Sage Advice: Broken Crystal, Broken Party?
Does "you break it, you buy it" count when it comes to dinner parties?
Dear Amy: I hosted a holiday dinner at my home. My guests included family and close friends.
I set the table with my good china and very expensive crystal. During the course of the dinner, when a piece of crystal knocked over on the table but didn’t break, I jokingly said, “Be careful with the crystal. You break, you pay!” but immediately said I was kidding.
The table guests exploded with comments. Two of my guests stated that if they accidentally broke the crystal, they wouldn’t feel it was their responsibility to offer to replace the broken crystal, because it was my choice to set the table with them.
I was horrified by their comments. My response was that I would never expect someone to pay for the crystal, but I would be offended if they didn’t offer.
The crystal replacement per glass was $ 200. The guests were well aware of the cost, as it was part of the conversation. The rest agreed with my comment.
What is the proper etiquette in this situation?
I have been really bothered by their flippant response.
I won’t be setting my crystal out anymore for those guests!
Dear Crystalized: When you’re a guest in someone’s home and break something that belongs to the host, I agree that it is polite to offer to replace the item. And yes, it is also polite for the host to refuse the offer. This is graciousness flowing in both directions. But – what if there is no obvious fault to be found? What if the crystal glass is tipped over by a serving dish being passed from one guest to another? Would your gathering then turn into a fault-finding party, in order to sniff out who should disingenuously offer to pay for the item?
I honestly think you missed the politeness mark by a mile when, in the moment, you introduced the concept of “you break it, you bought it,” and then were further “offended” by the lively discussion that followed.
It is truly a joy to entertain using your best things. But when you do so, you assume the risk associated with using these items. If you don’t want to assume the risk, then yes – leave these precious things in the cabinet.
Things are things, and can be replaced. People? Not so much.
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