Miss Manners: Guest declining alcohol needn’t give a reason

October 8, 2013

DEAR MISS MANNERS: When offering a drink to a guest, what is the response to the reply, “I don’t drink,” or “My religion forbids alcohol”?

Of course I would offer a soft drink as an alternative, but would it be impolite to drink alcohol myself? Should I ask whether it would make them uncomfortable, or just avoid the issue and settle for water?

GENTLE READER: Avoid the issue. Drink your drink, and offer him something else.

To decline a drink, whether because it is alcoholic, sugar-laden or merely repulsive, and whether the reason is religious, medical or preference, a guest need only say, “No, thank you.”

If your guest volunteered more information in a misguided but well-meant desire to explain his behavior, he has now done so, and no additional action is necessary.

If his intent was to criticize your behavior, then no good can come of further probing. A guest who expects you to put him at ease by scooping up already-served drinks from other guests is asking too much.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Twice I’ve been present when a guest came to the table and switched the place cards.

Once, I was the hostess; the guest arrived before the others, walked around the table and changed the place cards, placing himself between people he liked.

The other time, I was a guest, and the man who was to be my dinner partner exchanged his card with one across the table. I was nonplussed but said nothing.

What could I have possibly said or done?

GENTLE READER: You could have told your wouldn’t-be dinner partner, “Oh, I’m so sorry; I had looked forward to sitting next to you.” And considered yourself lucky to be rid of him.

As hostess, you are not so lucky in having a guest who assumes your prerogative. In that case, you should say firmly, “I planned this for everyone’s enjoyment,” and held out your hand for his place card. Miss Manners believes in letting the guilty party feel nonplussed, not the victim.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: A good friend of mine lost her job several months ago. She greatly enjoys live theater but has not been going because she is conserving her finances. My husband and I are doing well financially, and I would love to buy her a ticket and take her as my guest as a nice diversion from her long days of job-hunting.

However, she is very proud and would likely insist on paying for the ticket, or for a meal, and I do not want to make her spend money she does not have.

In this case, would a “white lie” be acceptable, such as, “Howard and I had planned to see ‘Wicked’ this weekend, but he has to go out of town for a work function. Would you please join me so I don’t have to go alone?”

GENTLE READER: You had Miss Manners up until you got to the excuse, which, though well-intentioned, puts you on murky ethical grounds for no reason, not to mention opening you up to getting caught if Howard is at the window when your friend picks you up.

“Howard and I purchased tickets for ‘Wicked,’ and he cannot go with me. I would love it if you would go,” is more than enough. Howard cannot go because you told him he can’t, but you needn’t mention that.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays on www.washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com.

, by Judith Martin

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