Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Night 15° Partly Cloudy
News >  Features

Role of guest turning into gift-giver

Judith Martin United Feature Syndicate

These past holidays were only the beginning. Throughout the year, you will be expected to keep on attending events with non-negotiable dates at which presents are expected and the guest list is chosen for reasons other than the company’s presumed compatibility with one another.

As Miss Manners recalls, such occasions were once limited to weddings, which lasted for about four hours on a single day, and children’s birthday parties, which lasted about two hours that felt like 12 to the host’s parents.

Furthermore, the weddings were rationed to one per bride for her lifetime. Any subsequent marriages she cared to enter were supposed to be performed quietly. (Gentlemen could have innumerable all-out weddings with as many sequential brides as they could persuade, on the grounds that no one noticed a bridegroom’s appearances.) Children were allowed only one birthday party a year, not counting cookies brought to kindergarten, and were supposed to stop after 21 years.

So what did people do with all that time hanging on their hands? How did they keep from brooding or getting into trouble? For that matter, how did they get into the kind of trouble that led to those subsequent marriages?

They partied. And by that, Miss Manners does not mean that they went to fund-raisers, support groups, book clubs and office gatherings, however jolly or worthwhile these may be. Taking turns, they gave and went to parties whose sole purpose was for everyone to have a good time. No money changed hands and presents were not expected. Guests did not march in, each handing over a bottle of wine at the door.

This sort of party has become a rarity, crowded out by occasion-events that people orchestrate in honor of themselves or members of their immediate families. Adult birthday parties, not counting cakes at the office, extend the pattern of children’s parties throughout life. Weddings are interminable, even for lasting marriages.

Miss Manners does not grudge people celebrating the events of their lives, although a bit of restraint in scheduling them might be in order, out of mercy for their relatives and friends. But she cannot help but notice that which distinguishes these from plain parties:

1) Rather than being given simply for the pleasure of entertaining others, they are explicitly announced as being in honor of oneself or of one’s spouse, parents or children.

2) Presents are most definitely expected, and often solicited in the form of registry cards or instructions on the invitation itself.

3) Not content with this barter system of entertainment for goods, hosts often seek to escape any outlay by asking guests to contribute refreshments or, when the event is held in a restaurant, to pay their own costs.

It would appear that there is no angle that has not occurred to today’s hosts. Except, possibly, the pleasure of their guests.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.