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Back to the Bottle 

How to handle freeloading friends and insulting acquaintances

Wednesday, Jan 19 2005
Dear Social Grace,

I read your column "Ban the BYOB" [Dec. 8, 2004], and you talked about asking people to bring their own alcohol to a party. My question is this: If you do BYOB, and there's still half a bottle left when you're set to go, can you take the bottle with you? On more than one occasion, I feel like a BYOB party host ended up with a lot more liquor than he started out with, effectively replenishing his own liquor supply by telling a bunch of people to come over and BYOB.

Brought Own Bottle But Want Bottle Back

Dear Bottle-Bearing Madam or Sir,

If you bring a food item or a bottle to a true potluck or BYOB party -- that is, if we're not talking about a host gift or a contribution that you've brought because you are a thoughtful guest -- then you may offer to collect your bottles and leftovers, along with the rest of your belongings, when the evening is over (saying, for instance, "Do you need help cleaning up? Here, let me gather up what remains of the wine I brought"). BYOB does stand for "Bring Your Own Bottle." In fact, thoughtful BYOB organizers will facilitate the process of matching people with their unfinished bottles when such a party draws to a close.

But at the BYOB parties I've been to (and I've been to many lovely ones), the organizers have generally supplied ice, mixers, snacks, and so on -- and have assumed responsibility for party preparation and cleanup -- so I haven't begrudged them the last drops in my bottle of Campari. And I'd be doing you a disservice if I didn't add that there are many people to whom your taking home the bottle you brought will seem, to put it as nicely as possible, a bit too thrifty.

Dear Social Grace,

I have the good fortune to get complimentary tickets to plays and concerts from time to time. My entertainment budget is rather modest, and this is the only way I have to enjoy the occasional night on the town with friends.

On one occasion my guest let me pay for the round of mandatory drinks. Another time, my four guests let me pay for my dinner after a play. Am I old-fashioned or would it have been appropriate for my guests to pay for me? I am only wondering, as I would never entertain the notion of broaching the subject with them.

Thank you,
Wondering in California

Dear Wondering Madam or Sir,

First things first: If you don't want to, or can't afford to, pay for an entire round of drinks, then you shouldn't offer to do so. When you're out with your friends, you're obligated to pay only for your own drinks or to make an effort to get a fair number of rounds. (Furthermore, be sure that the next time you offer a friend a "free" ticket that, in fact, requires a purchase, you make this requirement plain when you do your inviting.)

Second, if you share your free tickets with an expectation that you will profit by them -- by getting a free dinner, say -- then yes, you are old-fashioned. But you're also au courant. Unfortunately, that sort of tit-for-tat gift-giving never seems to go out of style.

Sure, it would've been nice if your friends had offered to buy your dinner, especially if going to a restaurant was their idea. In their place, I would probably feel that my expression of gratitude should include some sort of reciprocation, within my means. But when you invite friends to the theater, they don't automatically incur an obligation to feed you. (In fact, this scenario has many possible permutations: When I used to get occasional free tickets to local plays, I usually thought of the friend who consented to go along as doing me a favor.) I'm glad that your better instincts prevented you from broaching the subject.

Dear Social Grace,

I have been blessed and cursed with an unusual name. I take issue with people who laugh or immediately start searching for something that my name rhymes with and try to make a joke out of it. This truly hurts my feelings.

My question is, how do I gently let that type of person know that I find it disrespectful to make fun of a total stranger's name? I know that calling them on their rudeness is rude in and of itself and that it will solve nothing. Normally I simply ignore the comment and that person in the future for making such a bad first impression on me. Thank you, in advance, for your help.

Warmest regards,
Sini (which rhymes with one or two unfortunate words)

Dear Sini,

When a new acquaintance makes a social error that insults you, as when he or she makes a stupid joke about your name, the best thing to do is to ignore the comment, as you have done. I'd go further and suggest that you try to give that person a second chance to make a positive impression. (Some perfectly nice people just don't have good social sense.) Perhaps you can even help teach such people a lesson: A silent, slightly perplexed, level stare is a dignified way to express your distress, and it's discreetly corrective. (I almost always recommend silence over the "snappy comebacks" I'm often asked for.) For instance:

Idiotic new acquaintance: Hi, I'm Mary.

You: Good afternoon, Mary, I'm Sini.

Idiotic new acquaintance: Ha! Sini-weenie, Shirley Feeney! Are you a meanie?

You: (Pause for at least four seconds, slightly furrow your brow, and stare directly at Mary. Then clear your throat and pause for one more second before responding.) Ahem ... it's a pleasure. (Then smile -- forgivingly if you can.)

An alternative way to handle this might be to ask, "I'm sorry, but have we met before?" When she says no, you can say, with a smile, something like, "Oh, forgive me. The way you were joking about my name made me think that we must be on familiar terms." I warn you, though, that this type of response is difficult to get just right -- that is, in a tone that isn't unbecomingly peevish or sarcastic.

Dear Social Grace,

I am getting married in September, and our officiant is flying in from Florida to perform the ceremony. We have already paid for his flight, but is it also customary to handle the hotel room as well? How about rental car? We did buy him a thank-you gift, so I don't know if that makes a difference.

Thanks in advance,


Dear Loriann,

If you and the officiant have already agreed to terms, and he has accepted your offer -- his fee and a flight -- then no, you need not now add a hotel room as an "extra" on top of the customary token gift. It would seem that he feels your terms are acceptable as they are. In any business transaction (and that's what this is, at its root), such matters should be settled beforehand. If you haven't yet discussed his payment, he will certainly inquire about lodging if he expects it as part of his fee (of course, you should make suggestions as to appropriate hotels and so on, even if he doesn't).

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Social Grace


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