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Miss Manners: Breaker-upper must give back gifts

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

DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is proper about gifts given at Christmas – i.e., a tablet, jewelry or other expensive items – when there is a breakup two weeks later?

GENTLE READER: Don’t tell Miss Manners that the person who received these presents wasn’t already planning to end the relationship. It is not customary to lavish luxuries on someone you are about to dismiss. On the contrary, it might have been a pathetic attempt to hold on, which the recipient knew was already doomed.

So yes, please give it all back.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: When I receive business calls, the callers say, “Is [my name] there?” Or “I’m calling for [my name].”

I have always thought it was correct for a caller to identify him- or herself before asking to speak with the person they are calling, especially if the caller is not known. This behavior is annoying to me, but am I being too fussy by clinging to past standards of propriety?

GENTLE READER: It is not the standards that are past so much as the technology. People are getting used to the fact that their names appear to the recipients of their calls, even before the telephone is answered – which is why it often isn’t.

But while Miss Manners asks you to understand this, she advises you to achieve your objective by asking, “Who is calling, please?” before you admit to being you.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I spend the holidays with dear family friends whom I’ve known my entire life. It falls to the family matriarch to host the meals, as “she has the perfect house for it” and “everyone loves Mom’s cooking.” She enjoys it, but it’s tiring for her. My own house is tiny, but I help as much as I can by bringing desserts and side dishes.

At the end of the meal, the adult children excuse themselves to have a walk or a nap. The grandchildren – who range in age from 10 to 35 – and the spouses of the older ones excuse themselves to play with the dog or their phones, or to toss around a ball. Maybe one other person and myself clear the table and do the dishes.

I am more than happy to help our exhausted hostess, but I resent cleaning up after able-bodied children and teenagers (especially as I always did cleanup duty when I was their age).

As I am not a blood relative, I can’t suggest they change their family tradition to lighten the load on their mother, nor can I correct their children’s manners. Frankly, I’m shocked that a 10-year-old isn’t asked to clear her own plate or help her elderly grandmother at all. Is there anything I can say?

GENTLE READER: As you point out, it is neither your house nor your family. Criticism is not in order.

However, Miss Manners wants to help, although not by clearing the table. She suggests, at the end of the meal but before people have left the table, you say heartily, “I’m volunteering to head the cleanup crew, so our hostess can relax. Who wants to join?”

At least some of them will not be able to slink away fast enough.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website,

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