Why would people want to give etiquette control over their money?
Half the time they don't even trust etiquette to rule on etiquette. Miss Manners tries not to take this personally, but many people simply cannot believe that modern etiquette would insist that they perform duties they don't feel like doing. Keep their social engagements, for example? What if, when the time comes, they feel like doing something else?
Yet when it comes to forking over their money, it seems that etiquette is considered an even greater authority than those attempting to get hold of their money.
First the importuned listen to the hands-out crowd: children telling their parents that they owe them expensive weddings, parents telling their children that they owe them expensive anniversary parties, social connections declaring what their guests owe them in the way of contributions and presents, service people declaring what their clients owe them in the way of tips.
On their way to bankruptcy, they appeal for an etiquette judgment. Parents who are living on Social Security ask if it is true, as their daughter the lawyer tells them, that etiquette expects them to pay for her second dream wedding. Restaurant-goers who had thought they were meeting expectations with 15 percent tips and being generous when they tipped 20 percent want to know if it is true that 25 percent is now expected.
Guests ask what they are expected to spend on donations and presents: What is the going price for a graduation? How much do they owe for a death? Is it true that they are expected to give the equivalent of what is spent on the food and drink they consume at an event? Those who have given the same person an engagement present, three shower presents, a wedding present, two baby shower presents and a baby present want to know what more is expected of them before they can stop.
Miss Manners cannot say what people's financial expectations are, except that they seem to be limitless. She can say that etiquette should not be expected to keep a price list of social payoffs.
The only financial demand it makes is that people pay their own bills (including paying for service, even though that takes the form of supposedly voluntary tips) and stop making outrageous financial demands on their friends and relations. Any such demand made of a guest is an affront to the concept of hospitality. Burdensome financial demands made within families violate the family spirit, which is to look out for the interests of one another.
Personal life should not be run like a business. Those involved in giving a wedding should decide among themselves who is willing and able to pay for what and budget accordingly. The value of presents lies in the choice, as well as the price, but donors must decide what they want to spend, according to their means, the closeness of the relationship and the importance of the occasion.
If they are fed up with giving, they are doubtless fed up with the recipients. For the price of a stamp, they can send their congratulations and their regrets. Miss Manners cannot offer a better bargain than that.
Dear Miss Manners:
Can you assist with some advice for managing longer skirts, especially on stairs? I have a raincoat that I find especially difficult to maneuver during my fraught commute.
What you need is a skirt lifter. Neither a pervert nor a trainbearer, this is a Victorian gadget with a hook to suspend it from the belt and a clamp to lift long skirts above what was left in the streets by those charming horse-drawn carriages.
As skirt lifters are scarce and expensive, Miss Manners is happy to be able to tell you that it is also correct to use the hands. You hold them straight down your sides, and each of them gathers a handful of material and then moves upward, a rather graceful gesture. Of course you need your hands free to do this, so you will have to hang your other stuff -- purse, briefcase, telephone, umbrella -- elsewhere on your body.
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