Hostesses With The Mostest > Entertaining and Hospitality

US-Australian Etiquette? Or just unrealistic expectations?

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zora19:
BG: I recently made a new friend ("Megan") though my religious community. Megan is new to the area and relatively new to the U.S.  She and her husband have a child the same age as my little one, so I've tried to reach out to her and see how/if I can help the family get acclimated. She grew up in Australia.

I had Megan over this week, along with another friend, and she asked if I could give her a summary of "the culture." I wasn't sure what she meant, and asked for an example. She explained that she was confused because no one had responded to the invitations that she sent for her daughter's birthday party - she said that out of around 20 invitations, not a single person had responded.  :(

I was surprised. While I've certainly experienced the fact that people aren't always good at rsvp-ing, I'd never heard of no one at all responding. When I probed a little more, I found out some additional information:
1. Since she has only lived here a few weeks, she doesn't "really know" any of the people she invited. Most of the invitees are people who she has met once, and briefly (example: she gave an invitation to the grandmother of a child in her daughter's sunday school class on first meeting and asked the grandmother to give it to the child's parents). She couldn't tell me the name of a single other person, child or parent, who she had invited.
2. Some of the invitees are people she has never actually met. When people said "Oh, you will have to meet Sara and Mike, they live in your area" she would friend them on facebook, and then invited them to this party.

My feeling is that her expectations are really unrealistic, and that this doesn't really have anything to do with different cultural norms. Obviously, I think people should take the time to respond in the negative if they aren't attending an event, but I can see why this has happened. However, when I gently tried to explain that maybe people didn't really understand that she wanted an rsvp/that their presence was truly and very much wanted, she was fairly insistent that, no, it was clear from the invitation that an rsvp was requested. She didn't seem to hear my point, and came back to asking whether this was typical of American etiquette.

I would appreciate any insight into typical Australian etiquette - I've had friends from various parts of Australia and from NZ, and I've never experienced this type of issue before. Would it be common in the area to use a birthday party as an opportunity to make a bunch of new friends (as opposed to inviting existing friends)? Would it be normal to invite people you barely knew or did not know to a birthday party?

I'd also appreciate any suggestions on how I can help my friend get to know more people. Would it make sense for me to tell her that, in the US, birthday parties and the like are usually reserved for people you already know, and that it isn't typical to invite borderline-strangers? I'm thinking that, even if this is less of a transcontinental issue and more one of her being socially sheltered, I can still try to give her some tips. But I don't want to offend her, kwim?

For what it's worth, I live in Austin, which is a pretty laid-back place, so maybe that's part of the issue as well.

Many thanks!

jmarvellous:
It may not be an American thing (it isn't -- but neither is sending your kids to strangers' birthdays), but when I lived in Austin (for 10 years up to last year) I know RSVPs were basically ignored.

It might've been my social circle (which did not involve many kids!), but I was repeatedly totally unaware of whether we'd end up having 5 or 30 people at a Friday night party at our (small) house; people just didn't go in for formality, much! We had 10 longtime friends text me during my wedding day that they weren't going to be able to make it to the casual reception they'd been invited to 5 weeks prior!

I think it's really smart to tell her that people aren't deliberately snubbing her; they probably just see a birthday invitation from a stranger or near-stranger as a very informal thing and not something that requires a response. We aren't used to these things when it comes to kids, really.

If she doesn't have any way of contacting these people before to check, then I guess she'll just have to try her luck. If she does have contact info, I think she should try them once more before the event to confirm.

Is her kid old enough to be in school? Perhaps she'd have better luck with schoolmates.

What method of RSVP did she ask for (phone, email, letter)?

sammycat:
I'm Australian and IMO this has nothing to do with a particular country's 'culture'. I'd never dream of inviting people I hardly or didn't know to a party, and nor would anyone else I know. The only exception would be if a child is in daycare and has mixed with certain children over a long period of time. Even though I wouldn't know the parents, I'd go off recommendations from the teacher as to who my child plays with and invite them. So even though *I* wouldn't know them, my child would, which is fine. I don't think that way of thinking is unique to Australia though. But I don't think that is what has happened here.

It seems to me that this is a combination of one person maybe trying too hard and a bunch of very rude people who should've RSVPed regardless of how well they know the person (or not). This sort of rudeness wouldn't endear me to wanting to get to know these people in a more 'natural' way over time.

Edited typo.

greencat:
I think it is mightily strange to invite strangers to a milestone-celebrating kind of party.  I would be very confused to be invited to the birthday party of a child I'd never met, especially if I had never met the parents either!

I would, in the case of the Facebook invites, be sure I had been invited by mistake and remove myself from the guest list. 

Given the lack of relationship between the hosts and the invitees, and since it there is a very strong cultural expectation to bring gifts to a child's birthday party, I suspect the invitation probably came across as a gift-grab.

PastryGoddess:
The problem is not the difference between Australian and American etiquette, the problem is that she's inviting people to her kids birthday party that she doesn't know. 

People are busy enough as it is.  Attending a random kids birthday party would probably not rank all that high on people's radar. 

Once Megan makes some friends here, it'll be better. But this was too much, too soon. 

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