Monday, 19 January 2015

On birthday party etiquette

I've been jolted out of my blogging ennui by an article in The Guardian this morning, about the parents of a five year old who were sent an invoice by the parents of another child, for missing the latter's birthday party.  The family were charged15.95 for failing to show up at a party at the Plymouth Ski Slope and Snowboard Centre.

I'm appalled, amused and fascinated by this story in equal measures, not least because people not replying to invitations, or replying and then failing to show, is a subject close to my heart. In the US I experienced this a few times as the host of a party. (I also experienced people turning up with other siblings at the sort of party where they do a headcount and you pay per child, and letting them join in. Which is arguably even more infuriating.)

The lack of manners always infuriated me -- in fact, I once telephoned round all the parents who hadn't replied, only to realise I had myself committed something of a cultural faux pas by organising a birthday party on Mother's Day. Which, I now know, is a completely no-go date in the States. But still.

Another time, a mother replied to our invitation at midnight the night before our party - to say yes, her child could come. But in the morning, sent another email saying he couldn't. We wondered if she'd been drunk when she sent it the first time, then in the cold light of day couldn't face the party....

Nevertheless, to send an invoice? It seems a bit much. Yes, sixteen quid is a lot of money, but how about finding out first if there was a good reason that the child hadn't showed. (Looks like there wasn't by the way. Some rather nebulous story about not knowing how to contact the parents and cancel).

But there's something else going on here. It's the fact that we feel pressurized to throw this kind of expensive party for a five year old. It's no longer good enough to hold it in your house, play a few games of pass the parcel and eat some sandwiches and birthday cake.(Another anecdote - we once did have this kind of party, and heard via the parents how much the kids all loved it. To them it was a novelty). We feel forced into shelling out for party venues, who in turn see us as a captive market and rachet up their prices.

I bet a bunch of five year olds on a ski slope was a total nightmare, by the way. No wonder the poor mother was furious.


Expat mum said...

I've just blogged about this too. Unbelievable! Technically, the mother isn't even out of pocket 'cause she would have paid if the boy hd shown up. Isn't that an inherent risk of throwing a party? Even at home, you could end up with far too much food - another waste of money.
I'm guessing there won't be too many people RSVPing yes to next year's party.

London City Mum said...

Have just read both your posts after catching up the news (on radio AND in papers here, obviously not much going on today), and have an adult version of this to share: a few years back we invited a select few friends to join us for a meal out (at our expense) at a local restaurant for my 40th.

Everyone RSVPd in good time, except one couple who said only one of them would be able to come because - get this - the mother was accompanying their daughter (then aged EIGHT) to a schoolfriend's birthday party. In a castle. Over the weekend. In France.
Talk about keeping up with the Jones. A case of private school parenting gone mad.

Oh, and guess what? Yup, the husband never showed up. And he has the numbers of all of us - including the other friends who were there - on his phone.

Now that's bad manners.
But we did not invoice him for his (missed) meal.
That would have been akin to lowering ourselves to the same level.


Nota Bene said...

I can live with bad manners (well sometimes anyway, and I bet I've let people down at least once), but what horrified me about this story was that it is the perfect reflection of how people deal with problems these days. Send an invoice...a complete nonsense...really horrifying, and what a dreadful way to behave. If someone let's you down, don't invite them next time. It's that simple...and the way discourtesy has been dealt with down the ages. As for threatening to take them to court, what is that about - you'd never be able to prove a contract is in existence even if they've accepted initially...and, and, and courts are a last resort for when there is something seriously wrong, not for when you get a bit hot under the collar. Stupid, stupid, stupid. It makes me so angry that people think this is even remotely reasonable.

Clare Taylor said...

Insane. They're crazy. Maybe we'll just stay in Moscow...

Knackered Mother said...

Wow, amazing. How did it ever get like this with children's parties?!

Expat mum said...

With all the craziness in the USA, I have to say I've never heard of anyone doing this. Takes British "passive aggressive" to a new level! LOL

Muddling Along said...

I can't believe people are paying £16 for a birthday party (and feeling quite impressed we avoided it) - this year we ended up with an additional sibling DESPITE having explained that we were absolutely limited in numbers and there was no way we could take just one more - yes I had to pay, yes I had to deal with the upset organisers, yes I am holding a grudge, no I didn't ask her to pay!