Miss Manners: Gifts to relatives and gifts to charity shouldn’t be linked

December 6, 2011

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I have been exchanging Christmas gifts with my sisters-in-law, but we would like to use the money allocated for his sisters’ gifts instead to purchase gifts for children in need. I am wondering if and how we should broach the subject with my husband’s sisters so they are not surprised by the lack of gifts.

I know one should never assume that she will receive a gift, so it would seem this would preclude the need to inform my sisters-in-law of our intentions. I would love to suggest that we all give gifts to children in need instead of purchasing gifts for one another, but I do not know if this is appropriate, either.

I have considered purchasing a child’s gift in each of my husband’s sister’s name, but it seems that this would be a surprise and disappointment to them, assuming that they follow tradition by buying gifts for us. What would you suggest as a course of action?

GENTLE READER: First, that you suggest to your sisters-in-law that, with the warmest wishes in the world, perhaps all of you should stop the exchange of presents at Christmas.

Second, that you give money to children in need.

Third, that you erase from your mind any idea that these two actions are connected.

It is one thing to bring up the idea that there may be better ways to express mutual fondness than buying things for one another. If they agree, this would relieve them, as well as you, of the cost in time and money. If they resist, Miss Manners hopes that you will limit your cutting back to sending them less expensive presents that are nevertheless thoughtful.

However, if you link a cutback to your philanthropy, you are telling them that they represent the most expendable item in your budget. The subtext is even worse, implying that any disappointment or resentment on their part is at the expense of needy children, in contrast with your noble compassion.

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DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a new friend who takes enormous pride in coming from an aristocratic background and for being Mrs. Manners.

However, I was dining alone in a bistro the other day, and she arrived to have lunch as well. She sat down at the table beside me so we could chat, yet she did not remove her sunglasses the entire time.

Not being able to make eye contact with her made me uncomfortable, but assuming that as the etiquette expert, she knew better than I, I didn’t say anything. My understanding is that it is bad etiquette to wear sunglasses in a restaurant, especially if you are having a conversation with someone — even if it just be the waiter. Yes? No?

GENTLE READER: Mrs. Manners? Surely if your new friend were Miss Manners’s mother, Miss Manners would know the other side of the story.

There can easily be one, as people wear tinted glasses for many reasons. There could be some temporary or permanent physical reason, or the lady could simply have had her regular glasses tinted for outdoor use. Even though your friend is not Miss Manners’s mother, Miss Manners asks you to give her the benefit of the doubt.

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

@ 2011, by Judith Martin

Distributed by Universal Uclick for UFS

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