DEAR MISS MANNERS: My wife and I are casual and infrequent entertainers. As we plan an evening's meal, we invariably have a rather pointed discussion on the role of hors d'oeuvres.
My wife wants to dispense with them altogether and seat guests at the dinner table five to 10 minutes after they arrive. If we serve drinks and appetizers, she claims, people just fill up on snacks and don't have room for the main meal. She claims that this senseless custom just encourages overeating.
On the other hand, I say that inviting guests to sit in the comfort of our living room for half an hour allows them to transition from their hectic day and road travel into a relaxing dinner. Besides, having this little gathering before being seated for dinner is what people expect, given that it seems to be the norm when we are guests at others' homes. It feels awkward to not offer guests anything while we put the finishing touches on dinner.
What is the protocol for pre-dinner drinks and appetizers?
GENTLE READER: Wait -- your dinner guests all arrive on time? Miss Manners congratulates you.
For most hosts, serving drinks and hors d'oeuvres is essential, so as not to inflict undue hardship on polite guests while waiting for tardy ones. It is also a time to introduce guests to one another, and to rethink the seating arrangements when you notice who turns out to have had bad romances with whom. All very useful.
However, it needn't go on and on. Nor need the food be filling. Throw them a thin carrot stick or a bit of celery with something on it, and most people will be relieved not to succumb to more fattening fare while anticipating a satisfying meal.
Neither should your disagreement have gone on and on. If your wife concedes 10 minutes after the last arrival (not the first) and you argue for 30, surely you could split the difference.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I grew up with the rule that a wedding invitation requires a gift, even if the invitee does not attend the wedding. But friends have been telling me that rule is obsolete.
I've been invited to the wedding of a first cousin twice removed, whom I haven't seen since she was 5. Her parents and I are in touch only through Christmas cards.
I have no idea why I was invited and have no intention of going to the wedding, which will not be in my town. It would involve an expensive overnight hotel stay. Must I send a gift?
GENTLE READER: Those among whom you grew up were generous but misinformed. If you find this disillusioning, Miss Manners notes that at least it will save you money.
Getting married does not grant people license to distribute bills to those who are minding their business. A wedding invitation is merely an offer of hospitality. As such, it must be answered, one way or the other, and it should also prompt a letter wishing the couple happiness. There is nothing wrong with also sending a present, but that is certainly not required.