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LIVING FOR THE PRESENT

While Miss Manners bemoans the epidemic of greed that is spreading throughout society, others are trying to do something about it. As appalled as she at the demands of those who consider every occasion of their lives to be a fund-raising opportunity and their well-wishers as a source of income, they are thinking of ways to opt out.

The cheapest way would be to skip parties where they are told to fork over cash or certain items. What are the disappointed so-called hosts going to do about it -- turn over their gift registries to collection agencies?

But the anti-greed brigade is composed of nicer people. They honestly want to celebrate their friends' birthdays, graduations, engagements, weddings, housewarmings, babies and such, and would have thought of giving them presents had the celebrants not pre-empted this privilege. So they go along with the constant instructions to give and donate, only balking when encountering an particularly outrageous example. And there is no dearth of those. From the number of people who festoon their invitations with requests for specific goods and cash, you would think that panhandling had become one of the social graces.

Not to dignified people, of course. Miss Manners is grateful to find so many who refuse to forfeit their self-respect and are alarmed at the pressure to do so. Their acquaintances insist on interpreting their celebrations as demands for presents and demand, in return, that they finish the job by registering the particulars. To escape being greedy while not insulting their greedy friends, they adopt one of the following ploys:

Asking for donations to charity instead of presents.

Asking for something inexpensive or homemade.

Asking not to be given presents.

All of these ideas are unselfishly meant, and Miss Manners hates to throw a damper on them. But the first makes trouble when the guest disagrees with the worth of the designated cause, and the second when the guest considers the task to be a nuisance. The third is often now interpreted to mean that cash is expected rather than goods.

More importantly, all of them say, "You owe me, but I'm going to let you off easy." And they have transformed a gracious custom into a flat-out debt.

Here are options for the un-greedy:

Come to agreements with relatives and with the parents of other children about limits on exchanges.

Refrain from naming minor present-giving events on their invitations, and only announcing adult birthdays, engagements and anniversaries when the guests are assembled.

Accept whatever they get graciously, and then quietly give what they can to charity.

E-mail your questions to Miss Manners at MissManners@unitedmedia.com.

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