Miss Manners: Avoid forced hug by shaking hands instead

January 21, 2013

DEAR MISS MANNERS: What do you do when friends, co-workers, employees and neighbors insist on your hugging their children? Especially when you don’t know said children, and they don’t want to hug you, any more than you want to hug them. It’s usually a thank-you for a donation to whatever group they are participating in.

GENTLE READER: Here is another contribution you can make to such a child: Say directly to him or her, “Why don’t we shake hands instead?”

Miss Manners counts this as a double contribution. You not only spare the two of you a misapplied gesture, but you also teach the child of huggy parents that civilized people have a dignified way of expressing goodwill.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: We sent a baby gift to new parents. They have not responded, but that may be my fault. I failed to enclose a card before my husband mailed it from his business address.

Is it rude if I ask if the gift was received? I certainly would let the parents know that I was remiss in not including a card. These parents are family members to whom we are close.

GENTLE READER: You have created the polite person’s nightmare. Miss Manners, who is condemned to keep scolding those who don’t thank, despairs when she finds innocent people classed among them. Yet many a time she has heard from the recipient of a present who is helpless because the giver is unknown.

Forgetting to enclose a card, as you did, doesn’t often happen. What commonly causes the problem is the card that is tucked into the ribbons on a package left at a wedding or other mass event. It slips out. Later, the would-be thanker tries to think who might have left it, but is prevented from asking around because it would be a serious embarrassment to anyone who did not leave a present.

You have only to write a letter of apology to the new parents, wishing them well and confessing your error. However, those other folks who cause such problems have got to learn that it is wrong to bring presents to a wedding (they should be sent to the home, before or after the wedding), and if they do it anyway, or bring presents to another event, to put the card inside the package.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it impolite to text on a cellphone while you are having dinner with someone? My daughter says it is appropriate, but I find it completely rude. What is your opinion?

GENTLE READER: Of course it is impolite. Using anything — electronic or not — to ignore one’s fellow diners is rude.

But Miss Manners sees a worse problem here, in that you seem to believe that etiquette is a matter of opinion, and that everyone has an equal say about what it should be.

Wrong. Your daughter should listen to you, and you should listen to Miss Manners, who is not stating her opinion, but making a pronouncement.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

, by Judith Martin

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