Bow out gracefully?
July 25, 2015 8:45 AM   Subscribe

The wife of one of my office' higher ups has a birthday coming up, and a colleague's wife is planning a lavish birthday blast. Can I bow out early without hurting anyone's feelings?

Someone very high up in my workplace sometimes invites people he likes to his house, where his wife makes dinner and dessert for everyone. It's always delicious, and she usually gives us leftovers. (Boyfriend and I have only been there twice.)
Now, her birthday is coming up, and my colleague's wife is planning a big shindig. We're all going to a restaurant that's not super expensive for Swiss standards, but more expensive than where I'd normally eat (e.g. a Gin Fizz is 16 CHF), and to top it off, there's only one vegetarian main dish and one vegetarian soup entrée. I could afford it, though.

My colleague's wife has also ordered a 200 CHF cake without asking anyone, now expecting us all to split the bill, plus a huge bouquet of flowers. I'm torn between being annoyed by this and feeling like I should be grateful she's planning this. (I wouldn't even have known it's the lady's birthday, I've only been here a couple of months, whereas colleague and wife hang out with higher-up and his wife much more often and for a longer time.)

The other problem is, I live far away, so I couldn't stay long in order to get enough sleep to function the next day. Not everyone from work is going, and I know that my interim boss will come down super hard on me if I'm not 110% on top of my game the next day. (She is on the war path these days - last week, she was bullying our poor receptionist who has just had a heart attack.) I don't want to seem rude by bowing out early, or interrupt the party. Can I just go, toast, give her her present and leave after the main course? Can I leave before the main course if it takes people ages to order?

I am really grateful to the lady for her kindness as well, and would love to celebrate her birthday. I just don't want to be berated at work for being tired - my boss is really, really strict these days. (My colleagues work under different bosses, most of whom will probably be there, but I doubt anyone invited mine because she's awful.)

What is the most graceful thing to do here? (And for next year, how can I offer my help for planning in a way that doesn't make me look cheap? I'm pretty sure not everyone is thrilled by the expense, but I've not heard any complaints yet.)
posted by LoonyLovegood to Human Relations (16 answers total)
Could you find somewhere to sleep that is closer to the event/work?
posted by biffa at 8:51 AM on July 25, 2015

Best answer: Have you already RSVP'd? If so, it's harder to bow out. If not, say that you're so sorry you can't attend that evening and send some flowers to her house or give a gift to her husband at work to give to her (it sounds like you planned to give her a gift) or even just a card.

There is no need to explain yourself. You don't have to say "I can't come because I won't be home in time to get rest." You don't have to come up with an excuse. Just "I am so sorry I can't make it this year!" is more than sufficient. These are work colleagues and as such they should not be privy to your life and time outside of the office.
posted by sockermom at 8:53 AM on July 25, 2015 [11 favorites]

I'm so sorry to hear you think you are getting a migraine that evening and will have to stay home.
posted by flourpot at 8:58 AM on July 25, 2015

Response by poster: I haven't answered the message from colleague's wife yet because I was still mulling over what to do. Maybe I'll let her know I'm thinking of bowing out early. (It's my period week, so I can use that as an excuse to not drink (pain killers) and needing rest. To her only, not the others.)

These people are my colleagues, but the lady is always extremely generous to me, and I would like to keep being invited to future events, so I think I should go, but then claim I'm not feeling well. Great idea, thanks, everyone!
posted by LoonyLovegood at 9:00 AM on July 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: One thing to keep in mind here if this a job you're planning to stay at for a while is that cementing a good relationship with your higher-up is probably much more beneficial to your career in the long term than avoiding a one-time chewing out from your immediate boss, who is both interim and doesn't sound like she has much political capital.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 9:06 AM on July 25, 2015 [12 favorites]

If you're going to bow out early, I would do it with the rsvp -- like, say you'd love to come but can only stay until 8, would that be okay?
posted by J. Wilson at 9:08 AM on July 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

I've maybe missed the boat here, but feigning sickness and leaving early isn't necessarily the best way to go. For one, it might lead to "feeling better are we?" comments when you turn up to work the next day. I might be more inclined to accept but say you have a previous booking - you're babysitting a friend's kids/going for dinner with visiting relatives etc - so you'll come for the beginning of the event ("because I'd hate to miss it and it was so kind of you to invite me") but unfortunately will have to leave early to honour your other commitment.
posted by billiebee at 9:09 AM on July 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

Can I just go, toast, give her her present and leave after the main course? Can I leave before the main course if it takes people ages to order?

Of course you can.

The other posters seem to think, as I did, that you were thinking of skipping the event completely. Yet you're helping to pay for it, and bringing a gift too.

