DEAR MISS MANNERS: We have about a dozen fruit trees at our home. We fertilize, prune and care for them ourselves. When the fruit is on the trees, we have invited a few specific people, usually from our church, to come pick some.
When I invited one church member to come and get some fruit, imagine my surprise when she arrived with a caravan of folks, none of whom I knew! The person I’d invited said, in a very loud voice in front of everyone, “Well, you can see I brought friends.”
One of the children in the group was climbing the trees, and I was horrified — especially since lawyers in our area like to heavily advertise the large settlements they win for clients.
This group nearly stripped the trees. Obviously, I will never invite her again, but is there anything that I could have said to discourage this at the time?
GENTLE READER: As your church acquaintance was smugly aware of her rudeness, the only thing Miss Manners would have done is agreed with her: “Yes, we weren’t expecting such a large crowd and thorough picking of our fruit. It looks like we may not have enough left for the pie I was hoping to make for everyone later. The children would have particularly enjoyed it after their exhausting and dangerous climbs.”
DEAR MISS MANNERS: At the age of 85, I have a number of digestive problems, including acid reflux and lactose intolerance.
I am fortunate to have many friends at this age and stage of life, and while I enjoy getting together for dinner, I prefer to avoid eating at people’s homes. I know the host/hostess will go to a great deal of trouble to prepare food, and I am often unable to eat it.
Announcing my situation in advance can cause a problem for the hosts, who choose to allow it to dictate the menu. Not explaining my problem causes me great embarrassment when confronted with a plate of food I cannot eat.
How can I gracefully respond to these invitations without revealing my food issues and answering a barrage of questions? I don’t like making an issue of what I can and cannot eat.
Refusing the invitation without giving an honest reason seems to convey not wanting to get together. Responding that I am unavailable at the date/time suggested often is met with an offer to change the date/time. Suggesting that we meet in a restaurant instead seems rude, since I am controlling and changing their plans.
How would you handle these invitations in my position?
GENTLE READER: While Miss Manners does not usually condone hijacking invitations, yours is a good reason for an exception.
“You know what? It has been too long since I have had you and the tree-shaping club over for dinner. Why don’t we do it at my house this time?”
Yes, you are still usurping plans, but in a gracious way. And it is far more appetizing, as you say, than telling them the real reason behind the change.