DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the proper action when a guest accidentally breaks an item, other than apologizing and offering to replace it?
What does a guest do if the item is of great sentimental value, but of little or no monetary value? A replacement item will not have the same sentimental value as the original. How about if the item’s monetary value is higher than what the guest can afford? Or if the item is part of a set: Does the guest just buy a replacement for the broken item, or an entire new set? Will cash work (tacky, true, but the item may have been bought overseas and not available locally)?
What does a host do when presented with the replacement item? Is a simple “thank you” all that is needed?
These are not theoretical questions: I have broken a fine bone china mug out of a set of six mugs, each with a different design. My hostess did not inherit this set, but it is antique, and, like most everything in her house, there is a story about how and when she bought it.
I want to do the proper thing; I have apologized profusely and offered to replace it. She has laughed it off and said not to worry about it.
GENTLE READER: Clumsy guests should do the maximum amount of groveling -- and make reasonable attempts at replacing broken items -- without themselves becoming the nuisance. You do not wish to be a friend, Miss Manners warns, whom hosts are willing to chuck, if only to get you to stop harassing them.
Gracious hosts need only thank their destructive guests for their efforts and do their best to reassure them that for anything less valuable than a statue, it was old and they were looking to get rid of it anyway.