DEAR MISS MANNERS: A dear friend of many years has fallen on hard times. She is a single mother and her son will be starting college in the fall. She has confided to a mutual friend that she is worried that she may not be able to afford the costs. Her son is a wonderful young man, and I would like to help both of them out. He has a scholarship for his tuition, and I would like to pay his room and board for the upcoming year.
I am thinking of contacting the school and simply paying the room and board and asking them to tell her it was part of the scholarship, but this seems dishonest. However, my friend is a very proud woman and I do not want to embarrass her in any way, and I’m afraid telling her I want to pay the room and board would make her uncomfortable.
What is the most polite way to handle such a situation? Is there a general rule for giving money to a friend in need? This would be a gift – no repayment would be expected.
GENTLE READER: Here is what Miss Manners would say to her dear friend if she were you:
“I’ve been thinking for some time now about giving to student aid – not exactly endowing a scholarship, which is a bit beyond me, but contributing to the living costs of some worthy student. Of course, it would be great fun for me if it were someone whose career I could follow – indirectly, because I wouldn’t want the student to feel obligated.
“Well, I’ve chosen your Brandon. He’s a wonderful young man, and I’d love to be part of the success I know he will have. So here’s the donation. No, don’t protest – it’s not for you. It’s my fund, and Brandon won it. Please don’t try to deny me this pleasure – and anyway, you can’t, because the committee’s decision to award it to Brandon is final.”
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My cousin had about 60 people at her wedding and complained of receiving very little in the way of wedding gifts.
While my aunt and I were appalled by this, my mother got awful angry at me for “expecting gifts.” I replied that it was not polite to not give a gift if you attend a wedding, and that this IS shocking.
Well, she and I are both stuck with our opinions and we wanted to know your opinion.
GENTLE READER: Can you handle a paradox?
It is that wedding guests are expected to give presents, but the expected recipients (and their families) are wrong to expect them.
Bear with Miss Manners on this, please.
It is true that it is customary for wedding guests to be so moved by the occasion that they want to offer a tangible symbol of their pleasure. Or they want to be thought so. Or, if they really don’t care, they should stay home.
At the same time, it is a violation of the hospitality that is being offered to expect a return. One is supposed to be pleasantly surprised to receive any presents. And it is horrid to speak of guests as if they had run out on a restaurant without paying the bill.
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