Miss Conduct

Advice: When cheap friends order expensive booze

Plus, a question from a concerned grandma.

Lucy Truman

Every year friends visit from out of state and we take them to dinner. They always want to pick the wines. We are all successful professionals, but we typically spend $40 to $50 for what we consider a very nice wine while they spend $150 to $200 without saying anything more than “You will love this!” They never offer to pay or split the bill, which includes $300 to $400 for wine alone. Is there a tactful way of addressing this without sounding cheap?

M.J. / Barnstable

Oh, my, how on earth did you ever get yourself into a situation of feeling obligated to stand your friends to an expensive dinner on an annual basis, with no reciprocity of any sort even being mentioned? Are you leaving out crucial details that would help Miss Conduct understand? Did one of these people give you a kidney or something? If so, I suppose you ought to feed it whatever pricey grape juice its original owner prefers when he’s in town to visit it. Barring that or some similar situation, you need to speak up.

If your friends are at all decent people, they’ll realize that they’ve been thoughtlessly, if innocently, taking advantage of you. It’s uncool of them to assume you’ll pick up the tab because it’s your city, and it’s double-plus uncool to add a three-figure bottle of wine or two to that tab.


You mustn’t worry about them thinking you are cheap. The question isn’t “Can I afford a $200 bottle of wine?” It’s “Would a bottle of wine ever be worth $200 to me?” The answer to the latter is obviously no — wine simply doesn’t pop your cork, as it were, all that much. Spending in accordance with your values isn’t cheap, it’s smart.

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The next time your friends come to town, you have three choices: Select a more modest eatery whose wine list you’ve vetted in advance; take them to the sort of place you usually do and, when the wine list is given out, straightforwardly announce, “Let’s look for something in the $40 range — I know you guys have finer tastes, but my palate doesn’t rate more than that”; or, perhaps the best solution of all, invite them for a home-cooked meal at your place instead and ask them to bring the vino.

My daughter is 34, smart, thoughtful, controlling, and a mother of two young children. I am the grandma and live 3,000 miles away. I have spent five nights helping take care of the cuties while husband and nanny are away. My daughter is a great mom, but she raises her voice too much, in my opinion. If I suggest any behavior modification, she gets defensive. Is it wrong to advise that she chill some and/or lower her voice around the kids? I would appreciate your read on this.

P.C. / Boston

My read is that your daughter undoubtedly chills quite a bit once you’re 3,000 miles away again. Please, P.C., reread your letter. Read it as though it were written by a stranger and ask yourself where your daughter might ever have learned some of the “controlling” behaviors you find objectionable and ever-so-modifiable? Leave your daughter’s parenting style and vocal tics alone. Being observed modifies behavior — psychologists call it the Hawthorne effect. The tension your daughter exhibits in the presence of your watchful gaze and helpful suggestions is probably not a permanent personality trait.


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