DEAR MISS MANNERS: The museum I work for is having what they call a “gala.” They are sending invitations to the event, but charging for the admissions, and there will be a cash bar.
Is that appropriate? The museum does not need the money. What do you think?
GENTLE READER: A museum that does not need money? Miss Manners’ head is reeling. She gathers that you do not work in its financial office.
It is certainly true that business and social customs have become dreadfully mixed, to the detriment of both realms. Work often requires compulsory pseudo-socializing, such as birthday parties and after-hours drinking, while private life can come with demands for direct contributions from guests, whether in food or cash.
But what you describe is at least a frank fundraiser, unlike, for example, a wedding that pretends to be purely social and yet asks the guests to contribute money to something like a “honeymoon fund.”
In contrast to an invitation from friends or relatives that turns out to have a price tag, the gala offers a straight deal. Those who buy tickets are not fooled into thinking they are being invited out of friendship. They know that they are paying, as well as making a contribution to the museum, in return for an evening out.
So the comparison should be more like that of a restaurant or club, where people understand that they may or may not choose to pay to be entertained.
Supporters of the museum may push their social contacts to buy tickets. But such pressure is an unfortunate fact of modern life, and must be resisted. In any case, the mere existence of the paid gala is not to blame.
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