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.