You have to hand it to the greedy. They keep managing to come up with novel ways to help themselves to other people's money.
Specifically, Miss Manners is impressed with what they have done with the ancient concept of hospitality. Sharing one's meager (or rich and fattening) crumbs with others is a defining element of civilization and cited as a test of character in many religions. That is, until the gimme folks got hold of it.
First they turned potluck upside down. This fine old term used to mean that guests were always welcome, while acknowledging that it was not always possible to welcome them in proper style -- meaning when the hosts had had time to prepare something especially for their delight. The conceit of potluck was that the pot was merrily boiling away with a domestic dinner, and if friends didn't mind eating whatever happened to be in it, there would always be a place for them.
In the revised version, it is the guests who have to fill the host's pots. No, wait, then the host would have to wash those pots after the guests had left. If they not only do the cooking but bring their own pots, then they can do the scrubbing.
Pot luck has become a hybrid of the dinner party, where the host does all the work, and the covered dish supper, where everyone does some of the work. And while it may be held in one person's house, that person is not a host in the sense of choosing the guests and setting the terms.
The next step was to charge money. The spirit of hospitality has been reversed, so that guests may be asked to "contribute to the costs." To enlarge the host's profit on special occasions, guests may be told to bring tangible offerings as well, in the form of "gifts" chosen from a shopping list that the host has registered at his Web site.
Miss Manners had thought that was rock bottom until she began to receive word of the newest twist. Demands are now being made for people to pay for the events that others are putting on anyway, for reasons unrelated to whether the sponsors may attend. Two examples from Gentle Readers:
1. "Please tell me who should pay for the brunch the day after the wedding. My sister wants my mother and father, my husband and I, who are also out-of towners, and two uncles from her husband's side to pay. My husband is retired, and I am on disability, so I'd rather just put that money into a gift for my nephew, but I don't want to get into a fight with my sister, and I thought of just giving $100 toward the brunch so we wouldn't look bad to the other relatives. My parents don't want to pay, either, but they don't want to cause problems with my sister. What should I do?"
2. "When a gentleman of my acquaintance died recently after a long illness, I received a heartfelt letter about his last days from his family, by mass e-mail. (I had known the gentleman primarily through the Internet, so learning about his death via e-mail didn't bother me.) However, the note included a request that, in lieu of flowers or charitable giving, donations be made to a fund which would pay for a 'grand memorial celebration,' which the gentleman himself planned in the weeks before his death.
"I want to respect his final wishes, but I confess that I find the idea of honoring a deceased friend by contributing to a glorified party fund more than a little off-putting. If I were planning to attend the memorial (the distance prevents it), I would feel as if I were being charged admission. Should I swallow my discomfort and send a check to the memorial fund? Or ignore the request and make a donation to a charity related to my friend's illness?"
Miss Manners cannot prevent extortionists from plying their trade, but she will not allow them to claim that etiquette is in on the racket. There is no reason to feel rude when refusing to comply with an outrageously rude request, and whatever wedding presents or memorial donations people chose to make has nothing to do with it.
You don't have to hand it to the greedy, as it happens.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Just this week I saw my therapist. As I sat, I brushed off my leg what I took to be a dust mote or speck of something from the outdoors.
When I saw it leaping around the carpet, I realized it was a flea from the grass near the parking lot. As my therapist and I talked, the flea jumped onto my leg and under my skirt, where it stayed for five or 10 minutes, biting my thighs. I didn't say anything to my therapist, and it seemed inappropriate to follow my instinct to jump up and begin brushing my thighs to get rid of the flea.
Granted, it is unlikely this will occur again, but what ought I to have done?
GENTLE READER: Deal with your real problems?
Miss Manners is sorry to entertain suspicions about whether this occurred even once. But if you conceal from your therapist what is bothering you, why are you undergoing treatment?