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Miss Manners: Thank-you notes still needed during crisis

By Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin Andrews McMeel Syndication

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Have you thought of making an exception to the rule for mailed thank-you notes during this period, when the government wants us to be cautious about the spread of the COVID-19 virus?

Many who embrace strict rules of etiquette are seniors. A well-timed email thank-you note exception might save lives.

GENTLE READER: Electronics have been of incalculable benefit to all who are sequestered in their homes. As difficult as the present situation is, imagine what it would be like if we were closed off from medical news and from virtual contact with relatives and friends.

But congratulations on a novel excuse for not writing letters. Miss Manners has received countless such excuses, but yours is the first to declare it a health risk.

She would like to see authoritative public health statistics indicating that paper mail is so lethal that lives would be saved if it ceased. Should that be true, it would surely apply also to the home deliveries that have become a crucial substitute for going out to buy necessities. She asks you also to consider the psychological toll of social distancing: loneliness for some, overcrowding for others – and for all, the sudden lack of connectedness when the welcome human touch ceases.

Handwritten letters may seem anachronistic when so many other forms of communication are available, but they are more personal. For most messages, ease and speed make electronic methods preferable. But when expressing deep emotion, such as gratitude and condolences, the labor of writing with one’s own hand shows that thought and care were considered even more important.

Try to imagine the house-bound person, whose inbox and messaging apps are crammed with advertisements, schemes and cancellations, plus bragging and complaining from hardly known people, and whose paper mail is all asking to buy or to give.

But there, too, is an envelope with the actual handwriting of someone who seems truly grateful for a present given or a favor done. It indicates that kindness is appreciated. Don’t we need some of that?

But Miss Manners is willing to make some concessions. Do not lick the envelope; use water and a sponge. And do not – repeat: not – plant a kiss on the paper.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it acceptable to take medicine in the family room with my girlfriend present?

GENTLE READER: How is the medicine administered? Do you need the lady’s help in taking it? Or has she just reminded you to take it, and you want to prove to her that you are doing so?

Is there any possibility that she is squeamish?

Miss Manners cannot know the degree of intimacy that prevails at your house. So just one final question: How much effort is it to go to a bathroom?

DEAR MISS MANNERS: When sending an unexpected gift, should you tell the person to check the mail, or wait until they respond?

GENTLE READER: Unfortunately, nowadays, you would be better advised to wait until they respond – which would answer your doubt – or do not respond, when you can appear to give them the benefit of the doubt (Miss Manners’ approved way of prompting them) by suggesting that the present must have failed to arrive.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website,

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