DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have an acquaintance who is planning a "shop at the mall" birthday party for her preteen daughter. Both of our families have been blessed in that our incomes have not been affected by the recession, nonetheless I am aghast at her insensitivity.
It seems so rude to me, not only to assume that people have the discretionary income to fork out for a shopping spree, but to also put their daughters in the possible situation of seeing other girls get to spend more money than they. (Granted, this is a life lesson children have to learn at some point, but is an all-girl birthday party really the place for that?)
The mother has also categorically stated that she will not be funding the purchasing habits of the girls, which means parents will be buying gifts for the birthday girl AND their own children! I feel this birthday party is going to become more of an obligation than a celebration.
The mother asked for opinions on this party, but we are not close enough friends to where I felt able to state my feelings exactly. What was a polite way I could have pointed out the potential hurt feelings that might result?
And am I wrong in thinking this way? My daughter is much younger and not in the "birthday party circuit" yet. Is this how parties are now?
GENTLE READER: Only among those who believe that pubescent girls need to be encouraged to believe that it is their duty to keep stimulating the economy by buying things for the pure sake of buying. And, as you point out, also to shame their peers who cannot comply.
As your daughter is not directly affected, you needn't be involved, and as you do not know the mother well, you could shrug this off. People who ask around for opinions usually want only validation.
But Miss Manners understands that you are thinking ahead to when you could be the only parent to tell her daughter that no, you are not financing a shopping spree for her every time someone she knows has a birthday. It would be easier to say it now.
You should speak gently and thoughtfully, as if the inventor of this scheme might come to agree: "Well, it's just not the kind of thing we would participate in.
I'd worry that Amantha's friends might not have the money to spend, or that their parents might feel that they don't want to encourage extravagance."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My stepfather recently passed away, is it proper for me to send a sympathy card to my mother? They were married when I was 21 and were married for 28 years.
GENTLE READER: A card? Your mother lost her husband, and all you are suggesting in the way of comforting her is to send a card?
Miss Manners is aware that an industry exists that assures people that its canned messages are caring and even -- in commercial doublespeak -- personal.
No -- personal is still done personally. If you cannot visit your mother, you can at least telephone and write. If you have pleasant memories of your stepfather, this is the time to share them; but even if you don't, you can listen respectfully to hers and assure her that you feel for her and are ready to help in adjustments she might have to make in her living arrangements.