DEAR MISS MANNERS: A manager in my organization has invited me to join her as a "friend" on a social networking site, and someone with whom I've exchanged one or two work-related e-mails has invited me to a business networking site.
I do not wish to have an account on any social or business networking sites. While I have cordial business relationships with many people, the kind of work I do does not involve sales or competing for clients. Also, I prefer not to publicly list my job title, employer, hometown, college degrees, birthday, hobbies, favorite music and movies, recently read books, and names of my family, friends, business contacts and pets.
Was I correct in simply ignoring these invitations, or should I have written back via e-mail to say something like "I don't have an account there, but thank you for the invitation"? Or should I join these sites to be a good team player?
GENTLE READER: The vocabulary is a problem here. "I don't want to be your friend" is something only a petulant toddler would say. And yet, as you point out, the situation is hardly that personal.
Miss Manners is not one to suggest ignoring invitations, but this is more of a commercial solicitation. Even messages like that from people you know socially are so widely distributed as to resemble the sort of open invitations that teenagers post on trees when their parents are out of town.
In any case, you are by no means obliged to participate. The novelty of being able to register oneself with the entire world and to keep an open diary and share every passing thought has seduced many people who have then found to their regret that unselective exposure does not equal popularity.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: May I give myself a surprise birthday party? My plan is to invite friends to what will seem to be an ordinary dinner party, and then, for desert, to bring out a candle-studded cake, and announce my birthday.
I expect that someone will then start a chorus of "Happy Birthday," and that as we all have coffee and cake, I can be the "Birthday Girl" and everyone can protest that they would have brought a gift or card if they had known. To which I will reply that I have what I wanted for my birthday: They came to my party. Practically, this is a way to truly enforce the "no gifts" that no one quite knows how to interpret, although I suppose that I might get belated birthday cards as thank you notes.
Can I play the same trick in succeeding years, hoping that those who recognize the date will just play along with me and let the surprise be on whoever happens to be new or to have forgotten?
GENTLE READER: That is exactly the trick that Miss Manners proposes in place of the awkwardness of instructing guests not to give presents, which presupposes that they were otherwise expected to do so. Not a nice assumption on the part of a host. And besides, they do anyway.