Miss Manners by Judith Martin

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Here is a New Year's resolution for which nobody asked: Do not try to live above your means.

Yes, Miss Manners knows that everyone has resolved to cut back on expenses. Probably every year since time began. It may be more urgent now, but people are always doing that.

However, that is not the resolution that Miss Manners proposes. She is hoping for an end to the now commonplace attempts to live above one's means by means of mean devices to use other people's means.

Sorry. Let her try that one more time.

Over the last decade, a huge number of questions she receives begin with statements of what the writer wants to do: celebrate a birthday, a birth, a graduation or a holiday, take a trip, throw a wedding or anniversary party, furnish a new house, or just give a dinner party or a present.

One might think that these people are writing to request social advice, but in fact they have already planned the specifics. It is to be a birthday party at a certain restaurant, or an extravagant present for their parents' anniversary or a list of things with which they have decided to furnish a new house.

Next comes the line, "But I can't afford it."

All right. Miss Manners is poised to suggest cheaper alternatives. But the next line is never "What can I do instead?"

Rather, the query is how to get others to pay for this.

What galls Miss Manners is that -- this being an etiquette column -- they are requesting "the polite way" to stick others with their bills.

"What is the polite way to tell the guests that dinner will cost about $70 a head?"

"Is it polite to enclose my wish list with the invitation, or should that be only on the Web site?"

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