DEAR MISS MANNERS: We have about a dozen fruit trees at our home. We fertilize, prune and care for them ourselves. When the fruit is on the trees, we have invited a few specific people, usually from our church, to come pick some.
When I invited one church member to come and get some fruit, imagine my surprise when she arrived with a caravan of folks, none of whom I knew! The person I’d invited said, in a very loud voice in front of everyone, “Well, you can see I brought friends.”
One of the children in the group was climbing the trees, and I was horrified – especially since lawyers in our area like to heavily advertise the large settlements they win for clients.
This group nearly stripped the trees. Obviously, I will never invite her again, but is there anything that I could have said to discourage this at the time?
GENTLE READER: As your church acquaintance was smugly aware of her rudeness, the only thing Miss Manners would have done is agreed with her: “Yes, we weren’t expecting such a large crowd and thorough picking of our fruit. It looks like we may not have enough left for the pie I was hoping to make for everyone later. The children would have particularly enjoyed it after their exhausting and dangerous climbs.”
DEAR MISS MANNERS: At the age of 85, I have a number of digestive problems, including acid reflux and lactose intolerance. I am fortunate to have many friends at this age and stage of life, and while I enjoy getting together for dinner, I prefer to avoid eating at people’s homes. I know the host/hostess will go to a great deal of trouble to prepare food, and I am often unable to eat it.
Announcing my situation in advance can cause a problem for the hosts, who choose to allow it to dictate the menu. Not explaining my problem causes me great embarrassment when confronted with a plate of food I cannot eat.
How can I gracefully respond to these invitations without revealing my food issues and answering a barrage of questions? I don’t like making an issue of what I can and cannot eat.
Refusing the invitation without giving an honest reason seems to convey not wanting to get together. Responding that I am unavailable at the date/time suggested often is met with an offer to change the date/time. Suggesting that we meet in a restaurant instead seems rude, since I am controlling and changing their plans.
How would you handle these invitations in my position?
GENTLE READER: Yours is a good reason for an exception.
“You know what? It has been too long since I have had you and the tree-shaping club over for dinner. Why don’t we do it at my house this time?”
Yes, you are still usurping plans, but in a gracious way. And it is far more appetizing, as you say, than telling them the real reason behind the change.
Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website www.missmanners.com.