Friday, 24 March 2017

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 24 March

Is it ever acceptable to invite someone to an event and then ask for cash upfront?

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
Baby showers are one of those traditions from over the pond, which I am not sure I altogether agree with. What is the protocol?

I have been invited to the baby shower of a friend’s daughter. I accepted the invitation a month ago and have bought a gift. Then yesterday I received an email from the organiser, who isn’t a member of the family, which said, ‘Look forward to seeing you… The cost will be £19.95, which includes afternoon tea and a glass of bubbles.‘

Is it me or is it incredibly rude to ask someone to an event without making it clear that you expect them to pay? I would be interested to know your opinion. Am I just being old-fashioned?
Margaret Beattie, Tufnell Park, London

Dear Margaret,
No, I don’t think you’re being old- fashioned at all. There are two issues here: 1) Whether baby showers are a good thing, and 2) Being charged without warning to attend a social occasion of any kind.

The second might seem more straightforward: it’s perfectly outrageous. If any payment is expected, this must be signalled in advance. But I wonder about the decorum of even asking in certain cases. As far as I can tell, charging, both with and without notice, is not a feature in the United States, the home of the baby shower. You would think baby showers are in the same category as christenings, weddings and funerals – i.e., not chargeable. Can you imagine at a funeral some ferocious monitor demanding £19.95 for access to the wake?

Of course, there might be extreme cases where people really are very hard up and guests will willingly make a reasonable contribution to the event.

In this case, it’s much harder to see what you can do about it. Anything involving money is likely to be treacherous. If you make a scene about it, you’ll be marked down as mean. Besides, you might not want to spoil the whole thing if you like the mother-to-be and her family. You could choose to ignore the request for payment and turn up regardless – it all rather depends on the particular circumstances.

But what do we think of the American custom of baby showers anyway? The British idea is that we’d like to see the baby before we give it anything. The shower feels just a teeny bit grasping, although useful if you’ve no budget for baby things. But I do see that we could do with a stronger tradition of practical gifts for babies. On the first visit, clothes (your own knitting and smocking?), little bootees, sheepskin mats, drinking cups, mobiles to hang over the cot, etc. Later, if there is a christening or equivalent, toys and outfits for the older child. Christenings seem to occur these days when the offspring are practically grown up. Whatever, silver cups and Premium Bonds as presents have had their day.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER


I didn’t like to put a nasty word in the heading, but I mean dog-poo bags left hanging from trees in the countryside. I’ve mentioned this before, and Clare Balding, on her Radio 4 programme ramblings, was furious when she came across examples while walking in Wales.

Our own dear Mary Killen, on Gogglebox in February, mentioned a council that is encouraging dog-poo snoopers to upload videos of offenders to ‘PooTube’ (as she called it) with the possibility of a financial reward. So I was going to revisit the whole sorry scene, but now Conservative MP for St Albans, Anne Main, has intervened at the highest level. In a debate on plastic bag pollution, she advocated the ‘stick and flick’ method. In other words, don’t bother with the bag when out in the country. Get your dog to ‘go’ in under-growth or somewhere off the path. If it doesn’t cooperate, ‘flick’ the consequences to a place where persons are unlikely to penetrate and cover with leaves. finally, common sense.

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