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Letter Perfect

Wednesday, March 9, 2005; Page C10

Dear Miss Manners:

My husband and I were invited to a small dinner at the official residence of a head of state and spouse. What is the correct form in which to frame a thank-you letter? Should it be signed by me (the wife) on behalf of my husband and me, and couched as "Harold and I wish to thank you . . . blah blah blah . . ."? Or, should it come from both of us ("We wish to thank you . . .") and be signed "Harold and Harriet Blah blah blah . . ."?

My husband is the reason we were invited to this dinner, if that matters, and they know him better than they do me. We have only recently become acquainted with them, and while they do seem to be informal people, I would like to be correct. Any other guidelines you can offer (approximate length?) will be appreciated.

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Here is a guideline that you did not request: It is never safe to assume that a head of state and his wife are "informal people."

Modern leaders have mastered apparently informal behavior so as not to appear to their constituents as if they are full of themselves. But it is not in the nature of human beings to be truly indifferent to rank after they have achieved its highest level. So you should address them formally, unless you have expressly been told to do otherwise.

Another guideline (after which Miss Manners promises she will answer your actual question): It is important to maintain the social fiction that people are invited solely because of their charm. So although you realize that it was your husband's position that got you invited, you must act as if both of you were invited for a purely social evening by these informal people, simply because they happen to like you.

The letter of thanks need not be long, but it should be of the usual kind about having had a lovely evening. Unlike invitations and cards, letters are always written by one person alone, and most formally it is the lady who writes, on behalf of herself and her husband, to the hostess, thanking both her and her husband.

Dear Miss Manners:

It seems we need some rules about when to stop an e-mail exchange:

Person 1: What is the budget code for Legal fees?

Person 2: 62120-920-92100

Person 1: Thanks!

Person 2: You're welcome.

I personally believe that the third and fourth lines are unnecessary. It clutters up in-boxes and serves little purpose. In your opinion, is it okay to stick with the question/answer style of e-mail relating and skip all the "thank yous" and "you're welcomes"?

Unaccustomed as she is to bargaining over courtesies, Miss Manners understands the problem of in-box clutter. She therefore proposes a deal: The inquirer adds "please" to his request, and retains the obligation to respond with thanks, which serves the additional purpose of confirming that the e-mail arrived. Then she might be willing to consider the reply of "You're welcome" to be optional.

Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

© 2005, Judith Martin

© 2005 The Washington Post Company