DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a bit put off yet confused about how to address the lack of fairness in birthday lunches at a company I've worked at for a year.
I'd been there three months when my birthday loomed, and teammates suggested a lunch to celebrate my and another new co-worker's birthdays. It was a $7 buffet and we birthday girls bought our own lunches, despite it being someone else's invitation. A few weeks later, it was another, more-tenured teammate's birthday. It was proposed that we go to an expensive (on my salary) restaurant for dinner; I stayed for a drink and departed, and got the impression that my co-workers split the cost of his drinks and meal.
Two weeks later, there was another birthday lunch that cost quite a bit more than my birthday buffet, and when the bill came, the supervisor announced that we were paying for the birthday girl (again, more tenured but not a supervisor).
Obviously, this isn't fair, nor do I have money to regularly contribute to everyone's birthday lunches, yet the trend selectively continues. My birthday is in two and half months. If faced with paying for my own birthday lunch again, do I laughingly point out that I paid for others'? Or do I keep quiet and fork over my money?
GENTLE READER: Or do you ask your mother to talk to the teacher about making sure everyone gets a fair birthday celebration, not forgetting to make a provision for those whose birthdays happen to fall during vacation time?
Miss Manners apologizes for seeming harsh, but such problems as you describe exist exactly because the office birthday party is a ridiculous concept. There may be some who have tender feelings toward the honoree (and nothing stops them from having their private parties). But for the rest -- you among them, from your account of others' celebrations -- it has become just another impersonal form of pseudo-socializing on the job, and an expensive one at that. In the absence of emotional ties, it should not surprise you that high-ranking people get better treatment than lower-ranking ones.
But your lunch hour is supposed to be your own, and you should be able to opt out of the whole silly business. Make a lunch date on your birthday with some non-office friend who would enjoy being with you, and excuse yourself from others' luncheons with previous engagements, errands to do or working at your desk. If this brings criticism, it will be time for you to enlist others in an office policy freeing lunchtime.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have been asked to prepare an obituary for a terminally ill friend who has been divorced and remarried. Let's say her maiden name was Jane Smith. Her first married name was Jane Jones. Her present married name is Jane Long. In the proposed obituary should she be Jane Smith Long, Jane Smith Jones Long or Jane Jones Long?
GENTLE READER: She is Jane Long, nee Smith, and the obituary would probably include the fact that her marriage to Mr. Jones ended in divorce. As amusing as it is to celebrity reporters to string together surnames for much-married movie stars, a lady who changes her surname changes it, however many times. She does not make a collection of surnames.