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Too Easy Come And Too Easy Go

Fri., March 28, 1997

Dear Miss Manners: Information is now only a mouse click away and e-mail allows for much easier correspondence with friends and loved ones. One invention in particular on the Internet that has caught my eye is digital postcards.

If you have not seen these, they are graphics, much like greeting cards, on which you fill in a message, input the e-mail address of the intended recipient and send them along their way. The recipient simply has to click on the file to view an electronic greeting card, complete with your personalized message.

Where does this land in the realm of etiquette? How do these digital postcards compare to handwritten Christmas cards sent through the U.S. Postal Service? I am a firm believer in thank you notes; will digital thank you notes be a slap in the face to those I send them to? Or will they simply be recognized as the next step in quicker communication?

While I doubt we’ll see digital wedding invitations in the future, how acceptable are virtual greetings of the sort I’ve described here?

Gentle Reader: Not so fast. Much as Miss Manners shares your delight in the invention of new forms of communication, she has to warn you of the danger of being able to click faster than you can think. In this case, you have leapt from admiring an extremely casual form of greeting - the electronic equivalent of waving at someone in passing - to speculating that it would wipe out all other forms of communication.

Why? Have people been leaving their wedding invitations on voice mail instead of having them engraved and faxing their love letters instead of putting them into their own dear handwriting?

Honesty compels Miss Manners to admit that some of them have.

But they learn to regret it, sooner rather than later, when the messages are ignored - or worse, enjoyed by those other than the intended recipients. If you want to be taken seriously - to have your invitations answered, your benefactors convinced that you are grateful for presents - you need to say so a lot more formally.

Dear Miss Manners: My husband and I have had several people ask how much we paid for our new home. I think it is rude, but I do not want to lie, so for lack of a better answer, I tell them the truth.

Another problem is that I have relatives with young children who come to our home fairly often and as soon as they arrive, they immediately scamper off to play in every room in the house. They act as if it is their playground and their parents don’t say anything. After they leave, I find different things moved around.

I don’t want to seem mean but I know I was not allowed such freedoms at ages 5 and 11. I do feel that at least our bedroom should be a private area and my only thought was to lock our bedroom door when they come over. Am I being too picky?

Gentle Reader: Too easily picked on, Miss Manners would say. You are allowing everybody to rummage at will through your house and mind, ceding territory as fast as anybody thoughtlessly claims it.

True, your friends could be more reticent and it would be attractive for their children to hang back shyly in the absence of instructions. But if you could learn to reply to questions with a cheerful, “Oh, I’m not going to tell,” and to tell young guests “Let me show you the family room, where you can play,” you would find that all but outright louts will accept the boundaries you set. And you don’t want those hanging around your nice new house, anyway.


The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Judith Martin United Features Syndicate

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