If you've ever received an invitation stating: "your presence is our present" don't believe it. What this really means is we'll be glad to invite you to our party at $100 a head, and while we'll be thrilled if you accept, you'd better not come empty-handed. In other words, your presence, while nice, is not the whole enchilada. It also means if you do arrive sans gifts, don't be expected to be invited back anytime soon.

I ran this by my husband, who takes things literally, and didn't understand what I was talking about. That's because men don't read between the lines. What they see is what they perceive verbatim, and in this particular case, I would need a translator and preferably a psychologist to get the message across. Case in point: an invite from our friend, Carol, who was throwing a 65th surprise party for her husband, Steve.

"No presents please" was written in bold block letters at the bottom.

"What should we get Steve?" I asked Mark.

"For what?"

"His 65th birthday."

Mark looked bewildered. "The invitation says `no presents.' Why would we break the rule by bringing Steve a gift?"

"It's an unspoken rule," I explained. "You're not grasping the subtle nuance."

"What subtle nuance?"

"Innuendo," I said. "What the invitation means is: we want you to know your presence is enough when it really isn't."

"Why not? Carol and Steve should be happy we're coming," Mark concluded.

"They'd be a lot happier if we bring a gift."

And that's when Mark uttered those four little words that men all over the world have been echoing since time immemorial: "I don't get it."

"That's why you need to trust that I know what I'm talking about."

"We're going to look stupid," Mark said. "Walking into the room with a present when no one else is bringing gifts."

"Everyone will bring a gift," I corrected.

"Then why wouldn't they say: `presents required?'"

"Poor etiquette," I told him. "No one would be that blunt. It's just not done."

"I'm confused," Mark said -- not a new condition.

Then, he had an idea. "Let's not bring a gift. If it turns out that I'm wrong, we'll send one later on."

"You are wrong. When it comes to party protocol, I'm the expert," I said. "I'm telling you, we should buy Steve a gift or else he'll never want to play golf with you again."

"Good," Mark said, "Steve is a terrible golfer. Frankly, I've never enjoyed playing golf with Steve. He cheats."

"Steve cheats at golf?"

"Yes. He always moves the ball a half inch in his favor."

"I never had the impression of Steve," I said.

"He's very competitive," Mark continued. "And sneaky."

"So, what should we buy him?" I asked.

"Golf balls," Mark said.

And so, we went to Steve's surprise party with a box of neatly-wrapped golf balls and a silver-plated tee accompanying them.

"Oh," Carol chirped, "you didn't need to bring a gift. The invitation clearly stated that fact."

"I know," I whispered "but (wink-wink) that's not what you really meant."

"It certainly is. Steve has everything he needs. We were afraid if people brought gifts, he'd end up with something stupid like golf balls. Everyone always brings him golf balls."

"Didn't the other guests bring gifts?'

"No," Carol said. "They followed instructions."

After the party, Mark slipped Steve's gift inside his jacket pocket. All the way home, neither of us said a word. Last week, a 20th- anniversary party invitation arrived.

Your presence is our present, it read.

"Maybe we can bring them golf balls," Mark suggested.

Westporter Judith Marks-White shares her humorous views every Wednesday in the Westport News. She can be reached via e-mail at joodth@snet.net or at www.judithmarks-white.com.