Dear Miss Manners: I have a dear friend who loves to host dinner parties. She has invited me and my husband many times and we greatly appreciate her hospitality. I feel terrible that we have never reciprocated by inviting her and her husband to come to our home for dinner.
By contrast, my friend and her husband live in one of the nicest and most desirable neighborhoods in this area, and they have a beautiful home with hardwood floors, a dining room, remodeled bathrooms, etc.
Our house is, frankly, a dump. We have mismatched furniture, no dining room (we would have to serve dinner at the kitchen table), old carpets and a teeny bathroom. To be clear, I’m grateful to have a house at all, which is out of reach for so many people in this area.
Nevertheless, I am too embarrassed to invite anyone over for dinner. We have occasionally invited these friends to meet us for dinner at restaurants, but it’s not really the same.
The thought of these friends having dinner at my kitchen table makes me cringe with shame. I feel as if it would be rude not to offer the same type of elegant dinner party experience that they provide us in their home. Because that’s impossible, I am stuck. My husband thinks I am being ridiculous, and even more rude by not inviting them to dinner. Who is right: me or my husband?
Why does no one believe Miss Manners when she says it is the effort, not the cost, that matters? Or, put another way, what is the likelihood that a dear friend would sneer at you for not having hardwood floors — or the value of such a friend, if she did?
Dear Miss Manners: I work in a school setting and sometimes feel awkward thanking my colleagues. For example, a colleague assisted a student on a matter that is part of their job, but not mine. Is it appropriate for me to say, “Thank you for handling that”?
I worry it will appear either condescending (as if I think they work for me) or lazy (as if they took care of something I was supposed to handle). Is there a better way to word this that makes it clear that I am simply grateful that the student received assistance and am not trying to reinforce any sort of hierarchy?
You are not, for the reasons you give, expressing gratitude, but rather admiration. Miss Manners believes the correct phrasing will follow if you think of it this way, as in, “That was really wonderful of you to help him with that.”
This will solve the jurisdictional problem of whose job it was. It may still sound condescending, but it is Miss Manners’ impression that scholars are trained to navigate what appears to be a common occupational hazard.
New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, missmanners.com. You can also follow her @RealMissManners.
© 2023 Judith Martin