DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was stunned to receive an invitation to dinner that read: "Instead of having everyone bring something, we will assemble the feast and split the bill with everyone -- a 'Beggar's Banquet.'"
I thought it was in extremely bad taste -- charging your guests for dinner!
Am I out of touch with the times? Is this a new trend in entertaining? What are the rules of etiquette that apply here?
GENTLE READER: It is true that there has been a trend toward shuffling the obligations of the hosts onto the guests, which is, in turn, part of a larger trend toward squeezing cash and goods out of friends in any way possible.
Miss Manners has been fighting greed and ungraciousness for years, with little hope of success as long as people are intimidated into paying up. Even so, she would have thought that a "beggar's banquet" would be one in which beggars were invited to eat, not one in which the beggar does the inviting.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: What are the obligations of amateur musicians who act as professional mourners?
I sing in a local chorus. Sadly, our group has had to sing at the memorial services of several members. We may not all know each other well, but we share this bond of music. So when the deceased or his family has requested a favorite piece, we turn out in force. At some services, we're a large portion of the congregation.
The problem comes when we're not singing, and the deceased's friends deliver informal reminiscences. People close to the family express their sorrow, and the rest of us learn about other facets of the deceased. But too often the unstructured time encourages anecdotes that seem trivial, self-indulgent and long. Some members of the chorus squirm or even leave.
Maybe we need two kinds of memorials: a formal service and an intimate gathering for sharing memories. Failing that, how should a singer who is not an intimate honor the dead?
GENTLE READER: Several traditional events at which mourners reminisce informally about the deceased already exist: the wake, the gathering at the home of the bereaved after the funeral, and the condolence visit.
If there were eulogies at the funeral itself, they were supposed to be formal and serious. But now that funeral ceremonies are patterned on entertainment, people often skip the other events or use them to discuss subjects of more immediate interest to them, such as the dead person's bad health habits or when his real estate will come on the market.
Miss Manners sympathizes with your having to endure meandering, perhaps even tasteless or self-serving tributes to those you do not know well -- although it might be even more painful to hear them for those you do know well.
Nevertheless, you must all stop squirming and stay. As funerals and memorial services are not really meant to entertain, sitting quietly through them is a necessary sign of respect toward your deceased colleague.