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Miss Manners: Hard to go wrong with ‘nice to meet you’

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it appropriate to say “Nice to meet you” when you meet somebody for the first time?

I am French, and in France, a lot of people say “enchante,” but it is not polite. And most of all, a woman cannot be “enchantee” to meet a man, because in the “enchante” term, there is an inside meaning of, “I feel some pleasure to meet you” – which is not appropriate. We have to say, “bonjour, monsieur; bonjour, madame” and that’s all. The Brits say, “How do you do?”

What is the best way to salute somebody in the USA?

GENTLE READER: “How do you do?”

But like your enchanted countrymen, most Americans believe that “Nice to meet you” is a polite thing to say upon meeting someone for the first time.

Traditionalists sniff that one has no way of knowing at first sight whether it will turn out to be pleasurable to meet a particular stranger. Miss Manners agrees, although she does not sniff at good intentions – and could point out that “How do you do?” (not being a real question) could also be attacked as illogical.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: When my sister died unexpectedly, my husband’s workplace sent a beautiful plant with condolences to our home. Then my mom passed away three weeks after my sister. Image my (unhappy) surprise when I opened my door to find the florist delivery person with a bunch of Mylar balloons and streamers!

I asked who they were for, and from whom, and was told they were for me, from my husband’s work. Needless to say, I refused them.

I told my husband that I think he should say something to the big boss about how inappropriate it was to send balloons. Everybody chips in for these occasions, and the same person is in charge of ordering flowers/plants.

He refuses to say anything because he doesn’t want to “upset” her. This is really tearing us apart. I want to save anyone else from the indignity of receiving Mylar balloons when their mom dies.

GENTLE READER: Although Miss Manners sympathizes with your dismay, she is aware that the infantilization of society has made it commonplace to mark the tragedy of death with childish things, even when the death was not a child’s. They might even have sent you a teddy bear.

In refusing the delivery, you have already made a harsh statement that may cause your husband’s boss and colleagues to question their well-meant, but thoughtless, gesture. Anything more at this time would be churlish.

However, should there be another bereavement at this workplace, your husband could say that flowers are more comforting than balloons.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: If you extend an invitation to a couple and they decline, are they obligated to send a gift or acknowledge your invitation?

GENTLE READER: An invitation is neither a subpoena nor a bill. So no, this couple does not have to send a present. A reply is, however, obligatory. Miss Manners notes that they did give one, as they have declined.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com.


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