Party Poopers

As today is my birthday, I thought this column from Annie’s Mailbox was appropriate.  Needless to say, this writer did not receive an invitation to my party.

Gifts at State Dinners are not expected - but invitations are.

Worst Guests Ever.

Dear Annie: Every year, friends of ours have birthday parties at their homes and at bars. We usually can’t go because of other obligations, but when we do go, are we obligated to bring a gift? Or is a birthday card with well wishes sufficient?

If gifts are not expected and it is simply a fun get-together, shouldn’t they say “no gifts”? We enjoy seeing friends, but by having these parties every year, it seems they are only interested in presents. To find a gift that costs only a few dollars is practically impossible. Is it wrong to feel this way? Can we just bring a card? Should we skip the party altogether? — B-Day Party Guest

Annie says:

Dear Guest: People who like to celebrate their birthdays are inclined to do so once every year. In most instances, these are very informal events. If the party is at a bar, you can treat the birthday celebrant to a drink. At their house, bring a snack or a bottle of something. It would be a shame to avoid all such parties because you are fixated on the presents. Go and have a good time.


First off, if your idea of a proper gift consists of something that can be had for a few dollars, trust me when I tell you that there is no way these friends of yours are inviting you to their parties for your presents. Considering the pettiness of your gripe, I doubt it’s your charm and winning social skills either.  If I were you, I’d be wondering less about what you should be bringing and more puzzled about why these friends of yours are inviting you in the first place.

In polite society, decent people bring something to the host of a party.  This is especially true for birthdays. You really should consider yourselves lucky if birthday parties  are the only gift giving events that you are obligated to attend.  My social calendar is chock-full of invitations that come with a gift as the price of admission – weddings, bridal showers, kids birthdays, Christmas parties, bar mitzvahs. The list goes on and on, and it only gets worse as you get older and your friends keep breeding.

Friendships are seemingly never-ending parade of obligations and inconveniences.   We put up with this crap because most people can see the long view and have a concept of reciprocity. What hippies call karma is real.  You give gifts to get them, and you get them by putting out your friends as much as they do you.

What your letter is really saying is that not only do you go to your friends parties and try to weasel your way out of giving them a gift for their effort, but you also don’t host your own damn parties making sure they return the favor. You are upsetting the natural balance of things, and that is the real cause of your frustration.

I mean seriously, you also have a birthday every damn year!  Stop complaining about how your friends are all grabby gift whores and do what they do.  Throw yourselves birthday parties. Everything will balance out, and the cash you spend on your friends will come back to you in equal measure in the form of gift cards to restaurants you hate, sweaters that don’t fit, and books you already have.

Hell, if they are dumb enough to keep inviting  you ungrateful little shits to their parties, you could probably get away with throwing yourselves to or even three birthday parties a year. Pop out a few kids, get divorced and remarried, and soon you’ll have an attic full of useless crap courtesy of your nearest and dearest.

When it comes to gifts, presentation is everything

When it comes to gifts, presentation is everything

One last thing to mention for my readers.  Stating “No Gifts” is the biggest no-win social situation there is.  It is a notice more often ignored than “wet paint” or “hot plate.”

There is always some asshole who ignores it and makes everyone look bad.  Worse, if most of your friends are assholes, there will undoubtedly be many gifts.  The writers of this letter obviously have no shame, but do you really want to be spending the entire party saying “I thought they said no gifts?” See what following clearly laid out instructions gets you?

There is a great defense to this passive aggressive ploy.  If you get one of these “your presence is our present” invites, gift wrap the biggest empty box that you can find  but (this is key)  leave it in your car. When you get to the party, if only one or two people have gifts, hang onto it for the next one.  If there are many gifts, loudly announce “I left mine in my car” and go get it. Chances are, the biggest box will be opened immediately.  When your host discovers it’s empty, simply say “you said no gifts, and that is no gift.”  The host will appreciate the joke, the people who brought real gifts will secretly envy that everyone liked your nothing better than their something, and the people who didn’t bring gifts will appreciate the vindication. Most importantly, everyone will know not to play mind games with you.

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