Category Archives: Miss Manners

Paying A-tense-ion

Miss Manners recently answered a question about how to respond to a valuable gift that isn’t to the recipient’s taste.  Her reply? Thank with abandon, wear with reservation. No, you don’t have to put on something you dislike every day, but to express disappointment or dissatisfaction to the giver is downright rude.

Fair enough.

But I think Miss Manners missed a key element in the language of the question. Take a look:

Dear Miss Manners: My husband bought my daughter a pair of diamond stud earrings that she had told him she didn’t like/want. She appreciates the thought and gesture but doesn’t care to wear them.

Would it be wrong to politely ask him to go with her to trade them for something that she would wear more?

Gentle Reader: Why miss another chance to show him that his outpouring of sentiment and generosity was a failure?

All presents are laden with symbolism, Miss Manners warns you, but jewelry is explosive with it, and never more so than when given by a gentleman to a lady or relative to one of the next generation.

The young lady who rejects Grandmother’s ring, telling her that it is too old-fashioned, should probably not have high expectations about the will. Ladies should never confuse gentlemen by accepting jewelry if not prepared to accept the gentleman who offers it—nor by criticizing a proffered ring when intending to take the gentleman himself.

This is not to say that those on the receiving end must wear jewelry they dislike, except on occasions when doing so would feel worth it to please the person who chose it. If a grateful fuss is made at first, it may not be crucial, as time goes by, if the jewelry is worn less. Or one may explain having stones reset to strengthen the prongs or modernize the setting.

Miss Manners’ choice for your daughter would be for her to throw her arms around her father, claim that she had been too overwhelmed to know how to react (which is certainly true), give him a huge kiss and put on the earrings.

She can then put them aside “for special occasions.” They will not lose their value, and later, if she does not come to value the sentiment enough to keep them, perhaps for the daughter she may some day have, she can privately trade them without embarrassing her father.

Miss Manners answered the question as if the young woman had opened the gift, snorted, reached for her iPhone, and tweeted “diamond earrings!? #donotwant”

But the LW actually writes that her daughter  “had told him she didn’t like/want” them. Which suggests to me she had been asked about or shown the earrings ahead of time, expressed a preference, and then her father bought and bestowed them anyway.

This sounds more to me like calculated manipulation than imprecise generosity.

Miss Manners reminds us that “all presents are laden with symbolism,” and that accepting a gift–especially an expensive one–has implications for the relationship between giver and recipient. Well, it goes the other way, too. Giving an expensive, symbolic gift– in full knowledge of the intended recipient’s discomfort with it–is about power, not pleasure.

We don’t need to debate the etiquette of prospective recipients instructing their family and friends in their tastes and preferences every time a holiday rolls around. I’m not suggesting that all givers need to get the recipient’s approval before selecting a gift. But if he did have that information and chose to act against it, something about the spirit of this gift is way off the mark.



Sigh: the battle over whether to use one space after a period or two continues to rage. The issue has long been settled by typesetters and style guides, and even forcibly by web browsers themselves, which typically collapse all whitespace between characters to a single space.

Nevertheless, purists, loyalists, and typists of all sort continue to kvetch about it–many of them admitting that they simply can’t give up doing what they were trained to do. And so, the matter has now come to the attention of the highest authority in the land: Miss Manners. What? Yes. And since she does hold strong opinions about communication media in other situations (thank you notes must be hand written!) perhaps it’s not entirely unreasonable that she weigh in here:

Dear Miss Manners: I’ve just been informed that only one space is needed after a period, but having learned to type on a typewriter, this confused me. Apparently (note, I’m still putting in two spaces), computer fonts no longer require two spaces after a period, but if you (whoever that may be) are typing on a typewriter, you should continue to do so?

Gentle Reader: Ordinarily, Miss Manners handles only those problems that are truly about etiquette. This is less of a limitation than one may think, considering that she defines etiquette as all human social behavior.

Her answer is that while it is true that a computer does not require double spaces between sentences, you should continue to use two spaces on the typewriter. Partly this has to do with tradition. But mostly it has to do with the fact that anyone still using a typewriter has been at it too long to be retrained.

(Check out the letter above this one, too, where she makes a plug for voting polite candidates into office.)

deja deja vu

When I read Miss Manners‘ column this morning (well, really it was Sunday’s column), I knew I’d read it–and even written about it!–before.  So imagine my surprise when in the deep little help please archives, I couldn’t find the post that I was sure would contain precisely the phrase I recognized in the column.

I broadened my search.  And, lo and behold, I found the post. But guess what–I never found the column. I know, I would bet the farm if I had one, that in early 2009 Amy published this letter from a woman who spills things on purpose to give her an excuse to clean up her boyfriend’s garage apartment.  I know it.  But apparently I couldn’t even find the column then, and I can’t find it now.


Strongly worded letters

Expert writers and researchers showed up in two columns today, fretting that they hadn’t been properly recognized for their efforts on behalf of others.

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Why I ottaman…

I was out at a furniture store this weekend and encountered something I’d never seen before (though maybe I’m just new to the furniture store circuit):  a cocktail ottoman.

….a what?

Basically, it’s a giant, flat ottoman (the one I saw was a huuuuge black leather square.  Like, I could have stretched out across it diagonally).  It apparently functions as a footrest/coffee table–although, counterintuitively, the one I saw had an uneven, buttony texture so any cocktail you set on it is sure to spill.

May I offer you a Turkish Coffee? Get it, because it's a coffee table, and an Sorry.

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Miss Manners 2.0 (2/2)

If you thought Monday’s offended IM-er was uptight, wait until you read this:

Dear Miss Manners: I have a GPS navigator in my car, which I use when I am going to an unfamiliar location. If I have a passenger who claims to know the way, I usually rely on the passenger rather than the GPS, though sometimes this has proved to be a mistake. But when traveling to a place that is unfamiliar to both of us, I use the GPS.

Now it has happened on several occasions, and with different passengers, that while the final destination may be unfamiliar, during some portion of the route, such as getting out of the city or passing through a nearby community, the passenger has argued with the GPS navigator by calling it stupid, asking me why I bought it in the first place, or telling me to throw it out the window.

One person actually sulked for an hour because I took the GPS directions instead of his. Another person told me he would rather get lost than rely on a silly box with a simulated voice.

If I am a passenger in someone else’s car, I don’t give directions unless I am asked. I feel that most drivers have their favorite ways to travel, and it is not up to me to question their decisions. I would like to know how to respond to people who develop adversarial relationships with my GPS navigator.

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Miss Manners 2.0 (1/2)

Another day, another Facebook etiquette problem, eh?  So for all our sakes’,  let’s look at a (slightly) different shade of technoquette inquiry to Miss Manners:

Dear Miss Manners: When one signs onto any form of instant messaging and notices via one’s contact list that someone else is already online, to whom is the ultimate responsibility to take notice? The person signing on or the person already there?

I take daily comfort from noticing that my brother must be alive and reasonably well as he is online, but he has never, ever, initiated a chat with me by something as simple as “Hi, sis, how are you?”

I get stubborn and decide to wait, and after months, I will break down and initiate a chat with him. He almost always responds and we chat for a bit, exchange pics, news, etc. Then, months later, I break down and do it again.

Am I unreasonable to want him to evince an interest in me?

Also, what about friends who never reply when I initiate a chat? “Hi, how are you?” Nothing. And, then, there is the friend who almost always “hides” that she is online. If I send an off line message, she usually signs in and we chat.

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