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The question

My husband and I are planning a party for a "significant" birthday of his this summer. We plan to hold it outdoors at our cottage, invite about 30 close friends and family, serve a four-course dinner and have live music. The music we have chosen isn't heavy metal or punk, but given the lake acoustics and the relative proximity of our neighbours, they will certainly hear it. The problem we face is that although we do sometimes casually socialize with some nearby cottagers, we would not consider most of them "close friends" and we only plan to invite two or three of the families at the lake. Is it acceptable to courteously inform the non-invited neighbours of our plans (so they won't be surprised by the music and party noise) or do we have to invite them all (adding another 30 per cent to our guest list and budget)?

The answer

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First, I want to say thank you for reminding us all there is such a thing as summer. I'm even starting to believe it myself. For a while there, I was starting to think we were doomed to live in perpetual cold under grey skies all year round.

Second, please allow me gently to observe that we should all have such problems as yours. Me, I can't even afford the drugs I'd have to take to hallucinate we could afford to buy a cottage. All my life, I've had to butter up my friends in order to secure those precious invites. And, man, did they ever dry up after we had our third kid (not to mention Murphy, our mangy, possibly flea-infested mutt).

I've made my peace with it. Oh, sure! It's just wonderful being stuck in the sweltering city with all the other grumpy people, sweaty shirt clinging to my skin, crabbily chewing out cabbies as my wealthier friends, or those with cottages in the family, laugh and splash in the sunshine, sipping chardonnay and…

Sorry, let my envy show a bit there. (Columnist shakes it off, pulls self together, tries to be more positive.)

Re: your situation. Now, normally I'm not an etiquette columnist. As the term "Damage Control" implies, my area of expertise more closely resembles: Your guests misbehaved horribly, one of them staggered over to an uninvited neighbour's cottage, vomited on the porch and fell asleep on the couch. Party's over, neighbours are furious. Dear Dave/Damage Control, now what do I do?

But since you ask: Whether you're in the city or country, I think it not only acceptable but very courteous, whenever you have a party, to inform those you think might be affected in any way.

Certainly we do that whenever we're having a party – especially when one of our three teenage boys is planning one. Leave a note or even buttonhole neighbours in the street to say, in effect: "If you can, leave town, but if not, batten down the hatches and we apologize in advance for whatever is about to happen."

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It doesn't deter them from calling the cops (the two times we've done it, they called on the dot of 11 p.m.), and I don't blame them (thanks to social media, these things instantly mushroom-cloud into madness), but I think maybe they dialled the phone with somewhat less anger in their hearts.

Yours doesn't sound like that type of party. But yes, leave a note or however you normally communicate with your fellow cottagers to say, in effect: "Your enjoyment of your evening martinis may be slightly impinged upon by the sound of classical music, the popping of corks, the clink of champagne flutes and the tinkly bells of happy laughter…"

Oops, slipped again, maybe leave out the details and just say "…small party on such-and-such a night to celebrate a big milestone for [name of your husband here] and we hope it does not disturb you too much. Thank you in advance for your kind consideration."

I could imagine some of the non-vitees' noses getting out of joint. But they shouldn't. I mean, that's part of (adult) life, isn't it? The realization we can't be invited to everything? Used to be I'd get my knickers in a knot when I wasn't invited to something. Not any more (honestly, it's usually a relief). I've "set aside childish things," as the Bible says. People will invite me to stuff or not as they feel like it. No biggie.

Anyway, your uninvited neighbours can always console themselves by firing up the barbecue, grilling some ribs and washing them down with fine wines on the dock, laughing and smoking cigars as the sun slowly sets over the lake, throwing fistfuls of money in the air…

Sorry, I'll definitely stop now.

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What am I supposed to do now? Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com

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