Dear Miss Manners: Close friends have long had the generous habit of inviting my husband and me to celebrate certain family holidays like Thanksgiving with them and their children, a tradition we enjoy and appreciate very much. We are childless and live thousands of miles from our families of origin.
Last year, however, they invited us to share Thanksgiving with the rest of the husband’s large extended family at his parents’ house. His parents and siblings all live close by and we know them quite well, so we didn’t hesitate to accept.
Once we arrived, it became clear that while our friends were glad we were there, the rest of the clan (albeit politely) regarded us more or less as intruders at their family gathering. Our friend seemed deliberately to ignore these “vibes” from his siblings and acted as if all was well, when in truth we felt quite uncomfortable.
I had hoped we could simply resume our old pattern of celebrating holidays at his house, but he recently invited us to another family occasion at his parents’, and I’m in a quandary. If we decline or make excuses (now or on future occasions), I know he’ll be offended, but I don’t dare accept for fear of alienating his family. Nor do I wish to embarrass him by explaining that we felt out of place last time and would rather not intrude. Can you suggest a graceful way out?
Gentle Reader: Certainly. Invite him and his family to a holiday dinner.
It is lovely to be the beneficiary of a hospitable tradition, and Miss Manners is sure you are good about expressing gratitude, helping out, and bringing presents. But now and then people who maintain traditions wish someone else would take over. This may be the reason that Thanksgiving moved to the parents’ house.
It would be even nicer if you invited the extended family, as you do know them and have accepted their hospitality, lukewarm as it was. They may well decline, preferring their family gathering, but Miss Manners assures you that they will feel more kindly about including you. And they won’t be able to be hurt if you decline on the grounds of doing your own entertaining, at which you had hoped to include them.
Dear Miss Manners: Have you noticed how frequently criminals (who usually have not yet been caught or named) are being referred to as “gentlemen” in the media? The people being spoken of have committed violent crimes with no demonstration of good manners.
This seems to be an example of the same trend as grade inflation. Some of the people who do it appear to be putting on airs, but many are TV news anchors who have much more income and status than most of us.
I’ve always thought that the term “man” is sufficiently respectful toward an adult male human at large who has clearly committed a violent crime. If such a person is a “gentleman,” what should we call a man who has never been accused in any way of a crime? “My lord”?
Why are so many people calling people “gentlemen” who clearly aren’t? What, if anything, can be done to break them of this habit?
Gentle Reader: Miss Manners has noticed how frequently people who have not been convicted of crimes are being referred to as “criminals.”
If they are “criminals,” what do we call people who have been convicted? (Never mind. She knows the answer. We call them “people who have suffered enough.”)
Miss Manners’ policy is to refer to everyone as ladies or gentlemen unless they are actually in the act of committing an etiquette crime at the time. Her object is not to put on airs, as you call it, but to encourage others to do so, if that means living up to such a splendid designation.
She is sorry if you classify this habit as criminal, but respect-inflation is not a danger in modern society.
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Judith Martin United Features Syndicate
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