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Social Delimma! Friendship & Former Domestic Staff

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This weekend I'm attending the graduation of a rather accomplished young college student. My connection with this student is through her grandmother, who served as a housekeeper for my parents for the last 18 years of my mother's life.

The graduating student and I met for the first time just this spring when she was in California interviewing at U. C. Berkeley's law school. She has since accepted Harvard's offer to attend their law school.

I am planning to attend both the graduation ceremony and a celebratory luncheon the following day. I'm very much looking forward to honoring this bright young student's achievements as well as her promising future. I'm also realizing that this time together may be the last time I see her grandmother, who has been diagnosed with cancer (her treatment isn't going well).

I'm writing as I'm not sure of several things.

1) The graduate's grandmother and I continue to be quite formal when speaking. However, the young graduate and my family are on a first name basis since the time of her visit to Berkeley. Once we are all together this weekend, it may seem odd if this young woman's grandmother and I continue to address each other in formal terms ... especially if the granddaughter and I use first names. I really would prefer first names for all ... but I realize that I must respect the wishes of the other person in this regard. She may prefer being called Mrs. James.

2) A gift for the graduate is in order; it just seems the right occasion given her accomplishment/s. However, I'm realizing that everyone attending the events this weekend is well aware of the differences in the financial circumstances of our two families. I'm feeling a bit insecure in knowing what might be appropriate ... too much ... too little. I especially wouldn't want my gift to have the appearance of diminishing that of a family member.

3) I'm wondering if and to what degree I should contribute toward paying for the lunch ... not at all ... my share ... more? It has occurred to me that the family might want to serve as host ... but I certainly have the means to help if that is appropriate or needed.

4) When speaking to the graduate by phone last evening ... she let me know that her grandmother is afraid I'll be offended she didn't choose Berkeley after we hosted her visit. I joked with our graduate ... letting her know I'm glad she hadn't previously revealed that Harvard was an option ... as I too would have pressured her to make the selection she did.
This one I think I can handle ... but share thoughts as you wish.

PS I won't be wearing the RA diagonal DB. This isn't my parade.

Please understand that I may not be able to respond in return as I ready to leave town ... but indeed I will check-in for advice offered ... prior to attending the graduation ceremony.
 

hi-val

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This sounds like a fun engagement to go to! Here's my best:

1. If you call her by a formal name, continue to do so. It's nothing that should make her feel uncomfortable, and we often refer to respected elders with a title like Mrs. James. If you'd like to call her something differently, you might ask her in private with something like "I've been saying Mrs. James, but is there another name you would prefer?" But basically, it's nothing to feel uncomfortable about.

2. Give her a very nice pen, worthy of writing her name with. If you're uncomfortable about outspending other people, this is a nice option because nobody knows expensive pens.

3. Absolutely do not offer to pay for the lunch. If they could not afford to have you, they would not have invited you, and to offer, in this case, is the height of rudeness. If you'd like to show generosity there, see at the restaurant if you can order several bottles of champagne for celebration.

4. Seems like you have this handled. I wouldn't mention it. Everyone will know you aren't chafed when they see how happy you are for the graduate.

Hope this helps you!
 

TheFoo

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Why don't you get her a very nice gift, but give it to her privately, perhaps a short time after the graduation?
 

grimslade

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I agree with most of what hi-val said, except that I would substitute mafoofan's answer on the gift. Offering to pay, even if for them the meal is an extravagance, would be bad form, IMO.
 

TheFoo

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Also, if she's going to law school and isn't financially blessed, I'd consider something more practical than a nice pen. She's going to need a laptop . . .
 

Ambulance Chaser

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I think a gift is in order, although I would stay away from something that implies a level of familiarity that does not exist. How about a French press coffee machine, coffee mug, and selection of pre-ground coffees? Inexpensive, and a gift I think a 1L would find very useful.
 

TheFoo

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Actually, here's my new suggestion: (1) get her a smaller, token gift for her graduation (like a pen), and (2) do something big in the fall to commemorate starting law school (that way it won't conflict with what the family gives her for graduation), like paying for her books or getting her a laptop.
 

hi-val

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Mafoofan, that sounds like an interesting idea. If you're feeling flush, covering the books sounds nice. I'd do this in a way that keeps dollar amounts and stuff out of the equation, since that makes people uncomfortable. Check into the bookstores on campus and find the one that carries the law books. Give them a call and see if they'll keep your information on file and then charge you for her books. All you need to tell her is a note saying "congratulations again! I have arranged with X bookstore to pick up your first semester's books. Just go and let them know who you are and everything will be taken care of." Several bookstores where I went to university had information on hand for students who would charge items to their parents' credit cards for books, etc.

The thing to remember about gift-giving is that without you there, she'd still be going to law school and eventually paying for everything anyway. A gift card for food would be practical but wouldn't be a fun gift; get her something that's a true commemoration of her achievements instead of something that's only practical.
 

Dakota rube

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I was sort of waiting to find out the graduate's name is Sabrina.
 

JayJay

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Originally Posted by mafoofan
Actually, here's my new suggestion: (1) get her a smaller, token gift for her graduation (like a pen), and (2) do something big in the fall to commemorate starting law school (that way it won't conflict with what the family gives her for graduation), like paying for her books or getting her a laptop.
I agree with #1, not #2 unless you are a relative or have an intimate relationship. IMO, #2 might be perceived as being indicative of the difference in socioeconomic status. Besides, if she's very talented, then her Harvard fellowship may cover books and school essentials.
 

Doc4

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Originally Posted by mafoofan
Actually, here's my new suggestion: (1) get her a smaller, token gift for her graduation (like a pen), and (2) do something big in the fall to commemorate starting law school (that way it won't conflict with what the family gives her for graduation), like paying for her books or getting her a laptop.

This seems like a good suggestion.

As for the grandmother-name thing, why not ask the granddaughter in advance (and in private) if the Grandmother would prefer to move to a first-name basis. Explain that the connection between the families has been so longstanding and close that you would like to offer this to her if she feels comfortable with it. Odds are, she'll be glad to leave behind this remnant of the long-ago master-servant relationship.
 

RSS

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Thanks to all. I think I've got a handle on the weekend.

I'll give everyone an update when I'm back on Monday.

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Oops ... Dilemma, Dilemma, Dilemma ... Not Delimma.
 

constant struggle

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These kind of scenarios provide an interesting read!

I hope to one day be wealthy enough to have to make them myself...
 

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