The Politics Of Parties: You Are Cordially Invited…
Earlier this month, in what I can only suppose was a moment of madness, a couple fired off an invoice for £15.95 to the parents of a child who failed to show up for their young son’s birthday party – and what should have remained a private spat between two families suddenly went viral, with everyone absolutely sure who the goodies and the baddies are in this sorry tale of modern life.
For this is a very modern tale, one that couldn’t have been told in the days before computers, ridiculously expensive children’s parties and increasingly bad manners.
Of course the couple was wrong, rude even, to demand payment for a kid’s party if they hadn’t made it clear in the first place that this was a possibility. (They were probably wide of the mark in having a ski party for a five year old, too, but that’s another story.)
However – and I’m inclined to believe them – the invoicing parents insist that contrary to the no-show couple’s protests, all contact details were on the invitation, because places for the party had to be reserved in advance, requiring a prompt reply. Despite accepting, this youngster then decided he had something better to do on the day (or his parents decided it for him) and snubbed his friend, without having the manners to let him know.
Of course, this saga wouldn’t have happened when children thought themselves lucky to get balloons and pass the parcel at parties, but kids are not the only culprits here.
For some reason, an inflated sense of entitlement leads many adults to behave in this way. In my flat-sharing days in London for instance, we all got wise to PBOs (friends who were always Pending Better Offers) who never committed to a social engagement, even if costly theatre tickets were at stake.
For this reason, one friend of mine never sent written invitations; instead she would leave a phone message saying ‘I’ve got an invitation for you’, which usually aroused the other’s curiosity into phoning back. Sadly, even a verbal acceptance didn’t always mean that the person showed up, but at least they couldn’t protest that their invitation ‘must have got lost in the post.’
But those issuing invitations are not always as polite as they should be, either. I remember being asked to a ‘do’ at a restaurant, only to be asked at the end to split the bill and pay for the birthday celebrant, along with a subsidy for another guest’s prodigious wine consumption, when no mention of cost had been made at the outset.
And while expecting a firm reply may sound quaintly old-fashioned, it’s a fact that many social gatherings involve a great deal of effort and expense and are better for a bit of planning. Of course there should be room for spontaneity, but we’ve all sat through supper parties that were mind-numbingly dull because the hosts’ attempts to get the ‘chemistry’ right were stymied by a late change to the guest list or because proceedings were held up waiting for the bon viveurs who never arrived.
You’d think that we would all grow out of wanting to give the impression that we are hugely in demand, but even in middle-age I know of one woman who is blacklisted from party lists for her habit of ‘having flu’, and a divorced man notorious for accepting invitations, only to dump his children on the hosts, so that he can ‘meet a deadline’ at work.
Unbelievably, even weddings are not immune from casual observance of social proprieties. Some people let their friends down even on their Big Day, a lapse in manners that surely merits an invoice – or at least a request for a charitable donation equivalent to the cost of the uneaten meal.
Maybe the party boy’s parents’ action was excessive, but my guess is that the other Mum and Dad were too cowardly, lazy or rude to admit that they or their son simply couldn’t be bothered. You don’t just not turn up.
Did they not consider the feelings of the young host? Shouldn’t they be teaching their own son the courtesy of replying to an invitation and then keeping to his word?
And did either couple really need to share their story with several thousand of their closest friends via social media?