The parents of a 5-year-old schoolboy in the UK were recently invoiced for failing to attend a school friend’s birthday party. The dad found a brown envelope with a £15.95 (RMB 153) “no show fee” left in their son’s schoolbag sent by his classmate’s mother. She claimed that the boy’s failure to attend her child’s birthday party had left her out-of-pocket, and that his parents should have informed her that their son would not be attending the party. The invoice amount was the cost of one child to attend the party that was held at a ski and snow board facility. The kid in question didn’t attend the party because he went to visit his grandparents that day instead. Whilst his parents understand that their no-show wasn’t in good manners, they felt the act of invoicing them was unnecessary and in really bad taste.
When the story got out into the public domain, there followed thousands of commenters on Facebook, twitter, and news feeds. The public seemed to be split, those that thought it was ridiculous to invoice for a no-show, saying that as a parent you have to be prepared for a few no-shows on the day of a party. The very act of throwing a party is one of open-handedness, in which all risk should fall upon the party organizer i.e. the parent. Some were saying that if the parents couldn’t afford to take the financial hit themselves for any no-shows, they shouldn’t have been holding the party at an expensive venue.
Others thought the mother was right to invoice, that the no-show parents should have let her know they couldn’t attend. That way she could have reduced the guest numbers down, so she wouldn’t have been out of pocket, or she could have invited another child in his place. Some commenters went so far as to say they love the idea of the no-show invoice, suggesting it should be extended to charge parents who don’t RSVP but then turn up, and for those who bring siblings along to a party unannounced, leaving the host frantically trying to find enough food and party bag contents for those surprise guests.
So when did the whole issue of kids birthday parties become such a minefield? When I was a kid, we used to be content just going round the birthday boy or girl’s house, playing a few party games like pass the parcel and musical chairs, then stuffing ourselves with sandwiches, cocktail sausages, and jelly and ice cream.
We gave the birthday kid a present that we would have selected ourselves and probably paid for out of our own pocket money. When the party was over, we went home with a piece of cake and a goody bag with a pencil and ruler in it. If it was a “significant” birthday, like becoming a teenager, then you might be lucky enough to go ten-pin bowling with friends. I guess I’m showing my age, but I do feel nostalgic for the simplicity of the birthday parties of my youth.
Today, anywhere specifically geared towards a party will charge between RMB 150 and 400 per child. There is a school of thought amongst some parents that says you have to invite the whole class. This can ratchet the price up so insanely that the only option is to have it in your house, where a party entertainer with a loud voice and a colorful jacket will happily relieve you of a few thousand kuai for two hours spent shouting at the children.
Goody bags have become more like gift bags, professional photographers are becoming more common, and because you know how much the birthday kid’s parents will be spending on the party, you feel that any gift you give should be of at least a certain value.
This brings me to another story which also made headlines recently. A British TV and radio presenter posted an image to Instagram which showed two mothers asking for “a suggested £10 (RMB 96) donation” towards birthday gifts for their kids, so they could buy their daughters “a Kindle and a desk” rather than receive individual small gifts from their classmates.
The radio presenter thought this idea was in terrible taste, and that birthdays shouldn’t be about money exchanges. The presenter questioned what expectations a child may have at 15 if they get a Kindle at age 7. I agree with her entirely and I don’t think cash requests will become the norm. However, with regards to birthday parties, I think the lavish celebrations that are common today are indeed here to stay.
beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent Sally Wilson moved to Beijing in 2010 from the UK with her husband and son. Her daughter was born here in 2011 and both her kids keep her happily busy. In her spare time, Sally loves to stroll through Beijing’s hutongs and parks. She is a (most of the time) keen runner and loves reading: books, magazines, news, and celeb websites – anything really. Sally is also a bit of a foodie and loves trying out new restaurants.