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Miss Manners: ‘Tradition’ is about collecting money, not etiquette

Judith Martin

Dear Miss Manners: When did the tradition of having others pin money to your shirt on your birthday come about? How did this originate? Is it some modern take on an old tradition?

It just seems like a tasteless excuse to beg for money to me. Am I wrong?

In case you are new to it as well, here is a common scenario:

A person comes to school or work, usually arriving with some money already safety-pinned to his or her shirt. A lot of people who are aware of the tradition say, “Happy Birthday!” and donate some money.

The first time I saw this, I asked the birthday girl why she had money pinned to her shirt. She replied that it was her birthday and that people are free to add more. She was surprised that I did not know of the tradition. I felt really awkward, said “Oh, Happy Birthday!” and walked away.

I prefer writing cards for my friends’ birthdays. They seem a lot more personal. For close friends and relatives, I generally give a present. Should I loosen up and donate to all of those, whom I wouldn’t normally give a gift or a card, some money to pin to their shirt? Is it impolite not to donate?

Most of the time, I would never have known it was the person’s birthday until I saw the birthday money. Obviously, these people are not close to me at all, but what happens if a close friend starts doing this? I need a lesson.

Gentle Reader: It is getting so that when Miss Manners hears the word “tradition” nowadays, she knows that 1) it is going to involve collecting money, and 2) it is not going to be something that has ever appeared in any etiquette archives, anywhere or at any time.

You may be assured that propriety does not require you to treat your colleagues like strippers trolling for tips, however much they would relish this. Nor are you required to pay them or, for that matter, your friends, for passing Go.

Miss Manners recommends your continuing to be puzzled about this peculiar procedure, no matter how many times it is explained to you, and to continue replying, “Oh, Happy Birthday” and moving on.

Dear Miss Manners: I have noticed that children nowadays refer to teachers as Ms. Smith. I was raised to address a teacher as Mrs. Smith (if she is married). I have a 13-week-old, and I want her to learn to call people as Miss, Ms., or Mrs. Am I being too old-fashioned? How should she address teachers?

Gentle Reader: Your daughter is 13 weeks old, and you are already musing about getting her into trouble in school?

Miss Manners commends you for insisting on the use of titles, but not for quarreling about which one. As these methods of address are equally proper, you would put her in the position of defending a policy that is contrary to the general usage, and possibly disobeying her teacher’s instructions.

Readers may write to Miss Manners at MissManners@, or via postal mail at United Media, 200 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016 or (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.
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