Q: I will soon retire from a large company after 35 years of service. Some coworkers tell me that I am being "snooty" for declining a retirement party. Please tell me if I am wrong in bucking this tradition.
I do not like the usual retirement party sponsored by the company, because people are not invited -- they are informed of the party by an interoffice memo; they are reminded that the company will provide hors d'oeuvres, but there will be a cash bar where they may buy their own drinks; and it is suggested that they contribute to a gift that will be presented at the party.
I understand that such affairs resulted from abuses of company generosity in the past. Still, I do not wish to be guest of honor at a buy-your-own-liquor party to receive a gift from anonymous coworkers who kicked in when the hat was passed. If friends wish to note my retirement, I would appreciate much more a personal note of well wishes.
Some here say I am being petty by refusing a party. They remind me that I have contributed to many gifts and purchased many drinks at retirement functions in the past. I might as well get mine. This attitude, I suppose, is what I object to the most.
A: The problem of being a guest of honor--or centerpiece -- of a party is a difficult one. It is a common mistake to believe this to be license to enforce one's own wishes about the event without regard to those of the other participants. Few brides succeed, even fewer corpses do, no matter how detailed the instructions they leave, and no babies have ever yet succeeded in running their own christenings.
Lesser rites of passage, such as your retirement, still do not allow the honoree to set the rules, but they do permit him or her to refuse to participate, thus effectively canceling the event.
Miss Manners has seen some grim retirement parties in her day, including one at which the guest of honor found out, by listening to a sentimental speech from the head of the company, that his boss was more than a little vague on what this valued employe's job had actually been during his 40 years in the company.
Yes, you may decline the honor of a retirement party. But in doing so, you may not violate the rule about setting the terms -- in other words, you cannot refuse on the grounds that these are terrible parties that people are coerced into, and that they should think of some better way of honoring you.
What you say, politely, firmly and as often as is necessary to make the point, is, "No, please, I prefer just to depart quietly. You're all very kind to want to do something for me, but I really, truly would prefer not."
Q: With the holiday season approaching, I need advice on how to address a greeting card to a family when the husband is a professional man with a title (Dr., Rev., etc.), the wife is an elected state official with a title (Gov., Lt. Gov., etc.), and they have children.
A: This sounds like an interesting family. Miss Manners is waiting to hear that one of the children has been knighted, and the other one has taken an ambassadorship.
In the meantime, you need only three lines on the envelope -- for the names, alone, that is, before you write their address. First line: Governor Henrietta Pettybone. Second line: The Reverend Dr. Hiram Pettybone. Third line: Mr. and Miss Pettybone.