How Do You Handle Dining With Big-Spender Pals?


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Christoph Niemann

I dined out with two friends who earn much more than I do. As one perused the wine list, I asked him to choose a bottle under $100. (It’s more than I spend, but it felt like a compromise.) He ignored my request and ordered a more expensive bottle. And then another. I didn’t enjoy the meal; I was too nervous about paying my share. When the bill came, my other friend said they would treat me. I was relieved but embarrassed. If I didn’t drink, I could probably back out of the booze portion of the bill. But I want to drink, just not the most expensive thing on the menu. Thoughts?

J.S., CAMBRIDGE, MASS.

“When I was young,” said Oscar Wilde — supposedly, along with every other snappy line that is not attributed to Dorothy Parker or Charles Nelson Reilly, “I thought that money was the most important thing in life.” (Can you see where this is headed?) “But now that I am old, I know that it is.” But money isn’t nearly as important as the things it represents: power, generosity — did I say “power”?

It’s possible that your big-spender pals always intended to treat you. But you’d think one of them might have said, “The wine’s on me,” before overruling your $100 limit. Or they may be the kind of people who like to lord their wealth over others. Still, good for you for speaking up.

Don’t be cowed into silence by richer folk. No need to be embarrassed by our finances. We work hard, and our budgets are what they are. Next time, have a chat with known offenders before your meal. (“I’m on a budget and would like you to respect it.”) And should any friend start grandstanding at the table, simply tell the waiter that you need another minute before ordering and lay out your reasonable request again. (“Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”) Also: a Tanqueray martini with olives (typically $12 to $18) can be a nice alternative to wine.

Lifeguard Off Duty

My wife and I have a swimming pool in our backyard. We often invite our son’s best friend (who is 6) and his family (mother, father and two younger siblings) to join us for the afternoon. The only problem is that these parents don’t watch their kids — at all! — when they are in the water. They’re so busy chatting with each other and us that their children could drown, and they wouldn’t even notice. At the risk of being a helicopter dad, is there anything we can do?

DAN J.

For the record, Dan: Keeping your children alive is not helicopter parenting. (Freaking out about whether they are in the Yellow Room or Green Room for pre-nursery school? Helicopter!) By my count, you have at least four young children of unspecified aquatic skill splashing around in your pool. They require at least two full-time supervisors. If you are tremendously conflict averse, you and your wife can assume all lifeguarding duties (or stop inviting them).

But it would be eminently reasonable to say to the less chatty of the parents: “I’ll watch Bob and Carol. Can you keep an eye on Ted and Alice?” Still, after diagnosing their inattentiveness, can you really trust either to safeguard a child’s life? I’m afraid that you and your wife are on the hook here. The good news? In 10 years, your son will want nothing to do with you.

Striking Out Socially

My husband and I went to a baseball game. We ended up with two extra tickets, so we sat in the middle of our four seats, happy not to have others next to us. Behind us, a man put his feet on the empty seat next to me (for which I had the ticket). This bothered me, but I didn’t say anything. Later, he adjusted his foot and almost kicked me in the head. I turned around and said, “Are you kidding me?” To which the man’s girlfriend replied, “Just relax.” He left his foot where it was and began making loud noises that further diminished my enjoyment of the game. My husband thinks I should have said nothing, but I believe I was right to speak up. What would you have done?

KATHY, NEW YORK

Color me thunderstruck that anyone seems to know less about baseball than I do. But I believe the “loud noises” emitted from the man are called “cheering,” which people do in sports arenas. I would also point out that context is king. If he had put his Saint Laurent loafers on the seat beside you at the Metropolitan Opera, it would be an offense for which an usher might be summoned.

But at Shea Stadium (or whatever they call the new one) — where beer is sloshing around the stands, and any man on the field seems to spit more than all the men I have known in my life combined — I would take a different tack. You were right. But rather than defaulting to angry sarcasm, try bonding: “Do you promise not to kick me in the head?” Then hope for the best.

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