Q: My husband and I were about to leave for a 7 p.m. dinner party, when we suddenly realized the invitation gave a 6 o’clock start time. I texted our hosts to say that we had gotten the time wrong, that we were on our way, and that they should starting eating without us.
My husband refused to show up late, left the car and decided not to go. I went ahead, joined the party and had a good time. The hosts were disappointed my husband wouldn’t join.
Should we both have just stayed back and given a convenient excuse, or should both of us have continued with the advance warning that I gave them?
A: Did your husband hitchhike home?
The transgression of leaving an empty place at the dinner table is a far more annoying one for the host than the guest being late with a reasonable excuse. Etiquette allows for human error, as long as regret is politely expressed and the behavior is corrected.
You are fortunate that the hosts did not mind, or were gracious enough to pretend that they did not. Miss Manners hopes that you will encourage your husband to imagine himself in their place.
Q: Am I totally out of line asking the server if I can take home all the oyster shells? I use them for my artwork.
A: As long as the oysters don’t mind, Miss Manners fails to see why the server would.
Q: My brother-in-law has been planning a surprise birthday party for my sister for two months. Just recently, her boss invited them both to his annual dinner. Her boss is a VP and she is a director, so she feels obligated and happy to attend.
When her husband called me in a quandary, I told him to contact her boss and politely decline on her behalf and explain there is a family function previously planned, and that he would appreciate his discretion.
He disagreed and wants to send an email to my sister’s employee to forward to the VP’s assistant, and then tell my sister about the surprise party.
I understand that he does not want to harm her politically at her company, and I may be completely crass, but I don’t feel it’s a tenable solution at all.
A: Tell your brother not to plan surprise parties. Miss Manners hates to be a moist blanket, but she can hardly think of any good that ever came from one (the party, not the blanket).
You are correct that in most cases, a previous social engagement takes precedent over a new one. But your sister did not know she already had plans. And overriding her ruling without consent could indeed hurt her professionally.
Your brother-in-law had the right instinct. Going through the assistants at least gives this the chance of being handled delicately and discreetly. Perhaps the assistants could even hatch a plan to make both events happen.
In any case, this way the boss can be in on the decision and not merely subjected to it — as your sister certainly would be.
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.