DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’m dating a man who has a 17-year-old son and a 19-year-old daughter. I’m planning a surprise 50th birthday party for him. I haven’t informed the kids of the party yet.

The guest list comprises generally people 35 years and older — the honoree’s friends and some adult family members who live locally, including his parents. I invited my parents and some of my friends.

I intended this to be our generation with the exception of our parents. I intend on informing the kids of the event, but didn’t intend to invite them.

Am I obligated to invite his kids? They are very close to him, but I really don’t want to share this particular party with them. We are also planning a family dinner at a restaurant the next day in which the kids will be included.

GENTLE READER: It is a good thing that you enjoy surprises.

Miss Manners believes that you are likely to get some surprises yourself when you explain to the children that you are excluding them on the basis of age, but making an exception for your own parents, and another surprise when the guest of honor finds out.

Instead, you might discourage the children politely by saying, “That’s going to be an old people’s party, and you’re welcome, but I was afraid you’d be bored. The real family party is the dinner.”

DEAR MISS MANNERS: For English afternoon tea, is there a particular order in displaying the foods, and an eating order on the three-tier server? And what kinds of foods are no-nos for English afternoon tea?

GENTLE READER: Afternoon tea consists of three courses — warm bread, sandwiches and sweets — and there is indeed a strict order in which they should be eaten. All are put out at the same time, on platters or the three-tiered stand you mention, but if you reach for the plum cake first, Nanny will slap your hand.

Propriety aside (and only cucumber sandwiches could distract Miss Manners from dwelling on propriety), there is no need to rush. The bread can be sweetened with jam and, if it is in the form of scones, topped with clotted cream. Then there are those tiny, crustless sandwiches. Finally, the cookies or miniature pastries or thin slices of cake.

Many subtle variations are made on these three categories, so it is a bit hard to say what would be out of place. Afternoon tea is not supposed to substitute for a meal — that would be high tea, the name of which is often misapplied to the tea you mean — so nothing substantial is served. And nothing that is messy or awkward to eat. Miss Manners would not advise putting out a platter of barbecued ribs, for example.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My son is getting married this summer. He is looking at black and red, but I say it is for winter and evening.

GENTLE READER: Surely you mean that he is reading “The Red and the Black” by our dear Stendhal, in which case Miss Manners has to agree that it will not put him into the proper frame of mind for marriage.

You could not be referring to his wardrobe, because a bridegroom wears only black and white evening clothes or, for a less formal wedding, a blue suit.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site,, where you can send her your questions.

2012, by Judith Martin

Distributed by Universal Uclick for UFS