Not so fast with the schadenfreude, please. Just because people who are infinitely richer than you have been diagnosed with Infectious Greed, that doesn't mean that you can enjoy the pleasant relief of knowing that your lighter case has not been noticed.
The chairman of the Federal Reserve coined the term to describe the state of the business world that has given rise to so much scandal. Miss Manners has simply noticed how apt a description it is of the social climate of the last decade or two.
True, there is a difference between the greed that lands you in the worst seat at congressional hearings (not to mention in the pokey) and the greed that merely gouges friends and relatives. There is undoubtedly a relationship, however, although she cannot say which gave rise to which.
Both forms of greed consider that the financial bottom line trumps the niceties. Both are characterized by smarmy self-congratulation on not being a sucker, which is to say not having allowed sentiment or delicacy to interfere with maximizing profits.
Both spread their infection rapidly: First, people notice that others are getting away with nefarious practices. Then, they conclude that such is the standard way of doing things. Finally, they forget that there was any other way, and cite it as hallowed by custom.
Celebrations, entertaining and even charity have all become corrupted. Gift registries, pay-your-own-way parties and fundraising ambushes have proliferated so much that freely offered hospitality and voluntarily offered presents and contributions seem part of a naave, distant past.
All the same, people who accept the new "traditions" sense that something is wrong. They may not feel justified in the sort of outrage that would put a stop to it, but they are unhappy.
Miss Manners' mail is full of such laments:
"Our clergyperson recently had a baby, and the entire membership of the congregation received e-mail invitations to a baby shower for the happy couple, telling us to bring a dish to share with eight to 10 people and providing four different links to Web-based gift registries. A number of the congregants are unemployed or on fixed incomes. Do you think it is acceptable for a spiritual leader to solicit gifts from the congregation?"
"I bought a card and gift to a graduation party for a fellow classmate, but upon leaving, the party-giver asked me to pay my 'share' for the party. It was 'drinks only,' and I'm not a drinker, but I was charged as if I were. (They split it 'Communist way,' so if you had one drink or five, you paid the same.) Nowhere on the invitation did it say that we had to pay an entrance fee. Was I right to feel a bit miffed at the party-giver, or was I a heel for not offering to help pay in the first place?"
"I have recently been invited to three functions: A birthday party for a 1-year-old, a party for an 80-year-old and a wedding shower. The 1-year-old was 'registered' at a toy store, and the parents had the nerve to ask for donations to her college fund! At the 80-year-old's party, the family asked for donations to the grandchildren's college fund! And at the wedding shower, we were asked to bring food as well as a gift."
"We have gotten an invitation to a greenback shower addressed to Mr. & Mrs. & family. Is it proper to send one gift with all the names on the card?"
"I just received an e-vite (e-mailed invitation) to a birthday celebration from a colleague of mine from work, stating that she is hosting a 'Pamper Party -- to pamper yourself for all of the hard work you do.' Each guest must bring their own nail polish for a professional manicure or pedicure, and either bring a bottle of champagne or a food item to share (and a birthday gift, since she didn't say not to bring one!). If this is not enough, I also have found out that each guest must pay $25 toward each spa service. I am wondering if I am wrong to feel angered and insulted by this invitation. Tell me, would Miss Manners feel pampered by such an invitation?"
The answer to that last question is: Well, no. But neither would she confuse friendship with solicitation and feel that she had an obligation to buy.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Maybe I'm missing something, so please help me. When finger food and/or other types of appetizers are served at a social gathering (say an outdoor reception), what is the proper way to eat them?
I usually take a small napkin (which, more often than not, are in abundant supply) and grab the item. What I see is 99 percent of the guests simply grabbing the item with the hand, one after the other. By chance, they may or may not touch other items, or lick their fingers and grab more, or both. It's disgusting. Is it me, or do I need to relax and enjoy the food?
GENTLE READER: It's you. You missed something.
Take a deep breath, but before you relax, take a look at the term you used to describe these appetizers: finger food. Does this contain a clue about the proper way to eat it?
You may not choose to do so. Miss Manners has no objection to fastidiousness. What she does find objectionable is showing others that you find their unexceptionable manners disgusting and the merest hint of their touch lethal. Your method heavily suggests that, so you may want to bypass the appetizers, especially if you reflect on what human contact may have gone into their preparation.