Q: I am often in a situation where I realize that the two people that I am talking to probably don't know each other or haven't been introduced. It seems so stuffy to say, "Jason, this is Emma. Emma, this is Jason." And should you always start the introduction with the "higher-ranking" person's name, or the newer person's name?
To avoid the above stuffiness, I will usually say, "Emma, have you met Jason?" but then I feel I might be insulting one of them by directing the question to only one. "Have you two met?" causes problems because then I am again faced with the stuffy, "Jason, this is Emma. Emma, this is Jason." What is a smooth way of making sure they know each other's names? Does any of this matter?
A: Stuffy? And, pray tell, exactly what, if you please, is wrong with being stuffy?
Miss Manners admits that her natural predilection for the stuffy has been stiffened by the way its opposite, "casual," has come to signal the sloppy and the uncaring. But even if she allowed you to get away with that slur, she could hardly imagine a plainer, simpler, more straightforward set of statements than "Emma, this is John Tweedledum. John, this is Sarah Tweedledee."
Yes, stuffy old Miss Manners has added their surnames. She finds it ridiculous to withhold half the identity if the introducer is to be of any use. And she has addressed the lady first, although a large difference in age also counts, and a 17-year-old Emma would be introduced to a 54-year-old Jason.
Those are small courtesies. What matters most is that you take it upon yourself to introduce people you know instead of letting them stand around awkwardly, and that you do so in the conventional way rather than struggling to reach for something original.
Invitation to disaster
Q: My parents are planning a party and had already invited the guests when they were subsequently invited to a different party, which they're dying to attend, on the same night.
What are the rules when it comes to canceling one's own party for another? Is it as rude as trying to get out of an invitation because you've been invited to something better? I think they want to pretend that they were already planning to go to the second party and made a mistake when scheduling their own.
A: No, it is not equally rude. It is ruder. The defaulting guest has inconvenienced his hosts, which is bad enough. Defaulting hosts have inconvenienced their entire guest list - which might contain people who might also have had better subsequent offers that they are now too late to accept.
Miss Manners supposes that the false excuse they propose is better than admitting that they want to enjoy a more interesting evening than they were planning to offer. And what are they planning to say when any of their own dismissed guests show up at the same party, knowing perfectly well when the invitations were issued?
Address your etiquette questions to Miss Manners, c/o the St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.