It is natural that we should look to the White House for leadership in troubled times, and many citizens have expressed interest in President and Mrs. Carter's solution to the high cost of entertaining. Like the rest of us, they have noticed that food is expensive, and have asked themselves the question: How can I have my friends in and show them the good time they expect, without having to raise taxes?
Their solution, for the dinner in honor of the Egyptian-Israeli peace settlement, was to offer invitations to people paying $1,000 each for the privilege. This occasioned some controversy, and a statement from the White House that such an arrangement has long been common practice.
Indeed, yes, she must say, it is an old custom, in America and elsewhere, to offer one's social company for money. Perhaps the surprise people feel comes from this having been associated, previously, with professions other than the presidency.
Whether it is a good idea is another matter. A person who sees this as the only way of sponsoring his social life ought to be asking himself other questions, such as:
Am I travelling in the wrong set?
Do my out-of-town friends really expect me to go into debt or worse to entertain them, or might they be satisfied with something I can afford?
Is it possible to scrape down costs so that one can serve a decent meal, not sending anyone away hungry, for less than $1,000 a head?
In the case of public servants, Miss Manners, who has herself consumed a large quantity of government-issue champagne in the national interest, does not wish to appear unsympathetic to the problem of inadequate entertainment allowances.
But she has never understood why those charged with working out the fate of nations should also be expected to bear the burden of preserving our heritage of grand living, just because private citizens can no longer afford to do so. Miss Manners has noticed that the topic of world peace is usually over-looked during official entertaining because the more pressing problem of the cost of entertaining must be discussed.
Of course, Miss Manners would hate to see the old style of graceful and lavish living disappear forever. She suggests that the socially talented be issued grants in order to preserve our endangered social forms.
However, the question that concerns her now is that of the ordinary citizen who finds rising costs interfering with his social life.
In informal social life, there has always been that fine institution called the potluck supper, and its alcoholic equivalent. But what of genteel entertaining? How can one manage that without actually charging admission?
By inviting people to come when they are not especially hungry. At breakfast time and at midnight, after the theater, opera or another person's fizzled out dinner party, most people are enchanted to be given fluffy eggs. In late morning and late afternoon, dear little biscuits or tiny sandwiches look lavish with the tea or sherry.
Just avoid issuing invitations for 7 to 9 p.m., and to people who have been participating in non-stop bargaining sessions.
MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q: As a tourist in a recent visit to England, I was standing where the Queen, on a royal progress, passed by. I curtsied. A man in my group later critized me.He said I should not have curtsied unless I had been presented at Court. As a matter of fact, I was presented to the Queen's late father. What do you make of this? Incidentally, I was wearing Levis.
A: Miss Manners is not clear as to whether you were wearing Levis when presented at court to the late King George Vi or when curtsying on the sidewalk to his daughter. In either case, those near you must have been very much surprised. A royalist heart does not go well with an American bottom, which does not dip to foreign monarchs, however well one knows the family.
Q: After a certain age, people prefers a token number of candles on their birthday cakes. What is that age?
A: Sixteen. After that, there may be a good year or two left in which one's exhaling powers can keep up with the task, but it is best to stop piling on the kindling while one is still sure of being equal to the spark one has inspired. (These metaphors tend to run away with your Miss Manners, and if she seems to be advising you to trade passion for companionship in the mid-teens, please disregard.)