DEAR MISS MANNERS: In the past couple of weeks, my husband and I have been invited to four college-graduation parties for the children of friends where gifts were expected. I don't recall ever being invited to such events before.
We have college-age children, and when our oldest graduated, we had a family celebration, and she received cards from aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.
We are also being invited to couples showers and weddings for our friends' children who are getting married. Maybe it's the time of year, but my wallet and I are getting worn out. Is this common practice?
GENTLE READER: It has become so, more's the pity.
It has not escaped Miss Manners' attention that the most common form of entertaining nowadays involves a windfall for the hosts or their families. How many people now plan parties -- as nearly everyone used to -- on no particular occasion, but just for the fun of gathering their friends?
Yet she has another -- perhaps more forgivable but nevertheless unjustifiable -- interpretation. Family pride is an excellent resource, providing a loyal support system and cheering squad for its members. But it must be kept under control lest it lead to callous behavior toward others. Parents should indeed be proud, but they should not behave like high schoolers who, if they get 100 on an exam, immediately run around asking everyone in the class their scores.
But (you may ask) how can it be callous to invite people to parties? Don't most people like to go to parties?
Yes, which is why many come. Gift-giving parties to honor the hosts or their immediate families are pretty much all the parties to which they are invited.
But why are they invited?
The right answer would be that they would be expected to enjoy themselves because the occasion would be meaningful to them. One reason that guests so often bring pressure to bring their own guests, Miss Manners suspects, is because they are not all that interested in the occasion, but merely want to use it as a venue for dates.
High among occasions that are not of great interest to a wide circle are those honoring the hosts' children. Yet it has become commonplace to invite such people to birthday parties for infants and graduation parties for children of all ages.
Miss Manners would have thought that the proper guests for the former are the baby's relatives and very close family friends, and for the latter, the graduates' classmates, so that they can celebrate together.
In any case, you need not feel pressured to attend such parties, nor to give presents. You need only send your warm congratulations.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When eating, is it better manners to stab your food or scoop it up with your fork?
GENTLE READER: If your food is not still alive, there is no excuse for stabbing it. And if it is still alive, Miss Manners hopes you will use a scoop, rather than a fork, to return it to its habitat.