Q: The museum I work for is having what it calls a “gala.” It is sending invitations to the event but charging for the admissions, and there will be a cash bar.
Is that appropriate? The museum does not need the money. What do you think?
A: A museum that does not need money? Miss Manners’ head is reeling. She gathers that you do not work in its financial office.
It is certainly true that business and social customs have become dreadfully mixed, to the detriment of both realms. Work often requires compulsory pseudo-socializing, such as birthday parties and after-hours drinking, while private life can come with demands for direct contributions from guests, whether in food or cash.
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But what you describe is at least a frank fundraiser, unlike, for example, a wedding that pretends to be purely social and yet asks the guests to contribute money to something like a “honeymoon fund.”
In contrast to an invitation from friends or relatives that turns out to have a price tag, the gala offers a straight deal. Those who buy tickets are not fooled into thinking they are being invited out of friendship. They know that they are paying, as well as making a contribution to the museum, in return for an evening out.
So the comparison should be more like that of a restaurant or club, where people understand that they may or may not choose to pay to be entertained.
Still, there are other dangers here that Miss Manners can imagine would occur when the distinction between business and society is obfuscated:
Supporters of the museum may push their social contacts to buy tickets. But such pressure is an unfortunate fact of modern life and must be resisted. In any case, the mere existence of the paid gala is not to blame.
Or perhaps you feel pressured by your employers to buy tickets. In that case, you might make a counteroffer of being on-site staff for the event. You could also ask your employers for a raise so that you could afford to buy such entertainment.
Q: When is the appropriate time to thank someone for a gift they sent in advance of an event?
I have several long-distance friends who sent wedding gifts two months before the wedding. I’ve thanked them over email and acknowledged their generous gift.
I am waiting to send them a formal thank-you card, the kind with our picture on it, from the wedding. We bought this package from the photographer, but obviously the event hasn’t happened yet so we haven’t chosen a photo.
Should I send them a regular thank-you note now, and the formal one after the wedding? What about guests who sent a gift in advance who told us they could not attend? Should they be thanked twice? I suppose it never hurts to be overly thankful.
A: It is touching to know how eager bridal couples believe their guests are to receive their wedding portraits. Miss Manners can assure you that they are much more anxious to know that their presents arrived and were duly appreciated.
You certainly can thank people as often as you like. But the correct response to such a formal present is an immediate handwritten letter when it arrives. After that, you may send out as many emails and photographs as you like.
Judith Martin writes the Miss Manners column with help from her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, MissManners.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.