DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was stunned when I had my family and two adult children over for an informal Sunday evening dinner, and my 60-year-old sister popped a tape in and put her earphones on her head when she sat down at the dinner table. The rest of the family were staring at each other in disbelief. Isn't it incredibly rude behavior to have on earphones at the dinner table?
GENTLE READER: Just because it demonstrates that nothing anyone present says could possibly be worth hearing, and that spending time with you and yours will be boring unless she brings her own entertainment? Well, yes, Miss Manners would say so.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My parents will be celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary, which I think is a great accomplishment compared to the marriage statistics of this day and age. In light of this great event, my brother (who is a recent newlywed) and myself (still single) would like to have a small dinner gathering to celebrate my parents' anniversary at a local restaurant as a surprise.
My brother and I would like to make this event as special as possible, but because of my mother's battle with cancer and unknowable health status by that time, we are unable to plan a large, pre-paid party. Although my mother is only 52, her physicians have given her limited time, and we're unable to make distant time plans for things.
My brother and I are only going to be inviting close family and a few friends, totally no more than 15 to 20 people including us. We want to know what the proper wording would be on the invitations, so as to not offend anyone, but to kindly let them know that we are unable to pay for everyone's dinner tab individually. I'm sure they wouldn't mind paying, but I want to properly inform them of this at the same time as not to offend.
I realize some people may think this to be rude, but to us it is no different than people informing wedding party guests of not allowing children at the wedding in an appropriate way.
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners is one of those people. There is a huge and crucial difference between deciding whom to invite and deciding who should pay. You do no honor to your parents by risking offending the people they most care about. What a surprise that would be.
Surely the part that would please them most is to have a gathering of their friends, and the lavishness of the meal is incidental. An afternoon tea party is one of the most charming party forms there is, and tea and cake would cost you next to nothing. This would also have the advantages of not unduly tiring your mother, and of being easily postponed if that turned out to be better for her.
But then again, they are your parents, and if you think going to that restaurant is more important than the company, you and your brother -- who were presumably not going to slip your own food costs into other people's bills -- could simply take them out at the same cost without delving into anyone else's money.