Miss Conduct

Making party guests pay

Can you ask invitees to chip in? Plus, honoring an unused gift and getting serious about elderly parents.

Lucy Truman

I am planning a surprise 30th birthday party for my fiancee and can’t decide whether to have it in the house or at a restaurant. With the number of expected guests, I am looking at upward of $800 in the restaurant, $200 if it’s at home. I would like to do it in the restaurant, but please confirm for me that asking people to pay (I would let them know ahead of time) would be not so cool.

M.J. / Boston

It would, as you suspect, be very uncool, indeed — particularly as you are engaged and will presumably be inviting many of these folks to a shower and wedding at some point in the not-too-distant future. After a while your invitations might come to seem more like invoices. Throw the party you can afford, and save up for a big 40th birthday and vow renewal bash.

I received a cross necklace as a gift from a person who does not have money and bought it at a yard sale. It is tarnished and the chain is dark, and it’s too heavy for my liking. I have no problem recognizing her kindness and saying thank you. I just do not want to wear it. I see her every two weeks at a Bible study. What should I do?

E.H. / Colchester, Illinois


You can do a lot with jewelry besides wear it. It’s the cross that she wanted you to have, more than the chain, I’m sure. Can you replace the chain with a pretty velvet ribbon and use it as a bookmark in your Bible? Tie it around the vase you keep your Palm Sunday fronds in? Mount the cross in a small crystal dish of beads or river stones, along with a dried flower and your favorite verse written on parchment? You get the idea. Then take a picture of your creation and show it to your friend — the necklace was too heavy to wear but look how perfect it is decorating your shelf of inspirational books!

Last year my mother had a massive heart attack and quadruple bypass. From October to April I took time from my 60-hour workweek to take care of her — advocating with doctors, arranging appointments, paying bills, laundry and cooking. She has made almost a full recovery, and my only request was that she activate a medical alert service at home. The other day she cheerfully told me she had canceled it. I’m hurt and feel as I have all my life: that any suggestion I offer her is rebuffed. Is it wrong to ask your elderly mother who lives alone to have an emergency service?

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M.A. / Beverly

Of course it isn’t wrong to ask. Asking, however, may not be as effective as insisting or paying for it yourself. Your mother would like to believe that her decisions affect only herself, but as the past year has shown, that is not the case.

You are heading into a difficult phase of life and will almost certainly wind up taking over more responsibility from your mother. You need someone — several someones — who can serve as reality checks. Otherwise, every question of health and safety that arises will become a power struggle, while your childhood hurts and resentments swirl around like so many Dementors from Azkaban. (Remember, chocolate helps.) Doctors, social workers, relatives, neighbors — figure out who your network should be, and start cultivating those relationships. (Chocolate helps with that, too.) 

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.

NEED TIPS ON PARTY ETIQUETTE? Write to Miss Conduct at And get advice live during a chat with Robin Abrahams on Wednesday October 2 from noon to 1 p.m.