DEAR MISS MANNERS: Here's one: My cousin attended a small dinner party of six at the apartment of an old high school chum. My cousin recently went back to college and is living off student loans. She showed up at the party sans hostess gift or wine, thinking the old friends would cut her some slack.
During the dinner, the hostess ran out of wine and sent someone to the store to fetch some. The next day, my cousin sent the hostess a thank-you e-mail and received a stern reply pointing out that my cousin showed up empty-handed and didn't help with the dishes later on. (She was tired and retired early.)
Couple of things: Is it necessary at all times to bring something to a gathering, no matter how small? And must one always offer to help with the dishes even if the hostess doesn't seem to need help? What are the unwritten or written rules? And what do you think of pointing out your dissatisfaction to your guest when they have sent their thanks for the evening?
GENTLE READER: How charming that this hostess is so etiquette-conscious. She cares so deeply about the guest's obligations to the hostess that she has no room left to care about the hostess' obligations to the guest.
And she is wrong about the guests' obligations, Miss Manners regrets to say. Presents and chores are optional; there is no requirement of catering or bartering for dinner, and of doing housework. Guests are only obliged to reply to the invitation, show up on time dressed according to the style of the event, greet the hostess, socialize with the other guests, go home at a decent hour, write their thanks and, eventually, reciprocate the invitation (when they will take on all those responsibilities).
Your cousin has done all her duties but the last, and Miss Manners absolves her from that. Anyone who would chastise a guest like that is not fit for civilized society.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: If I made plans to drive and pick up a friend at his/her house at a certain time, when is the appropriate time to call to tell my friend that I will be there soon? Right before I am ready to leave? While I am on my way? Do I call my friend when I'm right outside his/her house and say, "I'm here"? Or do I just hope my friend remembered our get-together and give no notification?
GENTLE READER: Score one for the cellular telephone. For years now, it has been everyone's favorite etiquette target, even as practically everyone is acquiring one.
Miss Manners keeps urging people not to blame the poor telephone for having a rude owner. And here is an instance when it is an aide to etiquette. If you have any doubt that your friend remembered the appointment, you should confirm it earlier in the day. And it is an extra convenience, especially if you might be running late, to stop on the way to call and say, "I'll be there in 10 minutes," or to call, rather than honk, when you arrive.