DEAR MISS MANNERS: My daughter recently sent out beautiful handmade invitations. Simply put, the invitations invite you to join me as I celebrate my 50th birthday. It gives the date, time and place and asks each guest to RSVP along with their choice of four entrees. That’s it.
Last night, I ran into one of the invited guests and mentioned the upcoming party. Sadly, she told me that they would be unable to attend because “they couldn’t afford it.” Once my confusion had passed, I asked if she could afford “free.” I explained that it was my party and that they were invited to be my guests.
I would never dream of throwing a party and expecting my guests to pay for themselves. In fact, I find the trend appalling. I can’t imagine how a formal invitation could be so misunderstood. What am I missing?
GENTLE READER: You are missing the pitiful sight of Miss Manners sobbing, with her head on her desk. Has it really come to this – that genuine hospitality has become so rare that people now expect any invitation to require payment?
The comparatively recent phenomenon of the annual adult birthday party is especially suspect. Mimicking the children’s event, many people give such parties for themselves or their relatives, using the very attitude that parents are supposed to correct: It is my day and everyone has to defer to me.
A less pernicious version is when friends decide to take out the birthday celebrant. But that, too, has overtaxed participants when, without having a say in the costliness of the arrangements, they are expected to pay for their meals and contribute to the cost of the guest of honor’s meal as well as to bring or to contribute to a present. Compounding this is the decline in no-special-occasion entertaining at home. Because you are offering a choice of four meals, Miss Manners assumes that this party is being held in a restaurant. Some people now chiefly entertain in restaurants, assuming the costs of their guests, but it is also common for friends to share restaurant meals but pay their own way.
Both methods would be proper – as long as everyone understands from the beginning which it is to be. But they rarely do. And unfortunately, experience teaches them that they are more likely than not being stuck with a bill.
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