a kind way to address these issues, but frankly with this bunch I want to find a way to say it that isn’t so veiled in social niceties that people don’t get it or choose to see beyond it. I realize that will always be some people who feel "Don’t even @#(*in’ think of bringing a guest!" doesn’t apply to them, but I am open to suggestions.Dear Hostly:Well, we are just infected with the spirit of hospitality, aren’t we? Etiquetteer knows many people who entertain casually who become alarmed when attempting a more formal party. Well, "formal" may not be the word – "advanced" probably sums it up best. This is the kind of party that one does outside the home, at a hotel or function hall, with a caterer when one usually just whips up an omelette in the kitchen at home for ten people. Weddings most frequently fall into this category.Because your guests’ expectations of this party will be different, you need to communicate that your expectations of them are also different. The most traditional way to emphasize that your guests may not bring guests of their own is to write the names of those invited on the invitation, as in "Mr. and Mrs. G.D. Fargin-Bastidge are cordially invited . . . " Somehow Etiquetteer doesn't see you superscribing all your invitations . . .How about adding "We regret that we cannot extend invitations to additional guests" at the bottom under the R.s.v.p. information? That would get the point across explicitly without pointing fingers. As to getting people to respond by your deadline, the traditional admonition on an invitation is "The favour of a reply is requested." (Please notice the u in "favour.") A more hard-line approach, which Etiquetteer does not necessarily endorse, is "Responses will not be accepted after _____________."As you calculcate your response date, take the caterer's deadline (usually five business days before the event) and add two days. But Etiquetteer knows you’ll spend them phoning and e-mailing everyone anyway.

Dear Etiquetteer: My husband and I heatedly disagree on the subject of who is obligated to attend an engagement party. His brother recently became engaged, and an engagement party is planned. My mother-in-law insists that her other two adult children and families travel 255 miles to attend. I maintain that the party is for the in-laws to get acquainted and siblings need not be present.The party happens to be the same weekend as a festival in my own hometown, 225 miles in the opposite direction, which I take our children to every year. Must I cave and go to the blasted party? Please respond soon! Dear Party Pooper: Etiquetteer feels obliged to point out that you have trapped yourself into going to this engagement party through your own definition: "for the in-laws to get acquainted." Ahem, do you not realize thatyou yourself are an in-law? Your brother-in-law is getting married, and over and above what your mother-in-law thinks, you may want to take his feelings into account. You might also want to welcome his bride-to-be into the family and give her some pointers on getting along with the matriarch. These alliances cannot be formed too soon . . . Incidentally, an engagement party need not be limited to the families of the betrothed, but may certainly include any friends or colleagues they wish. Frequently marriage brings together more circles than just family circles.Your hometown festival takes place annually, but your brother-in-law will marry only once (at least he’d better marry only once). Missing one year is not going to be as big a deal as missing this party. And let’s face it, no one at the festival will be visiting you in the hospital as much as your husband’s family. Etiquetteer urges you to take a pass on the hometown this time and attend the party with a happy heart.

Find yourself at a manners crossroads and don't know where to go? Ask Etiquetteer at!

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to


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.

Find yourself at a manners crossroads and don't know where to go? Ask Etiquetteer at!

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to