Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What to Do When a Guest Invites Herself

This question arrived recently from a loyal reader....

Oh, Grace.... Advise me, please.

Several neighbors have gotten together to plan a block party. I was out this evening distributing the flyers, and saw a neighbor outside. He keeps an inconsistent schedule but is well known and liked and I was specifically told invite him. I handed him a flyer and mentioned the block party. There was woman sitting next to him who I'd never seen before. She asked for one, saying she lived a couple blocks away. I had only been given the exact number of flyers for our block, so I had no extras, and I explained that this is the first year to try the event so the organizers decided to limit it to just our block.

The woman said it was rude to invite him but not her (I knew this, but given my week long hunt for this elusive neighbor, I was willing to risk a bit of rudeness to get the invitation delivered.) She told me that she does a lot of community work and it's good to invite people from the wider neighborhood so they could all get acquainted. She even started rattling off names of people that she knows on my block. After emphasizing again that this is the first year we're doing this on our block, that we want to keep it small and see how it goes, I told her the date and said she could stop by, and walked away.

How should I have handled it? And why do people want to be invited to events clearly not intended for them?

With thanks,
Block party Block head

Dear BPBH,

That kind of pushy, preachy, know-it-all busybody really chips my polish, which is currently a rather fetching shade called Plumberry, recommended to me by my fashionista sister.

Allow me to pause for a deep cleansing breath and a rejuvenating sip of something to steady my nerves. Ok, ready to go.

You certainly landed in the soup--a living, breathing embodiment of the 'no good deed goes unpunished' adage.

I share your pain; I found myself in a similar situation last month with regard to the end-of-the-season softball pizza party for my daughter's team. Having offered to host the soiree and provide all food and drink, I invited the team and coaches only. I made this abundantly clear in the invitation email, and explained that I would wait at the door at arrival and departure times so parents would not have to park or take too much time with logistics.

Twelve of the 13 families understood, accepted, and abided by this; the 13th family showed up late: Mom, Dad, softball player and evil twin tots, and while I explained that they could pick Isabella up at 7:30, they looked aghast. The two little devils had already run into my house shouting for pizza. I stood firmly at the door and said I'd be sure to have their daughter ready so they did not have to wait. The mother looked mutinous, shouted to her demonic twins, "Damien, Sybil, we're not allowed to stay," and left in a huff. The thing was, if she received the email informing her about the pizza party's time and place, then also contained in said email was the fact that the invitation was only issued to the daughter with clear instructions on drop off and pick up. I found it most puzzling.

That night I, too, asked the question that you pose: "Why would people want to attend a party to which they are not invited?" It truly is a mystery for the ages, along the lines of "why do people still wear pleated pants?" and "where do the socks go that are eaten by the dryer".

But onto your dilemma....

It was awkward to invite the neighbor in front of someone else, but I understand your need to grab him whilst he was available given your description of his irregular hours.

One alternative would have been to fold the flyer and hand it to him, saying something like "I don't want to interrupt you, but have a look at this when you have some time and call if you have questions." Then walk briskly away, leaving Ms. Gate Crash no opportunity to invite herself. (Given her pushiness, I can't assure you that this would have worked). Or, say something like, "I don't want to burst into your conversation, but I've been trying to drop this to you--for your eyes only--and I haven't seen you in a few days." It wouldn't hurt to give him a little wink with the 'for your eyes only' line. The only other possibility would have been to skulk unobtrusively around until Ms. GC left, then rush the chap. But, given the fact that you are undoubtedly a busy woman, this suggestion might be impractical.

Once the cosmo is out of the glass and dripping down your blouse, as it were, all you can do is damage control.

Here are some suggested phrasings, in decreasing order of Graciousness, that you might have tried: (though, again, given her lack of Grace, I can't guarantee their efficacy.)

  • I really am sorry, but as it's the first time we're trying this event, we're limiting it to just our block. I'll be glad to take your suggestion back to the committee and let them know that there is potential interest for an expanded version next year.
  • I was given only the exact amount of invitations for our block, so I am sure that the event is for our block only. I apologize for handing this to Joe in front of you; I've been looking for him all week and he hasn't been here so I took the opportunity to deliver this to him now. Since I am just the courier, I didn't construct the guest list, and I'm not in a position to expand it.
  • Don't shoot the messenger.
  • I believe house #123 on our block is for sale. If you can close by Saturday the 30th, you're welcome to join us.
  • I am not in the habit of issuing invitations to total strangers, nor am I accustomed to being lectured on rudeness by someone who just invited herself to a party. Good Day.

But, ultimately, you were a Grace thrust into a gruntly situation, which hovered dangerously close to a scene. You know how we Graces feel about making scenes: chew the tongue off first. You avoided this and told her she could stop by. Unfortunately, the Way of the Grace can be a challenging one, for we are often forced to compensate for the bad behavior of others. But remember, the high ground is a better place to tread, even if it means we have to open the cooler for the undeserving occasionally.

I hope your block party is rollicking good fun, devoid of molded jello salad, and replete with conviviality. And maybe Ms. Gate Crash will come down with a summer flu or prodigious poison ivy. Fingers crossed.

Speaking of awkwardness around invitations, nobody does it better than Larry David.....

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