Friday, June 12, 2009

A little bit of give, and a little bit of take....

It seems like the art of generous giving and gracious accepting--and reciprocation--is one that's being quickly lost in favor of careful bookkeeping and Dutch-going. Here's what I mean:

DEAR ABBY: I am a 43-year-old professional woman with a good job. I was recently invited by a friend to join her and her parents on a four-day mini-vacation trip. I accepted with the understanding that I would share food and hotel expenses.

Her father insisted on paying for every meal and excursion, and refused my offers to pay for anything. This made me very uncomfortable, since I was not expecting a free ride. I gave my friend some money and asked her to repay her father after I had left, but I still feel awkward about the whole thing.

Abby, what is the proper etiquette for such situations? -- CAN PAY MY WAY IN TENNESSEE

DEAR CAN PAY: Your friend's father is obviously a man of means, who could afford to treat you and did not feel comfortable allowing you to pay for the meals and hotel expenses. It is possible that he comes from the "men pay for everything" generation. While you may be too young to remember, it's the one that grew into adulthood before the women's rights movement.

Rather than having given your friend money to pass along to her dad, a better solution would have been to send her parents a lovely gift with a letter included, thanking them for their generosity.

Of course this woman didn't EXPECT her expenses to be covered, but if her hosts insisted, it seems to me that the thing to do would be to thank them profusely (but not excessively!), enjoy herself, and afterward send them a letter and gift, as Abby suggests. It would have been ideal if she could have treated for a special meal out or something, but it sounds like her friend's parents would have made this impossible.

I understand why this would have made her uncomfortable, but how much MORE uncomfortable is it to tussle over the check (I think anything more than just two volleys of "no, I insist" counts as a "tussle"), ending every meal in awkward debate between people who don't know each other well, and excessive reflection on the cost, rather than the experience?

I think it's weird that the writer was defensive about the fact that she "can pay [her] way," and that even Abby attributed the host's generosity to, basically, chauvinism. More likely it's less about women not being able to pay than about his being a father treating his daughter and daughter's friend to a trip.

I think it's too bad that someone being magnanimous and generous seems commonly to lead to feelings of guilt, awkwardness, and a desire to mathematically even the playing field as soon as possible--thus, cash surreptitiously stuck into pockets, rather than a letter, gift or invitation to dinner in the coming weeks. Trying to "pay someone back" for an invitation or gift seems almost more offensive than not thanking them at all.

Ok, that's not true. Very little would be more offensive than not thanking them at all. But still.

The exception would be, I guess, if you know the hosts can't afford it, and so their insisting on picking up the tab ruins everyone's fun--I actually was just speaking to a family friend who has this problem with her father.

Of course we should be mindful and thankful when others go out of their way for us. It's a gift and a privilege to be treated or hosted on occasion, and one we should recognize, honor, and reciprocate (however we can). But refusing to accept it--in other words, rejecting the other person's generosity--takes away from the joy of giving all together.

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