Miss Manners: Party hopping is no excuse to flaunt your invitations

December 3, 2011

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I have been invited to two parties on the same night. One is for dinner and drinks, the other for drinks.

Should we just pick one and decline the other, or try and attend both? What is the right thing to do?

GENTLE READER: Ah, yes, the party-hopping season is opening. Thank you for prompting Miss Manners to issue rules about how many stops can be made without leaving every host thinking you had somewhere better to go.

The test is whether you can manage it without breathless departures and arrivals that appear to transform apologies into bragging. You will have to calculate the commuting time, not forgetting to add traffic conditions and the difficulty of parking near a house where other guests have long since arrived.

Miss Manners requires only that you commit the minimally decent amount of time to each function. At a drinks party, that would be 45 minutes; at dinner, you could arrive up to half an hour after the appointed time only if you warn the hosts, and spend the rest of the evening, presuming you have no invitations for 1 a.m.

If the first party is 5 to 7 and the dinner at 8, within a reasonable distance, fine. If the first is 6 to 8 and the dinner at 7, no, unless they are next door.

As the season moves on, there will be more temptations to party-hop. But if, on the same day, you are invited to brunch at 10, lunch at 1, tea at 4, drinks at 6 and dinner at 8, Miss Manners has no objection. Your doctor might.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am looking for the correct salutation for a letter to the first lady (president’s wife) and to a past president’s wife.

GENTLE READER: Despite its ubiquitous use, “first lady” is a nickname, not a title. Miss Manners is both amused and appalled to hear it adapted for everything to do with the White House: the First Dog (amused) and, in a recent media reference to the presidential marriage, the First Relationship (appalled, because it sounds like puppy love, or perhaps a starter marriage).

The wife of the president of the United States is a private citizen, a concept that probably makes her laugh, considering the attention she gets and the number of duties she is expected to perform. There is, however, a slight adjustment to be made in addressing her in writing.

Ordinarily, the traditional form would be Mrs. George Washington, as it would be before her husband’s administration and after he left office. However, when he is in office, she is addressed simply as Mrs. Washington. Or Ms. Washington, if you prefer, but no first name, his or hers, is used at a time when she is considered, if not called, first among equals.

If a former president’s wife takes an official job, she is addressed by that title: “The Honorable/Martha Washington/Secretary of State.”

DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the proper way to sit when you eat?

GENTLE READER: Up.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

@ 2011, by Judith Martin

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