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Miss Manners: ‘No gifts’ on invitation creates much confusion

Judith Martin And Jacobina Martin Universal Uclick

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My young children had been invited to several birthday parties where some variation of “No gifts” had been designated. I decided to take them at their word and not bring a gift.

At the door, we were met by an adorable birthday child whose little face fell as she asked my son, “Didn’t you bring a gift?” while pointing to a table full of presents behind her. Everyone else had brought something anyway!

Having learned that hard lesson, I brought a small gift to the next “No gifts” party. This time all the other parents commented that the invitation had clearly stated no gifts, and I was making everyone look bad. Ack!

When the next “No gifts” invitation inevitably arrives, what do I do? My inclination is not to attend rather than continue to get it wrong.

GENTLE READER: This is exactly why Miss Manners has a rule against “No gifts” on an invitation. It plants an explicit expectation where there wasn’t one. Clearly, no good can come from doing this if people are ignoring it.

If you are told “No gifts” again and decide to go to the party anyway, do as instructed. And if this meets with a disappointed child, try saying, “I’m so sorry, but your parents told me not to bring anything.”

While it won’t feel good in the moment to dash the hopes of an adorable (but etiquette-impaired) child, doing so may teach him two invaluable lessons: never to ask for presents – and never to let his parents make rude requests on his behalf that they don’t intend to keep.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website,
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