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Miss Manners: Navigating the invitation minefield

Judith Martin Universal Uclick

Fraud on the social scene! It has come to Miss Manners’ attention that invitations that are deliberately and shockingly misleading are being issued to unsuspecting people.

She does not mean to justify imperious guests who are outraged if the hosts fail to cede them control over the menu, the time, the dress code and the remainder of the guest list. Nor does she blame hosts who are unaware of their guests’ legitimate restrictions.

Rather, she is thinking of dinners that turn out, upon arrival, to be fundraisers; outings whose secret purpose is unauthorized matchmaking; and parties with unannounced amateur entertainment programs. Most outrageous are the total bait-and-switch invitations by which hospitality has been apparently extended to those who, upon acceptance, are issued hosting responsibilities, such as bringing the food or paying a restaurant bill.

If frankly offered, these opportunities might be welcomed. But prior warning – like highway signage announcing falling rocks – offers the opportunity to take another road.

Miss Manners believes that a guest’s commitment to an invitation, once accepted, is generally binding. But she leaps to protect guests who discover that a pertinent – and perhaps unpleasant – fact was omitted when the invitation was issued and accepted.

When there has been no warning at all, compliance cannot always be avoided. The correct response will vary depending upon whether one is being pelted with pebbles or boulders. It may be possible to demur when asked for a donation at an unexpected fundraising party.

But when an invitation to a restaurant party turns out to be pay-for-yourself (and perhaps even chip in for the purported host), Miss Manners will not allow a fuss that ruins whatever good feelings may have accumulated before the nasty surprise finish. The hapless non-guest should pay the bill and consider the relationship paid off, with no further obligations. At least it will be clear what lies down the road when the next invitation arrives.

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