DEAR MISS MANNERS: I recently joined the managerial staff in a medium-sized company. Two months ago, my boss explained his holiday "tradition" of having each of us contribute $75 to a holiday gathering for all departmental employees and their spouses. My colleagues, having been through this before, all got out their checkbooks and reflexively handed over the money, planning to write it off on next year's taxes as "professional dues."
I wanted to find out more. When I asked how this kitty would be spent, I learned that we would be gathering at the home of another employee, that trays of various finger foods would be purchased from a local supermarket, and that the rest would be spent on wine and beer ("Good beer, ya know, good beer") and a maid service to clean up the host's home after the party (despite the fact that a sign-up sheet to do this had been posted at work and at least three employees had volunteered).
Miss Manners, I don't mind forking over $5 or $10 to help with a holiday spread at the office, but for $75, I expect something like a catered buffet and live entertainment. Moreover, I don't feel that I owe the department a holiday party, and I think that a lot of money is being wasted here. I don't know several of the employees who work evenings and nights, and I haven't even met some of them. I feel that my boss is using his status to extort money from his subordinates to host HIS party. If he wants to do so, I say let him pay for it.
When I gave my boss my regrets that I wouldn't be able to attend the gathering, he replied, "Well, in past years, even if somebody couldn't come, they paid anyway." I am not a freeloader, and I indeed did not attend, but my boss just asked me for the second time since the party when I would be paying my share, and I am furious.
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners hates to rush the season, but it's time to get ready for next year's party.
See if you can build an informal consensus, not only of managers but among the staff, for giving everyone an afternoon off in honor of the holiday, instead of a party that intrudes on time they might otherwise spend with their families and friends. You may need to show your good faith by paying this year's blackmail, but it will be worth it. You would be doing everyone a favor.
However, it might be enough just to tell your boss your plan to find out whether this might work better. As he realizes that the cost of time off will come from the business itself, he may be very ready to tell you to forget about the $75.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I don't drink wine and rarely serve it. My niece's French husband found it strange -- impolite? -- that when he brought me a bottle of wine, I didn't open it immediately. Other times, guests bring wine to a dinner party, and one bottle would not serve everyone. Must I open and share it?
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners does not blame your nephew-in-law for finding this habit strange, not because he is French -- and is more likely to have been taught to bring flowers -- but because it is silly.
Of course you can't use one bottle for a lot of guests, which is why it is not a good present to hand over before dinner. The polite host accepts such a present gracefully and puts it aside, saying, "Thank you, I will think of you when we enjoy this."