08 February 2015


Dear Abbies

So we've rung in the new liturgical year, the new Gregorian year, and the new Julian year, and we're closing in on the lunar new year and not only do I still not have a word for 2015, but I'm still thinking about issues related to 2014's word!

I came up with the perfect caption to tie this image to my post
. . . but had to reconsider it =P

Take this story from work, which made me wonder what you would do in the same situation. (Yes, you, dear reader!) Happily, I wasn't directly involved--so we'll be brainstorming answers in the combox together!

* * * * *

I work with a man who has an unusual way of celebrating his birthday at the office. About two weeks in advance, he tells his friends among our colleagues that he's going to have a celebration, and asks them to bring some food to it. An invitation would go like this: "My birthday is on Friday and I'm going to have a small party in the office break room. Would you bring some fried chicken for the party, please?"

Everyone was happy to say yes the first time . . . and the second time . . . but by the third time, it was getting really weird . . .

For one thing, his idea of party planning goes against the Philippine custom of you being the one who feeds everyone else. It's not unheard of for a birthday celebrant to bring ten people to a restaurant and then pick up the entire tab! And my friends and I giggled for weeks after the stingiest member of our circle organised his big bash by making sure each of his guests got exactly one slice of pizza, one buffalo wing, and one tall glass of soda: the perfect compromise between a cultural tradition and his personal values! LOL!

For another thing, this colleague of mine also makes a point to invite certain people whom he is otherwise unfriendly to (and snide about behind their backs) the rest of the year, because he is certain that they'll be so happy to be included that they'll bring whatever food he asks them to bring!

Anyway, this had been going on for five years when my closest friend in the office got her annual invitation last month. She had already been dreading it--firstly because she finds the celebrant's behaviour very entitled and rude, and secondly because she has been tightening her belt since her daughter in uni lost the scholarship they had been relying on. So when the celebrant (who knows about the daughter's scholarship) asked her to contribute the couscous salad that she sometimes sells for extra money in the office cafeteria, she tried to get away with a generic "Money has been really tight for me lately . . ." She didn't expect his reply.

"That's okay. You don't have to bring something expensive. Bring anything."

Totally flummoxed that he didn't accept her first answer, she tried again . . . and failed again. For he knew that she wasn't literally unable to bring anything, and kept reassuring her that even a single bag of crisps (the "budget" potluck contribution, I suppose) would be okay. At which point, my friend realised that the only way to continue to argue would be to say exactly what she thought of the way he organises his parties--and you know that a Filipino wouldn't do that. =P (She complained about him behind his back instead, which is how I know the story. LOL!)

And the plot continues to thicken, dear readers, for there was a second woman in the office who has been feeling turned off by the celebrant's behaviour for some time, though she didn't actually want to confront him about it, either. So when he invited her and requested her signature squid adobo for the party, she said:

"I'm sorry, but I really can't afford to bring anything. I'm on a tight budget this month, and I'll have only _____ in my wallet for that week."

What she named was a ridiculously small amount--so small that she was obviously lying. But by naming it, she also drew a line in the sand that would have been bad form for the celebrant to cross. And that really offended him, as he revealed to the first woman afterwards.

"There's no way I'm going to believe that she only has _____ to spare for that week. She moonlights as a caterer and I know for a fact that last month was great for her. It's unbelievable for her to say she can't cook something for my party when she has been doing well cooking for other people's parties. And it's not even as if she had to bring the squid adobo. You told me you couldn't bring the couscous salad and I told you that you could bring anything else, right?"

My friend was even more turned off by his reaction, but again, and for the same reasons, she didn't say anything to him. And on the day of his party, she brought a quick dessert that she whipped up at home with leftover graham crackers and a bag of marshmallows that I know the exact price of because she needed to rant to someone. (LOL!) As for our other colleague, she brought the squid adobo anyway, saying that she had managed to make room for it in the budget after all. (Another obvious lie, but I guess she felt that she had made her point the first time. =P I'm not too sure about that, though.)

So what do you think, readers? Let's back up to two weeks before the party. You're one of the celebrant's friends and like him well enough, but you're not thrilled with the way he celebrates his birthday--and you know you're not the only one in the office who thinks so. He swings by with the invitation. What do you say???

Image Source: Times Square ball 31 December 2014


Bob Wallace said...

Here, I would just bury the guy in my backyard with all the rest who annoyed me.

Enbrethiliel said...


You definitely wouldn't even have been invited to the party! LOL!

But that's part of the trick, too. Maybe he only makes friends with people whom he know will give him what he wants in the end. The first woman and I agreed that if she had told him what she thought, she wouldn't have been invited to the next party.

Brandon said...

I suspect there's not much to do beyond pointing out to him that he can't and shouldn't expect other people regularly to contribute on his own terms. What everyone has done so far has established rather conclusively that his approach absolutely works! Hints are not going to suffice in the face of his actual experience.

Entropy said...

Does he not know Phillipine culture? I might pull him aside to say, hey, this is seen as kinda rude but everyone is just too passive-aggressive to say anything. We'd be happy to celebrate your birthday but it should be optional to bring something.

Either that or everyone in the office should require him to bring something for their bdays. Maybe he wouldn't mind though and it would backfire!

Jenny said...

I know someone just like this. Thankfully I'm not in the position anymore to have to deal with it. I always talk big but when faced with confrontation I usually just lie and say I can't go. Of course if it was at work that wouldn't be an option. The guy sounds like a tool.

Sheila said...

