DEAR MISS MANNERS: I work for a very large U.S.-based corporation where I was involved in a discussion involving plans for a luncheon. An individual involved with the planning had selected one of the most expensive restaurants in the city.
I politely objected. I suggested that given the unfortunate economic situation we are experiencing in our country, it was inappropriate to have such a "lavish" event hosted by such a well-known corporation.
My thoughts are based primarily on issues of politeness rather than public relations. Would you be so kind to provide your thoughts on this matter?
GENTLE READER: The distinction you make, between politeness and public relations, is an interesting one. Miss Manners fears that you may mean that the former is being considerate of others, while the latter is merely giving that appearance.
In a perfect world, the two would be the same. In an imperfect world, politeness is not always the result of pure good-heartedness, but shares the incentive of wanting to make a good appearance.
The important difference here is that etiquette also believes in adhering to standards for their own sake, without regard to whether that impresses others. Notably, it believes in modesty and restrained good taste, concepts that public relations might easily dismiss as being counterproductive to getting people's attention and demonstrating one's power and wealth.
But this happens to be a time when the public has reason to embrace those concepts. A bad economic situation makes ostentation look callous, rather than enviably successful. It doesn't even look genuine now that everyone has seen so many lavish spenders caught in bankruptcy or fraud.
Notice that Miss Manners is making the case in terms of public relations, not etiquette, as you asked and had a right to expect. She just figured that saying that ostentation --for example, spending more on each lunch than your low-ranking employees might spend for the week's groceries-- is always in bad taste would not impress your colleagues. That it would anger those employees and make the general public suspicious is an argument they might understand.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a friend who throws home parties quite regularly in which different products are sold. Along with the invitation, she asks me to bring a dish for her guests. She also asks this of me for her children's birthday parties.
I can't help but feel like this is a bit tacky, since in going to either kind of party, you are expected to purchase something (this seems to be an unspoken etiquette "do"). After all, guests who are invited to a wedding would never be expected to bring a dish to pass. Am I feeling overly offended?
GENTLE READER: No, but you are overly optimistic. In fact, the idea of guests-as-caterers has spread to some weddings, and the idea of guests as customers and donors is everywhere. Miss Manners asks you not to call this "unspoken etiquette" when the proper term would be "unspeakable."