It's extremely generous of you to attend at all if you have to work the next day. Of course you can leave early.
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:11 AM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When I have been in a similar position--thoughtful if difficult invitation--I will usually respond stating that I will be there but have a previous commitment that makes it difficult to stay past..... Sometimes you just have to do what is appropriate and not what you are would rather do. As far as I am concerned you certainly can make a thoughtful appearance and then bow out. Please let the hostess know in ample time.
posted by rmhsinc at 9:14 AM on July 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I think telling the truth (or not making something up) while not sharing too much of your personal life that is not an open book to others is the best way to go. Either, "I'd so love to go, but I can't this time. I'd love to come to the next event!" or, "I'd love to come, but can only stay until 8; is that okay?" are both great and socially appropriate options (to normal people, anyway; some socially inappropriate people are higher maintenance). An appropriate social environment allows people to come because they want to and can, not because they feel compelled to. Feel free to do what is appropriate with a good conscience, and not worry whether others will read too much into it. If you get to the point where others worry too much about your personal life, then that is a root cause problem to solve, not a band-aid one for a specific event.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:15 AM on July 25, 2015 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Will there be a cocktail hour before the dinner? If so, I think it's acceptable to attend the cocktail hour and then leave. Preferably before everyone is seated at the dinner table, but if not, ask the hostess to seat you the farthest away from the guest of honor so that all attention is not at your end of the table when you get up to leave.

Explain to the guest of honor as soon as you arrive that you are so happy to join but that you will be leaving at x o'clock. Set the alarm on your phone and leave at that time, don't linger waiting for a lull in the conversation before you leave, that's actually more awkward.
posted by vignettist at 11:06 AM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if there's a cultural difference here, but I find it appalling that a "higher up" is expecting you to pay for his wife's party. I would seriously consider looking for a new job because it shouldn't be the job of lower level employees to pay for the higher ups.

Here are some excuses I would consider using if I was in your place:

-I'd really love to contribute, but I recently had some personal expenses come up and I'm tapped out for the time being. If they ask questions make up an excuse about a leaky pipe, broken car, or sick relative.
-Does the party start right after work? If so, I would pretend I forgot my prescription medication at home and need to go home to take it.
-Feign a migraine. Tell them that your medication leaves you wiped out and that you need to come in to work feeling 100% the next day because of looming deadlines.
-Feign stomach issues the day of the party. No one wants to hear about stomach issues, they won't ask too many questions. Run to the bathroom a few times at work that day and complain about how you don't think you can make it.
-Do you have a dog? If so, then tell them your dog walker called at the last minute and had to cancel so you have to go home.
-Have a dog or cat? Tell them that your pet had stomach issues over night and you have to work from home to take care of the pet and make sure it's OK.
-Have a friend with a dog or cat? Pretend that the friend called you that day to ask if you could take care of the pet that night because the friend had an emergency and wasn't able to make it home to the pets.
-Same as the above, but with kids. Tell them that your friend's spouse suffered a minor injury and had to go to the emergency room and the friend asked if you could watch the kids that night.
posted by parakeetdog at 2:44 PM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: No, the party is being planned by my colleague's wife. (Without consulting anyone if a 200 CHF cake is okay to order...) Both the higher-up and his wife often welcome us into their home and prepare tons of food and play, so they're usually treating us. In fact, I don't even think they know about this party.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 3:16 PM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

If the other attendees also have to work the next day, then I think you should avoid saying you have to go home early because of work, or anything related like needing to get to bed.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 4:58 PM on July 25, 2015

To be honest a CHF200 cake doesn't sound outrageous for Switzerland - what is cost per person?The I can't afford to go/contribute excuse is a lot less likely to fly in a country where people on balance are well paid and where a cup of black coffee easily sets you back chf5. And in the land of the Swiss this kind of social thing is very important as are social graces in general. I mean people pay for their own leaving dos here and they cost a fortune and these people are leaving a job...Personally, I think you should suck it up and go and be tired the next day. Work out what train you're going to go home on that leaves between 10-11pm and your departure time is based on that. For a sit down meal in a semi formal setting (which work tends to be) it would be very weird for somebody to leave in the middle. So,if you go, commit to being there for the evening. If you don't go a card and flowers would be nice. Not that they will be cheap mind.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:22 PM on July 25, 2015

Response by poster: Update: I talked to my colleagues yesterday, and most of them felt like she was going overboard with the whole event, and that 200 CHF for a cake was too much. (And it might actually make our boss' wife feel uncomfortable and like she has to repay everyone in the future.) Colleague and his wife seem to have a reputation of using all their money very freely, whereas most of my other co-workers need to support families or save up for retirement or whatever. (My excuse of work the next day is still valid, because my boss is a lot stricter than the others, plus not invited to the event.)

I also had to leave work early yesterday due to sudden dizziness, so I guess I'll either just stay away completely or just toast and leave, like many others plan to. (We contacted the organizer about that.)

Thanks, everyone, for the advice! :)
posted by LoonyLovegood at 10:48 AM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

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