DEAR MISS MANNERS: I understand that when declining a social invitation, social convention generally dictates that a polite yet plausible excuse be offered even if it isn't the real reason you are declining (e.g. I have to stay home and wash my hair), and that the person receiving such an excuse should accept it graciously and not question it or propose alternative solutions.
Is the same etiquette appropriate for requests made by a spouse, or may a spouse be more direct?
For example, suppose my husband invites me out to dinner, and I decline by saying my high heel has broken so I have no appropriate shoes to wear. Should he accept this as a final declination, or is it all right for him to propose a solution to my problem? For example if he says in reply, "You can wear your tennis shoes. This is not a particularly formal restaurant," is he being helpful by suggesting a solution to my problem, or is he being pushy when he should simply accept that I don't wish to go out?
GENTLE READER: He is being bewildered: "Honey, are we having guessing games for dinner again?"
You have your manners reversed. Your husband has a legitimate interest in knowing what pleases you and what doesn't; your hosts are just trying to get a body count.
Miss Manners assures you that no excuse is necessary when declining a social invitation -- only thanks and apologies: "I'm so very sorry we can't be there -- you are kind to invite us." One of the joys of marriage is the ability to say, "Oh, I don't know, I just don't feel like going out tonight. OK?"
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Unable to avoid an invitation to a potluck dinner, and, having been asked to bring a side dish, I made up a big batch of clam dip and brought chips to go with it. It was very well-received, though someone who had tried it and liked it asked what it was, and, on being informed it was clam dip, shouted across the room at me "Hey, thanks for warning me!"
As I had only the most casual acquaintance with him, I had no idea he was allergic to shellfish.
I understand that some people have food allergies, and that some of these are very serious, but on the other hand, whose responsibility is it to "warn" them? Should we now put labels on homemade dishes, indicating that they contain gluten, white sugar, shellfish, nuts, strawberries, chocolate, eggs or any of the other amazing panoply of allergy-provoking food elements that are out there? Or should the allergic person provide this information up front, or ask before tasting things? I'm rather at a loss.
GENTLE READER: No wonder. What a social life you have: Going to a party that Miss Manners gathers you would rather have avoided, being instructed to help cater the meal and then being bawled out for your trouble.
Miss Manners acknowledges that it is a basic rule of hospitality to avoid poisoning guests, whether or not they are unpleasant. This one certainly was, in blaming you for precautionary measures that his allergy requires him to make. However, he wasn't even your guest, so you had no way of querying him prior to deciding on your contribution. She pronounces you as innocent as he is rude.