DEAR MISS MANNERS: Due to the vagaries of fate, I now find myself having dinner once a week with the gentleman who was my favorite author when I was in high school. We are cordial, even friendly, to the point of inviting each other to private parties in our homes.
Sometimes he asks me my opinions of his recent work. Frankly, I don't read genre fiction any more, and I haven't read any of his books in decades. How do I dodge his questions without hurting his feelings?
GENTLE READER: With a bit of judicious dialogue:
"Oh, you already know I've always been your greatest fan. But tell me what sort of reaction you are getting from critics and readers. Sometimes I feel that even your admirers don't fully appreciate the depth of your work."
In Miss Manners' experience, that ought to keep any author going until you can safely say, "Oh, my, the time has flown, I didn't realize how late it is."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My 23-year-old son is engaged to be married next summer. His finance [sic] is planning a large wedding (400-plus). My son recently informed me that, according to her, it is "customary" for the groom's parents to pay for the liquor at the wedding reception and for a honeymoon to Hawaii (as this is where all young couples now go). The estimated cost of the reception's open bar is $12,000, and the Hawaiian honeymoon nearly $5,000.
It was my understanding that the bride's family was primarily responsible for the wedding and that the groom's family paid for the pre-nuptial meal and the groomsmen's gifts. Any other financial assistance from the groom's family was optional. We are not involved in planning this wedding and are certainly not of the financial means to cover such large expenses.
Can you provide some guidance? We want to fulfill our obligations and maintain cordial relations, but we are not of a financial means to spend thousands of dollars to fulfill the bride's every wish.
GENTLE READER: Fully half the letters Miss Manners receives about engagements and weddings put an extra "N" in the words "fiancee" or "fiance," as you did. She used to think it was a typographical accident.
Apparently not. The state of being engaged is now interpreted as granting license to control other people's finances. Parents, wedding attendants and guests are told what they must allocate through contributions, sponsorship and purchase.
And what authority is there for granting this unprecedented ability to dictate expenditure regardless of the owners' thoughts or wishes?
"Etiquette," claim the finances and financees. It is only proper that others fork it over, they declare.
Oh, no they don't. Miss Manners is not going to stand for etiquette's being portrayed as extortion, and she is surprised that anyone else submits to being victimized. Furthermore, the finances and financees always prove to be ignorant of what is "customary."
Customarily, the bride's family pays for all the wedding festivities, and the bridegroom pays for the groomsmen's presents, the entire wedding trip and any other expenses the couple may incur from then on.
In recent years, this has been modified in the interest of fairness so that the bridegroom's family may offer to give a dinner the evening before the wedding or otherwise share in the wedding expenses. However, all of this, including the bride's family's assumption of costs, is voluntary, and saddling people with bills that strain their means is as improper as it is cruel.