DEAR MISS MANNERS: My wife and I have a friend who often hosts gatherings at her home with an eclectic mix of people, including her next-door neighbors.
These neighbors are nice people, but my wife and I have only ever had lukewarm, perfunctorily polite exchanges with them. It’s just an “oil and water” personality dynamic — cordial at best. The feelings appear mutual.
They have a young son the same age as ours, and the boys have hit it off at these gatherings more than us parents have.
Our son was invited to spend the night and attend an amusement park the next day with this boy and his parents. He was excited, and our mutual friend enthusiastically facilitated these plans, so we agreed. We dropped our son off with money to cover park admission and any meals the following day.
When I went to pick up our son the next evening, it was explained that the park plans fell through and the boys instead had gone to a shopping center and spent the rest of the time playing at home. Funds used were minimal (one fast-food meal and a modest toy purchase).
When I politely asked the father about the leftover money, he was visibly taken aback. He explained that his wife had the cash we’d sent (she was out running errands), but that he could write a check. I replied that that was fine.
His demeanor conveyed irritation and inconvenience. In a decidedly less cordial tone from mine, he then itemized the amount of money my son had spent. And of course I said, “No problem at all; please deduct it from the total.” It was an icy and awkward exchange, for sure.
Was I wrong to request the balance of the funds be returned? We sent a considerable amount (around $100) with the expectation of a pricey outing that was changed without notifying us. The change in plans was fine, but we didn’t feel it was appropriate for them to keep the remaining $60-$70 that was intended for the initial plans. Were the situation reversed, I certainly would have returned the money.
Should I have let it go for the sake of etiquette? Is there a monetary threshold or friendship level where this would be acceptable?
I am not a cheapskate and am always generous with established friends and their families. I just don’t see giving a pass when these mere acquaintances changed the plans for a cheaper alternative and looked to pocket our son’s “fun money.”
GENTLE READER: Had you been better friends, you might have said that you would get the money later, when the wife returned. But this transaction was clearly not top of mind for them.
Miss Manners assures you that your behavior was reasonable. Presumably you will be able to avoid such awkwardness as your son gets older and can be trusted to keep track of the money himself. If not, at least you will have an easier time tracking him down.
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