DEAR MISS MANNERS: I believe I already know your stance on cash requests for weddings in lieu of gifts: that it is never appropriate. This may be a new wrinkle (although no doubt you've heard and seen them all):
My sister is remarrying at 50-something to another 50-something. Their fabulous, and expensive, wedding invitation states that they already have enough stuff and are requesting guests to " endow a chair."
At first, I thought I was being asked to fund some needy student's scholarship or deserving professorship. Then I noticed on the return portion of the expensive invitation, right next to meal choices, was a little box to check for the number of chairs I was willing to endow at $60 apiece.
I went off the deep end a bit, thinking, What next? BYOB? BYOF? Or perhaps we would just bring our own chairs, sidestepping the need for endowment.
Now, I'm in a quandary as to whether I'm allowed to attend the wedding and reception if I don't pony up $120 for my husband and I.
I'm sure the food and drink at the party will be wonderful, and expensive, but I already have a bad taste in my mouth. How does one politely respond to such a proposal? I would like to be on speaking terms with my sister for the next 50 years.
GENTLE READER: Actually, that is a new one on Miss Manners. And she hates to repeat it, knowing that there will be people who, far from being appalled at this astounding display of greed and vulgarity, will think, "What a good idea."
Why anyone would want to attend a wedding of people who think of them merely as customers is hard to imagine. But you are the bride's sister. It would behoove you to commiserate with her for having been reduced to such public begging. You might consider sending her a check, accompanied by a plausible excuse to cover sparing yourself the embarrassment of having bought entrance to her wedding.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I read your column frequently and find it to be both entertaining and educational. However, there is something I have always wondered about with respect to your responses.
It seems that, in nearly all of your replies (and in your suggested replies for others to use) when the message is expected to be not to the receiver's liking, you begin it with the disclaimer "I'm afraid that ...." Presumably, you are not truly and literally "afraid" in all such situations. So, what is the reason for this expression?
I can only guess that this expression is used to "soften the blow" of disappointment to the other by giving the (transparently false but polite) impression that you actually agree with the other person, but that "whatever-it-is" is not under your direct control, but rather something that you, too, must comply with because you are "afraid" to do otherwise.
Since this expression is not one that I grew up with, I would appreciate your clarification of its use and how it came to be this way. Thank you.
GENTLE READER: You are quite right in guessing that Miss Manners is not cowering in the corner when she dispenses etiquette advice. But neither does she give advice with which she disagrees.
The conventional phrase "I am afraid" refers, in these questions, to the fear that the other person does not like what he or she is being told. It is a polite way of saying "I feel your pain that -- hold still! -- I am about to inflict."