DEAR MISS MANNERS: Late last week, a former graduate school colleague (whom I really don't know that well) called and asked if I would like a pair of tickets for a major concert scheduled for this weekend. She had a death in the family and had to fly across country at the last minute to be with her mother.
All she asked in return was that I get a CD of the musical group. I enthusiastically accepted the generous gift, but when the two tickets arrived the next day I was astonished by the price: almost $500 for the pair! These were top-flight seats.
I went to the concert -- it was fabulous -- and got her a CD, but I really feel the need to give something more. Unfortunately, $500 was a lot more expensive than I was expecting, and much more than I can afford. I was thinking of giving her a $200 gift certificate to a nice hotel and restaurant in town so she and her husband could get away sometime. Obviously, a $200 gift certificate is much less than the $500 concert tickets. Is this inappropriate? Am I being cheap?
GENTLE READER: What you have there is not a $500 debt, but a friendship debt. You can't pay it in gift certificates, even if you put down the full amount of the tickets.
Miss Manners understands that you were not particularly close with your benefactor before, but you were nevertheless made privy to a sad occasion in her life. A condolence letter and an effort to see her -- perhaps inviting her and her husband out to dinner -- would be a personal, rather than a financial, response to her generosity.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: What to do about a new trend: the "almost RSVP," as in almost did not bother, but did RSVP at the last possible hour?
The practitioners of the "almost RSVP" adhere to the letter of the etiquette law -- that you must RSVP to a dinner invitation -- but not the spirit of the law, which says that you should reply in time to allow the hosts to plan on entertaining you.
After a recent spate of guests calling the night before the party after 8 p.m. to RSVP, I am considering putting a deadline on my invitations. I don't consider a phone call after 8 p.m. the night before adequate notice that they will be joining us for dinner (plus needing directions, further instructions and a complete guest list and guest history). Can I just tell them that I did not plan on them because I did not hear from them? Or start including an RSVP deadline on future invitations?
GENTLE READER: These people did not adhere to the letter of the etiquette law, Miss Manners assures you. That requires an answer immediately upon receiving an invitation -- with, at most, half a day to consult a spouse.
Unfortunately, there is also a law -- almost as often disobeyed -- against assuming that guests are so rude as to have to be given deadlines. What you can do is to say sadly, "Oh, I'm so sorry. I assumed you were away, since I hadn't heard from you, and made other plans. I'll try you another time."