The Washington Post

Miss Manners: Canceling invitation requires contacting all invited guests

DEAR MISS MANNERS: One sends out an RSVP invitation with a specific deadline, and then, because of poor response, the hosts want to cancel. Obviously the regrets do not need to be notified. Those accepting the invitation should be notified.

A topic of debate within my household: Is the host under any obligation to notify those who did not respond?

GENTLE READER: Your implicit frustration with those who do not respond to invitations would normally find a sympathetic listener in Miss Manners.

But she finds herself wondering instead about the “poor response” you cite in justification of revoking an invitation that has been both issued and, in some cases, accepted. To these people the host owes an apology, an explanation and, ideally, a replacement invitation.

Given how many people are in the habit of attending events to which they did not respond, it would be wise to warn the non-responders as well, lest they appear on your doorstep expecting to be fed. In fact, you do not need to offer to feed them ever again.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was invited to a dinner party hosted by my law school professor. It was on a Thursday evening and the invitation said dress was casual. I, and other students, wore jeans and a casual shirt.

I overheard the host discussing our outfits as uncouth and that we should have been wearing “business casual” attire. I was embarrassed and put on my cardigan.

Was I wrong for dressing casual? Should I have interpreted a dinner party “casual” to mean business attire?

GENTLE READER: Has the factor of context never come up in your law classes? Or the question of what the understanding of a reasonable person would be?

Actually, nobody knows the meaning of “casual.” As far as Miss Manners can tell — and she is as reasonable as one can reasonably be — it merely tells people that they don’t have to make any effort they don’t feel like making. So some feel like making the effort to look polished, and some don’t feel like making much of an effort, if any. Certainly, a reasonable student would interpret “casual” as meaning jeans.

But your professor seems to have trouble understanding context. Correcting students when they are taking his courses is his job. Disparaging his guests when he has invited them to a party is rude.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I just turned 12, and my friends were very nice, brought balloons, cookies, etc., to school. The next day, several of them asked me what gifts I had gotten for my birthday.

I told them the truth — that it had been a pretty busy night and I hadn’t opened them yet — but I couldn’t help but think that the question was a little tactless.

What if, in this economy, my parents couldn’t afford a lot of presents? It seems almost parallel to adults asking each other how much money they make. Am I wrong for thinking this, and what would be an appropriate response in the future?

GENTLE READER: The difference is that your friends are not really asking for the complete catalogue you are envisioning. Miss Manners assures you that they are expressing a conventional interest that can be answered with a conventional response: Express enthusiasm for all the wonderful gifts and name one, without suggesting that it is the best.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays on You can send questions to Miss Manners at her Web site,

2014, by Judith Martin



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