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Subtly explain email sounds can be quieted

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I just received a sharp rebuke from a co-worker for sending him a personal email (following up on a prior conversation) at 5:45 in the morning. His reply stated only that “this exchange should not occur before 7 a.m.”

I was taken aback by the tone of his reply. I have never exchanged emails with him outside of business hours before. Presumably, his smartphone alerts him of incoming email and my message disturbed his sleep.

I hadn’t anticipated this – I may be old-fashioned, but I still think of email as a desktop activity. Should I apologize for this apparent intrusion?

GENTLE READER: It used to be that surprise, late-night house calls were understood to be limited to those who could expect to be welcomed with open arms. Exceptions were made for emergencies, warrants and comic figures in Shakespeare plays.

But nocturnal knocks on the door and emails are not the same thing. You did not expect your co-worker instantly to act upon – or even to see – the early-morning email, any more than you would have expected an immediate response to a posted letter.

That the mail came early and set the dog barking, which in turn woke up the baby, who toddled down the stairs to the kitchen, terrifying grandma, who spilled her coffee, is not your responsibility.

That said, the best answer to your co-worker is to apologize and gently say that you were having the same problem until you discovered that it was possible to mute the sound announcing new emails on your phone.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it necessary to bring the hostess of a potluck family dinner a hostess gift? Or is my contribution (as per her request), which is often more food than the hostess herself prepares, a hostess gift enough?

GENTLE READER: Hostess? What hostess?

Miss Manners has trouble thinking of someone who orders catered food from you as a hostess. And while you should not expect to be tipped if you also partook of these meals, the optional courtesy of another contribution is unnecessary.