Is Throwing Your Own Birthday Party Rude?

If people really thought throwing your own birthday was rude, they just wouldn’t come.

So here’s the thing. Technically, according to Miss Manners and other old school etiquette experts, throwing or organizing your own birthday celebration is rude. This is one of those rare areas where I fundamentally disagree (even though I see where they are coming from) and think it is one of those sections of etiquette that are changing due to different social norms.

The reason they consider it to be rude is that there is a traditional expectation that when you are invited to a birthday party, you will bring a birthday present and if you are throwing the party for yourself, then you are actually asking people to bring you gifts, which is not polite. In discussions of adult birthday parties, party poopers also like to bring up that it is all about honoring your ownself and being a bit “me me me,” rather than throwing a party in order to simply entertain guests. Miss Manners, herself, is firmly against adult birthday parties.  The general suggestion is that if a person is to have a birthday party, it must be thrown by a spouse, significant other, or other friend.

However, I find, at least among my social circle, that people are incredibly busy these days and while they might bow out of a “just because” party, most people try to prioritize birthday parties. There is also now the expectation that if you wish to celebrate your birthday, you will organize it in someway (spouses and significant others do often do this instead, but it would almost be weird if a friend said “oh let me throw you a birthday party this year”). Also, in my experience and region, birthday gifts for adults between friends are very rare (except maybe a gag gift?), and so there is no expectation that people will bring gifts. With our wide ranging social circles of friends and colleagues, you are also probably the only one who knows who you would want to invite to celebrate with you. So throwing your own thing is absolutely normal and polite.

There are some things that you can do, though, that will make your birthday party impolite:

  • Expecting birthday gifts, especially by making and distributing a registry. (Also don’t mention gifts anywhere in the invitation! Even to say no gifts).
  • With a dinner at a restaurant, you are going to mostly want to invite very close friends so it doesn’t seem like you are inviting people just so they will chip in for your dinner. If you want to invite a bunch of people, have a party at a bar or throw it at your house.
  • If it is your social circle’s custom to all split the birthday person’s dinner, then don’t argue too much when time comes to pay the check. Just say thank you graciously. That being said, always be prepared to pay your own way and don’t pick a restaurant out of the normal price range of restaurants your crowd frequents.
  • Be careful how you phrase invitations, “please join me for dinner at Bistro” sounds more like you are planning on paying for everyone than “I am celebrating my birthday at Bistro and I would love to see you if you can make it.”

I think what causes so much controversy over this issue is that it is something that really has evolved over the last decade or so. No one bats an eye at a Bride and Groom hosting their own wedding to celebrate their own marriage (which decades ago, was Not Done) and I see adult birthday parties as pretty much the same thing. The phrase “just because everyone does something doesn’t make it right” doesn’t actually apply to social customs. Social customs and etiquette are based on what everyone does, and if everyone starts doing something differently than the way it was done 100 years ago, then it becomes correct.

The Great Debate: Shoes Off or Shoes On?

Imagine these shoes tromping through your house. via Wikimedia Commons

There is a great debate in some circles about whether it is rude or not to ask your guests to take off their shoes when visiting your house. On the one side are people who are worried about germs and dirt on their floors and rugs. On the other are a) people who don’t like taking off their shoes and b) people who think it comes across as scolding your guests and insinuating that they are dirty and germy. And everyone remembers the Sex and the City episode where Carrie didn’t want to take off her expensive shoes at a party because they were part of her outfit and they ended up being stolen. Today we tackle this important topic.

Official Etiquette:

Miss Manners: Suggests volunteering to take your shoes off if they are wet and muddy. As a host, you should be so excited to see people that you don’t even notice what their feet are doing, however, it is certainly very polite to be concerned about their welfare and sitting around with wet shoes on.

Emily Post Institute: Says it is the host’s right to ask you to take your shoes off, but suggests letting people know in advance so they can bring slippers or socks or something. However, they make exceptions for people you don’t know well and big parties- let people keep their shoes on in those instances.

Our Take:

Jaya: I mean obviously if someone asks you to take off your shoes in their house, do it.

Victoria Yessssssss, but….I think there are some circumstances that can come into play.

Gross story time! I once had a plantar wart on my foot and I told my host I could not take off my shoes because it was gross and no one needed to see that. And some people have foot problems that require them to wear shoes.

Jaya:  Ahhh true. And gross! How should they handle that if they go into a house where they know they’re expected to remove their shoes? Wear socks?

Victoria: Well, in many cultures where the shoe removal thing is required, the host will often have little slippers for guests to use. And I have read that in places where shoe removal is a practicality because of mud and slush and stuff, people will bring clean shoes with them and change into them from their street shoes.

Oh and of course we can’t talk about this without discussing the Sex and the City episode where Carrie has to take off her shoes at a party and then they get STOLEN!

Jaya:  Yup! Stolen shoes is a big thing in India, I know, when you’re supposed to remove your shoes before going into temple.

Victoria: Oh yeah, don’t little kids hang out at the Taj Mahal and offer to guard your shoes for money?

Jaya:  Yup, which is why I wore flip flops and put them in my bag.

Victoria Smart!

Jaya:  I mean most temples people are a lot more respectful, but yeah, in the tourist traps that stuff happens.

Victoria I’m sure. You were telling me before about how you feel like guests are comfortable if they don’t take their shoes off at your house?

Jaya:  Yeah. I don’t require people to take off their shoes in my house, but I get uncomfortable more in a sense that I want them to be comfortable, and you always look like you’re ready to leave if you still have your sneakers on. Though it’s different for fancy parties if your shoes are a real part of your outfit. But I do cringe sometimes if I have a party and everyone is wearing heels because I feel bad for my downstairs neighbors.

Victoria:  Hahahah, too bad neighbors! Yeah, I agree about the comfort and the party shoes, I tend to feel the same way.

So I grew up in a part of California that had a really large Asian population and it was interesting to me how the cultural custom of taking off your shoes trickled down to everyone else.

Almost all of my friends would automatically take off their shoes as soon as they entered ANYONE’S house, which i haven’t really noticed anywhere else. At places I do take my shoes off, like your house, I usually walk in, and put my other stuff down first.

Jaya:  Oh yeah. My grandma is big on taking off your shoes, so I always do that first in her house. But with other people I generally put down my stuff first, not leave the shoes outside or anything.

Victoria Yeah, exactly. I think that basically, unless you have a good reason, if you see everyone else doing it, you should go with it. And if you are a host and you prefer that people take their shoes off, its fine to say so, but you shouldn’t push it with someone who doesn’t want to for whatever reason.

Jaya:  Did you ever see that Seinfeld episode where George’s dad had a girlfriend in Korea but couldn’t marry her because he wouldn’t take off his shoes?

Victoria: Nope!

Jaya:  There’s a running joke that he won’t take his shoes off in front of anyone and it ruined his relationship. So you know, keep that realistic account in mind.

Victoria:  Haha yeah, exactly, unless shoes off are on are a major relationship deal breaker for you.

Jaya:  What about…foot odor?

Victoria:  I don’t know! I guess that could be a good reason to not take your shoes off or make sure you wear or bring socks. And, hey, if someone is forcing you to take their shoes off, they have to deal with the consequences.

Jaya:  Hahaha gooood point.