DEAR MISS MANNERS: My spouse and I received an invitation to a "Tree Trimming Party" for the son of a friend and his live-in girlfriend, being given by the young man's siblings. The couple have been together for almost two years and plan to marry sometime next year.
The invitation stated that all guests should bring ornaments to decorate the tree, specifying a specific brand of blown-glass ornaments that cost between $50 and $100 apiece.
A week before the party, one of the organizers called to ask if it was clear what type of ornaments to purchase. When I assured the caller that the intent of the invitation was crystal clear, I was told that we had better show up because anyone who didn't would be fair game for the gossip mill.
My spouse and I strongly considered making excuses. However, the family of the young man wields a great deal of social and political power in our community and to offend them could provoke unpleasant repercussions.
We attended (bearing the requisite ornaments) and were assured that this is just the first of many engagement parties and showers that will be held over the coming year since the young couple want to furnish their home in style.
Were we right to be offended by the tasteless invitation? Any suggestions on how to discreetly distance ourselves from the coming onslaught without incurring the wrath of the family?
GENTLE READER: If Miss Manners knew how to placate blackmailers without complying with their demands, she would be working in law enforcement. But surely everyone knows that compliance only invites more blackmail. You have even been warned.
Given the choice between sponsoring this couple's life and becoming the subject of gossip, Miss Manners would choose the latter. If word gets around that you refused to succumb to a shakedown that has terrorized the town, you may find yourselves heroes.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I received an e-mail Christmas card (actually, a letter for mass distribution). The sender said that she was donating the price of the postage stamp to a charity. Do you have any comment?
GENTLE READER: Only the wish that this person will limit her philanthropy to making financial donations. In Miss Manners' opinion, someone whose idea of holiday warmth is to brag to her friends that she put to better use the cost of sending them greetings should not be oppressing the disadvantaged with her presence.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Our office Christmas party calls for "holiday casual" dress. Some of us have joked about wearing a t-shirt with a tuxedo print, or Santa Claus jammies with feet.
GENTLE READER: Go ahead, have a good time making fun of those made-up dress codes, which Miss Manners agrees are ridiculous. You are not the only ones looking at such puzzling instructions as "elegant leisure" and "festively informal."
But then, Miss Manners can afford to laugh, because she doesn't work in your office. Please let her know if you need instruction about proper job interview dress.