DEAR MISS MANNERS: How does one graciously inquire as to e-mails that, when sent, seem to fall into a black hole?
This is a continuing pattern I encounter with someone who otherwise is a godsend to the charitable work I'm involved with. "Your e-mails seem to fall into a black hole" seems brusque, yet I'm convinced gentler comments will not remedy the situation.
GENTLE READER: If not for the possibility that e-mail sometimes falls into black holes, life would be a lot stricter. Like the older form of lost-in-the-mail, this offers a barely plausible excuse for having neglected one's duty. Not that Miss Manners wants to encourage this sort of thing.
On the whole, we tend to believe that all mail is delivered. But while the slap of letters on the floor is irresistible, not everyone picks up e-mail every day. You needn't sound as if you are chastising this lady because there is no reason to chastise her. You need only inquire which is the best way -- telephone, instant messaging, e-mail or snail mail -- to be sure of reaching her.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was invited to a new friend's adult Halloween party. The invitation -- hand-delivered to me, along with a second invitation for a sales-type party -- stated "BYOB and your own food. We will provide non-alcoholic drinks, music and lots of fun." She and her husband drink wine and beer, by the way.
I was insulted by this invitation that requires me to pay for evening baby-sitting, purchase (or make) a costume, and take my own wine and meal. The hostess lives in a very nice, large home and drives an expensive vehicle, so cost of the party for approximately 20 guests shouldn't be a problem.
Did I mention that when I had this person to my house for a swim party twice this summer, I provided all refreshments, and when I visited her in her home a few weeks later for a kids' "play date," I took snacks and drinks for all of the children as a thank-you for having us over? I also recently gave this new friend a ticket to an amusement park that my family could not use (after she requested it).
Am I being too sensitive that this person expects her guests to provide almost everything for her party? Should my husband and I be courteous and attend? If not, how can I pass along the message that we do not wish to attend because of the inappropriate invitation?
GENTLE READER: Think of it as a Halloween prank -- your friend is pretending to be a hostess, but she really isn't. There is a lot of that going around, and not just on Halloween. Nevertheless, in real life, a hostess does what you do -- extends hospitality, rather than requesting it of those she invites.
A guest does not criticize an invitation. Whether you attend depends on whether you think any enjoyment you might derive offsets the entrance fee. Miss Manners assures you that even gracious invitations may be declined with thanks and without excuses.