Advice Columns

Miss Manners: Surprise! The party is at your house

Q: A good friend of mine has informed me that my mother-in-law is throwing a surprise party for my husband’s 40th birthday.

Great idea! Except for the fact that I was totally clueless. Plus this party would be at my home.

My mother-in-law never mentioned this to me, nor did she ask permission to use my home. I’m so torn between telling my husband or not telling him. As you can imagine, I’m very frustrated and upset. What do I do?

A: Actually surprising the guest of honor at a surprise party is not strictly required, although an appearance of surprise is.

But Miss Manners would have thought that surprising the host would have created insuperable logistical problems. Apparently not. Your mother-in-law overstepped the bounds of common sense, as well as good manners.

But since you support the party itself — and presumably wish to continue good relations within the family — the best approach is to speak directly to your mother-in-law about the party itself and not, at least directly, about not being consulted. This will leave you free to agree (or disagree) with your mother-in-law about more pressing matters such as the guest list, the menu — and possibly the location of the party.

Your complaint is best handled by prefacing your remarks with a pleasant expression of surprise that you didn’t know about the party. Your husband can then be tasked with being more explicit with your mother-in-law later.

Q: In a department that gives performance-based commissions, one of my co-workers began prodding me with questions about my commission: “What were your numbers last month?” “Have you gotten your commission check yet?” and so on.

I attempted to deflect her by saying, “Oh, I haven’t paid much attention. Everything gets direct-deposited, and I never check my deposit statements. Remind me never to do your finances.”

The joke does not seem to have discouraged her, however, as she recently began asking our supervisor about her commissions — specifically, how they compare to mine.

I don’t know what the privacy policies are like in this office (I am fairly new here), but I’m not keen on everyone knowing exactly how much I make. Nor do I care for the notion that my co-workers are in on the assessment of my performance. In any case, the questioning strikes me as rather nosy and off-putting.

Can Miss Manners recommend a way to discourage these questions in a clear and definitive way without harming what is otherwise a nice and friendly professional relationship?

A: Discussing money at work is not, Miss Manners likes to point out, subject to the normal ban on the topic in a nonprofessional setting. But that does not make it acceptable in the situation you describe.

Your attempt to deflect the question with humor is more attuned to a social than a business setting. “I’m sorry, but I do not want to discuss it,” followed by a quick pivot to a less delicate subject, is both more businesslike and more likely to be effective.

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,; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.