DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am throwing a birthday party for my 1-year old son in a couple of weeks. While he is too young to understand the occasion, I thought it was a nice opportunity to bring family and friends together.
I mailed out printed invitations indicating that the party will begin at 4 p.m. Several family members, including cousins and aunts, will be coming from out of town and have asked to come a few hours early. I may have as many as 15 people at my house by 2 p.m. While I'm delighted that some people will travel several hours to attend our party, I planned the party to begin at 4 because of the baby's nap schedule.
My immediate family is staying with me for the weekend and will obviously be in my home for the day. My mother-in-law, knowing this, is arguing that I can't expect people (herself included) to drive for several hours for a two-hour party.
Should I just take the attitude that family is always welcome in our home or insist that people not come early, even if it means that they will not come at all?
GENTLE READER: Technically, you are responsible only for entertaining guests when you said you would. But technically, they are responsible only for answering your invitation with thanks, not for accepting it and driving from out of town to celebrate the birthday of a 1-year-old child.
That is rather nice of them. With all due deference to your baby's schedule, Miss Manners is disturbed that you expect your family to invest more time and trouble into this occasion than you are willing to do. If you cannot arrange to make the occasion convenient for your -- and his -- doting family, you should not put them through the inconvenience of attending.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a problem with people who keep their tables set with china, crystal and matching linens. At first I thought I'd walked in on an impending luncheon and started apologizing for coming by without calling.
Years and years later, these two friends are still doing it. I wonder where the family eats, as this is the only table in the breakfast area.
I must say my friends have some of the most beautiful table "settings" I have ever seen. It's so elegant that I can't imagine messing it up. Is this proper etiquette? I tell myself if it gives them as much pleasure and love, who am I to get a little put out when I first walk in?
GENTLE READER: Oh, dear, we etiquetteers must remember not to take anything for granted. Miss Manners is afraid that your friends saw pictures of properly set tables in etiquette books and jumped to the conclusion that the absence of people at the tables meant that there weren't supposed to be any.
She would hate to think that her noble profession, which exists to make life pleasanter for actual human beings, bore responsibility for the curious idea that the well-appointed home is an end in itself, not to be sullied by use. She is afraid that you have a touch of this attitude yourself, as you cannot imagine messing up eating equipment by eating with it. Short of painting Impressionist pictures of it, what else do you think you are supposed to do with it?
The purpose of a dining room table, along with plates, glasses, flatware and linens of whatever quality, is to be used to eat meals. Between meals, the most that should be on the table is a runner and centerpiece or such seasonal decorations as the receipts for filling out one's income tax, the notes for one's term paper or the paper and ribbon for wrapping presents.