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Dear Miss Manners: Four years ago, we sent friends a unique gift for Christmas. This year, they sent our gift back to us in an unused state as a Christmas present. One must assume that they had forgotten that we had given it to them in the first place and that there was no intended malice on their part. What is the correct way to deal with this situation? (We have no desire to sever our relationship with them.) Gentle Reader: Then why don't you just thank them?
Dear Miss Manners: Please help me - I am beside myself with hurt and anger. I recently formed friendships at work with the women in my department (Friends A) and a woman in another department (Friend B). We enjoyed exchanging gifts at work on Christmas Eve. It was warm and fuzzy.
Hating to shop passes for a virtue most of the year. Miss Manners is not sure why everyone believes that a person who hates to shop necessarily disdains material things and spends the saved time in high-minded ways, but such is the usual assumption. Not around Christmastime, however.
Dear Miss Manners: I am a Christian clergywoman. At Christmastime, I receive "Season's greetings" from my butcher, my diaper delivery man and every salesperson I encounter. This is a lovely and appropriate gesture. My immediate family is another matter. My stepsister, who is not religious, seems to make a studied effort to avoid saying the very words that would be personally meaningful to me. Her cards and gifts are marked "Season's greetings" and "Happy winter holidays." I am quite certain that, on the appropriate days, she would wish her Jewish friends a "Happy Hanukkah," but she does not extend the same courtesy of specificity to me.
Dear Miss Manners: What would be a correct way to prompt my husband's married children to write thank-you letters or notes for gifts? I have tried to convince my husband to stop sending them gifts altogether so they will get the message. He complains and feels that the girls don't care, but still sends the gifts.
Dear Miss manners: Every year since the mid-1980s, we have planned a catered holiday open house for the clients of my husband's law firm - always on a weekday night during the late afternoon to early evening hours. The number of invitations sent for the party has averaged between 375-400. Most years, 150 clients have attended. At the bottom of each invitation, we add a "Please RSVP" notation, the date when we wish the clients to RSVP, and the law-firm phone number. Although the clients have the invitations in their offices four to five weeks before we ask them to RSVP, only 20 percent make the effort. Do you have any suggestions for us to encouraging our clients to RSVP? I always need to let the caterers know how many people are attending three days before the party. Why aren't people gracious enough to let you know if they'll attend? Gentle Reader: It's the "Please RSVP." The "SVP" stands for "s'il vous plait," which is "please" in French. They are so thrown by this double courtesy that they are speechless. No, it isn't that. Please, please forgive Miss Manners. But although she would never defend the rudeness of ignoring invitations, she does believe that the terms of your invitation indicate that it confers minimal social obligations on those who receive it. It is not really a social party but a little perk for clients; the term "open house" indicates more flexibility than expected at other parties; it is timed so guests can stop by for a drink after work rather than making a special outing; and it's so large that they can reasonably assume that you may not even notice who is there, let alone have a chance to socialize with them. Miss Manners has no objection to these arrangements, which probably appeal more to your husband's clients than something requiring more from them. She is only pointing out that you have set it up to seem like an option rather than a firm commitment. Even if you telephoned each person to force out an answer, she doubts they would feel their acceptances or refusals to be binding. Besides, if 150 people generally come, why don't you tell the caterer that? Miss Manners will save her indignation to use on your friends who refuse to answer your dinner invitations. Dear Miss Manners: I have attended a number of Jewish events (e.g. weddings, funerals) where I have been handed a yarmulke prior to the beginning of the ceremony. I am not Jewish and do not know the appropriate custom involved. Should I accept it and wear it? I have no religious objection to this. However, I do not want to wear one if it is inappropriate. And if I am not supposed to wear one, should I still accept one if offered to me? I would like to do what I can to please the couple being married or to honor the deceased. Gentle Reader: You can't properly decline to wear a yarmulke that has been offered as a courtesy. The gesture means that yarmulkes are required, while it recognizes that gentlemen will be present who could not be expected to bring them. And although Miss Manners is glad that you want to please and honor your friends, that is not the reason you should wear one. You do it as a sign of religious respect. However, the symbolism of clothing in religion is, like most ancient traditions, wildly complicated. For example, you, as a gentile, would never put on the prayer shawl you may have observed others wearing. Yet you may have noticed Jews bareheaded at services or prayers. So don't even try to figure any of this out for yourself. Before attending unfamiliar services, you should inquire which customs are part of the religious observance, not to be practiced by outsiders, and which show respect and therefore should be followed by everyone present.
Dear Miss Manners: I believe that when someone you know very well - such as your beau - presents you with a gift, it is a sign of mutual intimacy and trust to be honest enough to say if you won't use that shirt or tie. It is more insulting to accept the gift gracefully but then never wear or use it - your partner will know you don't like it anyway. My beau believes in accepting the gift even at the expense of having me notice he never uses it. This politeness should extend to wearing the stuff occasionally. A friend tells me that for the first three years of her marriage, she fished the same unused shirts out of her hubby's drawer and rewrapped them. It took him three years to notice what she was doing. (Since I've already shared a good laugh with my boyfriend about this patient ploy, I can't use it myself.)
