Q: Several of us here have a problem concerning dinner-party behavior, as follows:
Situation A -- I am the hostess. I invite six or eight colleagues to dinner (all women). The food is good. The conversation is interesting. I feel relaxed and pleased with the tenor of the evening. Then one guest says she would like to tell us about being on jury duty. I have never heard anything about it, so I say, "Jill, don't tell us about it if it's a sordid kind of case, because we see a lot of that on the daily work scene."
Jill smiles and proceeds to talk for at least 20 minutes about a really ugly (rape, sodomy, drugs) case. All efforts to turn her off the topic fail. She ruined the evening for all of us.
Situation B -- I am the guest. The hosts talk endlessly about rape, burglaries and other kinds of violence, including nuclear war. All four guests try to get on to more agreeable topics to no avail -- the hosts listen patiently, then return at the earliest possible time to violence.
We would very much like to know how to handle these situations without coming to blows (verbally). We are going to have a big dinner for a colleague who is retiring. She hates situations A and B, and we want her dinner to be a really happy one.
A: Dear me, how pleased Miss Manners is to hear of people who can identify an inappropriate topic for social conversation these days.
Unfortunately, there are now no such agreed upon topics, although there still are distasteful ones.
You have made all possible attempts to inform these people that their conversation was unacceptable -- you cannot take the next step and stuff their napkins down their throats.
Invite only known proper conversationalists to your dinner; or, if you must have a crowd, seat the blood-and-gore people together, as far away from those likely to be offended as you can.
Q: Our son got married last year in a very large church wedding in another town. We are not wealthy, although we are comfortable middle-class. However, this affair was very costly for us, as there were 65 at the rehearsal dinner.
We reserved a room in a nice hotel in an effort to remain in keeping with the tone of the wedding set by the parents of the bride. We kept quiet about our feelings but felt some resentment that such a huge guest list was thrust upon us with no apparent consideration concerning our means.
While we understand that the wedding is "the bride's show," does this mean that the groom's family must be disregarded, as we were, and must "bite the bullet" and spend lavishly, regardless?
Our son said that his bride's considerations and wishes came first. I agree with this, but how about our pocketbook?
Our other son will get married some day. We do not wish to appear cheap, but how can we handle this with taste and dignity and in a manner acceptable to everyone?
A: Taste and dignity are not always acceptable to everyone, but they are their own reward. So there.
What is this "bride's show" business? It seems to Miss Manners that you have conceded the right to the bride to levy social duties on you, and merely are begging for some financial mercy.
Miss Manners concedes no such nonsense. In volunteering to have the rehearsal dinner, you should have stated that you could only entertain the immediate wedding party, or that you were doing a dinner in your customary "tone" -- and let the bride's parents (or the bride if she has them tyrannized) accept or decline your offer.
You see, it is a well-kept secret that ALL of the entertaining in connection with a wedding is the rsponsibility of the bride's parents, and the custom of the bridegroom's parents entertaining the night before is only an amiable courtesy of comparatively recent origin, intended to extend some assistance to those overburdened people.
You might bear this in mind when your second son becomes engaged, if he is anything like his brother, or chooses a bride anything like his sister-in-law.