DEAR MISS MANNERS: When my husband and I were invited to a friend's dinner party, I replied that I did not think we could arrive in time for dinner, due to a work commitment with a specific end-time, but that we could arrive after dinner if that would be OK.
The host then let me know she was frustrated that I seemed unwilling to accommodate her invitation by hurrying to get ready and getting on the road in order to arrive on time. (The travel time alone would be about 45 minutes, depending on traffic.)
Was I incorrect in replying that way? What would have been the most polite way to reply?
GENTLE READER: An invitation is not an opening bid in a negotiation. You were invited to dinner, and the correct reply was that you are very sorry, but you are unable to attend due to a prior professional engagement.
Only then would you have Miss Manners' permission to add that the conflicting engagement would prevent you from arriving before dessert. This gives your host the opportunity to amend her invitation to an after-dinner arrival, but without requiring her to do so. It would also avoid an unseemly discussion about whether your driving shows sufficient determination.