All of the parties in my social group are always potluck, because none of us can afford to feed the rest! (Ironic, since we host roughly equal numbers of parties, so it would seem it would balance out ... but there's a difference between spending $10 for a party once a month and spending $100 to feed everyone once a year!)

Me, I would decline. I have declined parties because I was unable to bring something. It's hard to find a nice way to say that ... but standard around here is to say you are too busy/too stressed / have other plans for lunch that day. Because if you say "I am too poor to bring something," they are obliged to say, "Oh, don't worry about it, your presence is enough!" Which is a lie, because they will then have to make more food to make up for you.

The other option is to bring something obviously cheap, which I see is what she did. Perhaps everyone who is having these behind-the-back conversations should agree to bring only very cheap things. Think of how much you'd spend on lunch in an average day, and not spend much more than that. So, crackers perhaps? I don't know what "cheap food" in the Philippines looks like. But not something that takes hours in the kitchen either -- he ought to know not everyone has that kind of time!

But think, is everyone then going to complain because there's nothing at the party but crackers?

Potlucks are fun. You can make your signature dish and get to enjoy everyone else's, and it's a cheap way to throw a party that otherwise wouldn't be happening at all.

My wicked side suggests that everyone should follow suit and have birthday parties for themselves, and invite him to all of them. See if he really likes it when it's turned around! But maybe that would end in everyone finding out how fun potlucks are and making it a regular habit. Which wouldn't be a bad thing, now would it?

Paul Stilwell said...

Sure, I'll bring not only a cloak but a tunic as well.

And then I would think no more on it.

mrsdarwin said...

Miss Manners would have an absolute heyday with this one, and I think her response would be that as no one is entitled to presents, no one has a right to expect that someone else is planning to give them one. (This was so thoroughly engrained in me at an impressionable age -- probably by reading Miss Manners's syndicated column in the paper -- that I'm still surprised yearly when my inlaws send me birthday presents.) A host may make a suggestion of a dish to bring if a guest asks, "Can I bring a dish?" but to expect it as the price of admission is totally gauche.

So, one response would simply be to say, "I'm sorry I'm not able to attend." No host has the right to ask why, and that makes the point. If you particularly want to attend, or if there's too much drama in the office if you don't attend, then you are under no obligation to bring anything. However, if everyone else is bringing something, it does get a bit socially awkward to show up with nothing, but again, you are under no obligation to tell the host what you're bringing under these circumstances.

One rule of thumb is that you don't have to explain a dismissal. "I'm sorry, I'm not able to attend. I'm unavailable that day. I have a previous obligation." Etc. The less details you give, the less abilities he has to make a rebuttal -- and that's also Responding to Telemarketers 101.

cyurkanin said...


{deleted uncharitable and mildly violent rant}

I like Bob's posts the more I read them.

Enbrethiliel said...


Brandon -- That's true! Actions speak louder than words . . . especially when no one is willing to say the words!

Entropy -- He's Filipino himself, so he has no excuse! LOL! I think he feels it's okay because he doesn't ask for gifts. (Granted, asking for food--and requiring it--is even worse!) And in fairness to him, I also think that he'd be okay with bringing food to other people's parties, though this is a theory that will never be tested. =) And in fairness to his friends, they didn't get turned off until he started inviting people they knew he couldn't stand, as a way to get more food. If I were one of his friends and decided it was time to take him aside, that's the point I would bring up with him.

Jenny -- Luckily for me, I'm not close to him at all, so I don't have to worry about him on an intimate level!

Sheila -- I like potluck in principle and wouldn't mind going to several a year--all the better to show off several nice dishes! ;-) (It's also one of those exotic American things I've always wanted to do! LOL!) But since we don't have potluck in our culture--and it isn't even a ritual in the celebrant's circle of friends--one person expecting it for his birthday year after year seems entitled. (Especially when he asks people whom he doesn't like to join, just so there will be more food!)

There was a bit of a problem at the party when two other people who were told they could bring "anything" both came with big bowls of plain white rice. LOL! As you might know, rice is a Philippine staple and served with nearly every meal (including some snacks!), but no one ever eats only rice.

Stilwell -- Well, that gives me something new to think about!

Mrs. Darwin -- The second woman followed the rule of thumb . . . sort of. There was no way he could argue with her about how much money she really had. But while it got her off the hook . . . kind of . . . it didn't solve the problem.

I'm starting to think that Entropy is right: this kind of situation really calls for a friend who will take the guy aside and explain how everyone feels about what he is doing.

Christopher -- LOL!

Itinérante said...

Sometimes truth works miracles! I would probably try to explain clearly that he cannot do that to other people and how this is inconsiderate.
I would decline the invitation if I really could not afford it or do not want to join simply but in case I went and got what he asked me to, I would not nag about it.

Sheila said...

Are you *sure* it's just to get more food? Or does he hope it will be a more fun party for everyone if more people are there? Does he feel bad about inviting the rest of the office and then excluding a few because of personal dislike? I certainly would!

Charity principle says, put the best possible spin on others' actions.

Enbrethiliel said...


Itinerante -- It would be interesting to see how things would play out differently if his friends were honest about what they felt!

Sheila -- Given how little I know of him, the charitable spin is perfectly plausible. But what I've written here is the opinion of our mutual friend, who interacts with him a lot more than I do. She said he badmouths the others a lot the rest of the year and is only nice to them on his birthday, so that's the conclusion she and his other friends have drawn. As for exclusion, most of the office is already excluded--including me! =P