Occasionally a disgruntled patron attending a charity fundraiser dinner or ball can be overheard muttering, "How much did we pay for these tickets? I'd pay twice that if we could stay home instead."
Rather than being insulted, some organizers have become inspired. So every once in awhile, an ersatz invitation goes out promising that if the recipients donate money to the charity, they can claim to other such solicitors that they are already committed for the evening and are free to enjoy themselves as they wish.
Miss Manners finds Buy Back Your Time an amusing little ploy, and hopes that it works. Philanthropy and society are both important facets of life, although she fails to see why the charity budget and the amusement budget should be linked. Surely money that is available for charity should be devoted entirely to charity without subtracting one's own food and drink. And surely it is the very nature of socializing to dispense and enjoy free hospitality with people one likes instead of being thrust among fellow purchasers.
Miss Manners feels sheepish about confessing all this because she is well aware that charities would suffer if everyone felt that way. Selling entertainment is a major source of their intake, especially the grand-scale kind that comes with the lavish trappings that few individuals can afford to provide for their guests. Certainly there is nothing to stop those who do not wish to attend from sending in contributions, except perhaps the fear of how much of it the attendees may end up eating or drinking.
Her small point was about the cleverness of playing into the plight of those who feel coerced into attending such events. This only began to scare her when she found that the contributions-only ploy is now being applied to private life.
Gentle Readers are reporting receiving notices about sending presents such as would be given by guests at weddings or baby showers to people who have not invited them to weddings or baby showers. "Registry cards," the modern form of targeted begging, have been arriving with tasteless invitations for some time; now they are arriving without.
"I received an e-mail from an acquaintance informing me of her due date of her second child and where she is registered," writes one G.R. "As far as I know, no baby shower has been planned (at least to which I've been invited). I'm inclined not to respond at all, but am wondering if the hormones have rendered her temporarily incapable of good judgment."
Another G.R. reports receiving "a marriage announcement from an old friend who also sent her registry. I was happy to hear from her and glad to know she is doing well and is married. However, I never received an invitation to her wedding."
Others have sent in registry cards that came with graduation announcements and notices of "phantom showers," meaning that no shower will take place. They all want to know whether they are obligated to oblige.
No, of course not. The charity events are dressed up fundraisers, but social life is all about being with people you like and sharing their important occasions. Eliminating the social part is not likely to leave much in the way of generosity-inspiring sentiment.
On the other hand, paying such people to keep away may be something of a bargain.
Dear Miss Manners:
Our father passed away a couple of months ago. Now that Christmas is coming, we'll be sending cards to our mother. One sister wants to address the card to both our parents, but I don't think that's right. What is the correct way without hurting our mother's feelings and not forgetting our father?
Your sister wants to spare your mother's feelings by allowing her to believe that you have all forgotten that your father can't receive mail because he is dead?
Miss Manners agrees that this is a really bad idea. But so is lobbing an ordinary Merry Christmas at a new widow. Surely you want to go beyond sparing your mother to comforting her. If you and your sisters cannot be with her at Christmas, you should each be writing her letters expressing how much you feel for her on this occasion and how much you miss your father.
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