Dear Miss Manners: At Thanksgiving dinner in my daughter's home, her husband designated the seating, placing her at his right. He was at the end of the table in the host chair, and his brother-in-law was seated at the opposite end of the table in what I have always termed the hostess chair. Before leaving, I remarked to him that I felt hurt that my daughter was being denigrated in front of my two grandsons, ages 20 and 18 years old. He said he learned this seating at their gourmet club.
Dear Miss Manners: I am saddened and ashamed to confess that I had an affair, which has just ended, with a married man. As I should have suspected, he cannot leave his wife and family despite all the statements to the contrary that he made to me. This affair resulted in my husband divorcing me. His wife, however, fought for her husband and has finally won him back. My shame at having caused so much pain for his wife and my desire to try to atone for my sins (if at all possible) brings me to my question: Is it ever appropriate to write a letter of apology to your former lover's wife, asking her forgiveness?
Dear Miss Manners: I find that most hostesses set a beautiful table, but when dinner is over, they ask you to pass your dirty plates to them. Then they sit at this beautiful table scrapping the leftovers into the dirty plates and stacking them. This procedure nauseates me, so I immediately find something to do in the kitchen while waiting for the stacked dishes to arrive.
Dear Miss Manners: Is it proper, improper, or neither to hold an elevator for your spouse or companion who isn't there yet, thus detaining others on board? If the delay is running on, say 15 to 20 seconds and you're still calling them, is it appropriate for one of the detainees to say something? Could you? What would you say?
Dear Miss Manners: We always have holiday dinners at my brother's house because it is convenient for our elderly relatives. But we always have the same problems. My brother, who is a designer and a perfectionist, seems to expect us to get all excited about a table covered with lace, china, candles and floral arrangements. How can we ask him and his wife to have a more casual event? How do we get them to lighten up? How do we convey to them that it is more important to value their young relatives rather than their material belongings?
Dear Miss Manners: Our family has a beloved friend whom we have known over 36 years and whom we include in our special family events. However, he is a fierce literary critic, and in so being, he seems insensitive to the invitations. For example, when he received my written invitation to the celebration of our daughter's having received her Ph.D., he responded by telephone in his very loud voice: "This is the apostrophe police!! You put the apostrophe in the wrong place!!" - with no comment or kind remark on her fine accomplishment.
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.
Dear Miss Manners: I live in a small town where everyone seems to notice everything. I have a diamond ring that is a gift from an extended family member, and I'm concerned that since I have never worn diamonds in the past, if I wear this ring there may be gossip. People may say the rates or prices of our family business are too high, and so forth. Despite the pettiness and inaccuracies of these assumptions, such comments, attitudes, and sometimes boycotting of one's business is not unheard of. This is why some people in small communities are very careful regarding the clothing, housing, cars, sports equipment, etc. they display.
Dear Miss Manners: Was I right in inviting my wife, sister-in-law and brother-in-law to a family meeting to help Mother manage her affairs now and as she gets older? Mother says that the in-laws should not have been present because of inheritance discussions.
Dear Miss Manners: A wedding reception my wife and I attended was a catered buffet in the basement of the church where the wedding occurred. The utensils were plastic, and there were paper plates. After we had finished eating, a close friend of ours told us to pass the silverware to her, which she then proceeded to collect from the entire table. She stated that she was going to put it in her dishwasher and use it again as it was "high-quality plasticware."
Dear Miss Manners: During a job interview, I met with the vice-president of Human Resources, and it was obvious that she had a raspy voice and a cough. I assumed that she had a cold or other minor/temporary condition and waited for a cue ("Please excuse my voice - I have a cold") to offer sympathy or concern. When none came, I did not make any comment at all, assuming that she did not want to call attention to her situation. The interview ended 45 minutes later with absolutely no mention of her condition. Should I have made a comment ("Gee, that's a nasty cough") without waiting for a direct opening? Or did I behave appropriately?
Dear Miss Manners: My son's trombone teacher comes to our house every Friday evening for an hour. I love the convenience, but I don't want to get as personal as she seems to want. First, she wants to chat, for example, about what went on at my doctor's appointment (the reason I had to move our normal time). At that time of day I am exhausted and hungry, and I need to start dinner. Do I owe her conversation? I'd rather she would just teach music and be done with it.
Dear Miss Manners: My wife actually gets angry if I ask her whom she was talking to when she gets off the phone. It seems to me that a married couple should be able to ask each other whom they were talking to and get a civil answer. Her belligerent attitude stifles conversation, and I don't like it one bit. I don't mind her asking me whom I was talking to, and I don't mind discussing what we were talking about, but she acts like her phone conversations are none of my business. Help!