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If you are a social media regular, there is no way you could have missed seeing this report on a 5 year boy who is being sued for not attending a friend’s birthday party, after his parents had confirmed his presence! Here’s what happened - 5 year old Alex from Plymouth, England, was invited to his friend’s birthday party at a local ski park, where the activities included snow tubing, tobogganing and lunch and had a fee per child. As per reports, his parents confirmed but at the last minute, they realised that it was also the day they had to visit little Alex’s grandparents. They left the choice to Alex who chose to spend the day with the grandparents. The next thing they know, Alex comes home from school with an invoice for 15.95 pounds for “1 Child’s Party No Show Fee”. Some personal and several Facebook confrontations later, both sets of parents seem adamant to stick to their grounds and believe it or not, this dispute seems to be heading to court.
Simply hilarious I thought, not simply because of the absurdity of the situation and the fact that this makes viral news, but because I tried to imagine same incident in an Indian context! In a context where the very concept of a positive confirmation, an RSVP is laughable! In fact most people probably think RSVP is just a fancy way of listing your phone number or maybe an ‘in case of emergency’ contact. Who knew you had to actually CALL that number and CONFIRM your attendance. Thanks to our Prime Minister, RSVP has a new meaning - Rahul Sonia Vadra Priyanka and our movie makers in Punjab have added yet another dimension - Ronde Sare Viah Pichhon, yes it is a real movie, go Google! Who would believe RSVP was a super polite French phrase for ‘Respond, if you please’. So unless you chase your invited guests you will never know your expected numbers and even then, that number can at best be only a guestimate. Big bash birthday parties remain a mysterious world of suspense - you never know who will attend, when they arrive or when they will leave. I may be guilty of late RSVPs but I do RSVP all the same, because of basic social etiquette but more importantly as a helpful gesture to the hostess going crazy planning the party anyway.
So how do we deal with no shows in India? We just do, Atithi Devo Bhava and all. Etiquette set aside, these things happen and the right perspective has to be maintained. Kids get ill, parents forget, unexpected guests arrive or the child simply decides he is not in the mood to go! If I do a financial analysis of the 18 birthday parties I have organised for both my daughters, I could be laughing all the way to the bank if I start billing all my ‘no-shows.’ And what about all those siblings and cousins who turn up without warning? A ‘showed-without-warning’ penalty in the invoice for them, perhaps? Birthday party no show payment recovery - sounds like a business opportunity for the Shylocks out there!
Getting back to Alex and his invoice, there are as many points of view as there are parents. Yes, of course Alex’s parents should have made the effort to find the host’s phone number and conveyed their regrets, even at the last minute. If I plan to send my 5 year old for a birthday party, the first thing I will do is to make sure I have all possible contact details of the hosts and their aunts! Yes, of course billing the child sounds like a silly overreaction, especially since the establishment says they are flexible about no shows and the hosts could have adjusted the amount in the bar bill. And yes, of course the birthday child’s mother should have called Alex’s parents to express her annoyance instead of sending a bill. In fact the parents say that had the hostess called them first, they may have even considered paying it but it is the way she has gone about it that has upset them and made them adamant on their own stand. But whichever point of view, what is glaring in its absence is the personal touch. I mean, even heads of state get on the phone and talk before launching offensive air-missiles.
I’ve noticed the lack of a personal gesture in my children’s social circle as well and just do not understand it. Besides those coming from very close friends, most birthday invites will either appear as a card in the school bag or as a text, email, WhatsApp or even worse, as an image on Facebook where you have the honour of being tagged. And then nothing! I wish people could remember their smartphones have a ‘talk’ function as well. A written invite is necessary for getting the details right, GPRS location is extremely useful, but far more important is a personal phone call follow up to let a person know you would really like them to be at your party. I never have the heart to bail out on someone who has called me personally while it is so easy to SMS a ‘regret’ to an impersonal SMS party invite.
I know an amazing mother of three who home-organises each child’s party with mind-boggling detail. Her shortest guest list would have at least 100 children, but she still calls up each mother personally to invite them and then after the party, to thank them for coming. We are not all blessed with such super powers but it really does make all the difference. One cold wintery day, many years ago, we were all set for my daughter’s birthday party when the weather turned cold and rainy. I had already spoken with each guest previously, but called again to assure them that we would be indoors, warm and dry. It rained, even hailed and rained again but all my guests arrived. Many of them mentioned that they were chickening out because of the weather, but couldn’t do that after my personal calls. Party saved!
Alex’s parents are unlikely to pay and his friend’s parents will end up with nothing or maybe they already have got what they wanted with this ridiculous story going viral globally. Their craving for 15GB of fame has been encouraged by people like me who curiously clicked on the headline to find out more and now look; I’ve dragged you into it too. You’ll laugh and cluck in disapproval at the story and the silliness of it all but there is a sad part too - “Alex said his friend has stopped playing with him, the Herald reported.”