People who insist on always paying their own way, some of whom also insist on paying everyone else's, are not generally considered social nuisances. Nobody comes away from a losing battle for the check muttering, "Remind me not to go out with them again -- they never stick us with the bill."
Miss Manners realizes that with all the gimme artists running around, it is difficult to complain about people who pay their share and more. One has only to think of the contrast to nonchalant freeloaders, with their communistic claims that other people make more money and therefore should treat them. Or of the would-be hosts who whine that they cannot afford to entertain in the style they would like unless their guests defray the costs.
All the same, there are hidden costs to relationships when one person will never consent to be treated. The surface issue of who pays covers a powerful subtext having to do with status, control, independence and connectedness.
An example that Miss Manners finds particularly distasteful is when betrothed couples claim the right to ride roughshod over their parents' wishes "because we're paying for the wedding ourselves." Funny, when they were in college, they didn't concede that their parents could call all the shots because they were paying tuition.
You are not supposed to be able to buy control within a family. Status goes by position, although parents, like colonial powers, are supposed to recognize the necessity to grant increasing independence, hoping that sentimental ties will endure and that self-rule will be successful.
When a lady and gentleman who are in the very act of attempting to ingratiate themselves with each other manage to spoil it at bill-paying time, it is usually over not paying. She expects him to pay for them both and he expects her to pay for herself. But it is also possible to pay and still ruin things. A businessman who insists on paying for a businesswoman who has invited him is offensive. This was a huge problem years ago, but not so much now (the easiest changes learned being those involving doing less).
If the relationship is romantic and the lady always insists on paying her own way rather than her share of reciprocating and financing invitations, things are probably not going well. Those who insist on avoiding any kind of social indebtedness by paying as they go appear to be considering going.
The same is true between hosts and guests. Friends having meals out typically pay for themselves, but when people clearly intend to entertain in restaurants, their parties should not be hijacked. (Admittedly it is often hard to tell, and one must engage in a gentle tussle when the would-be host may reveal himself by saying: "No, no, we wanted to take you out. We've had so many wonderful evenings at your house.")
Worse is when a guest attempts to upgrade what is offered by ordering a more expensive wine, for example, and announcing that he will pay for it. Even worse is paying for home hospitality, as when a horrified Gentle Reader found that a houseguest had left money for her. Intended or not, that is a pay-as-you-go, now-we're-quits insult.
But then there are those freeloaders. And some people would rather be insulted than stiffed.
Dear Miss Manners:
This is a fairly simple question, but rather important to me. I am always careful to remove a cap or hat when indoors, but the camp I work at has recently switched to dining in a tent. Does the tent count as indoors, and must I remove my hat?
Certainly; one does not wear a pith helmet with black tie.
Oops. Miss Manners has seen too many old British jungle movies. But the principle of observing the decencies is still good. A dining tent is considered indoors, or in-flaps, even if there aren't any.
Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.
(c) 2005, Judith Martin