It's Not Easy Being Grateful and Green

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Dear Miss Manners:

A conflict of values: I have always been committed to the practice of sending handwritten expressions of thanks for kindnesses in an appropriate and timely manner, and have valued receiving the same from others.

However, I am also committed to doing my small part to reduce the impact of greenhouse gases on our precious environment. I recycle, take canvas bags when I shop, receive and pay bills electronically, and send electronic greeting cards to friends. I have canceled all catalogues and magazine subscriptions, carefully managed the use of electricity and gas in my home, and am careful about fuel consumption in my auto.

I find myself feeling guilty when I write a thank-you note, as each note uses resources in the form of both the paper on which it is written and the fuel required to send it from place to place. I would like to replace these notes with similarly appropriate expressions of thanks via e-mail to those of my friends who I know use e-mail. I would value your thoughts on this dilemma.

Weighing competing virtues is a pleasant diversion to Miss Manners, who spends most of her time just pointing out the difference between good and bad manners.

So let us examine the particulars of your case. It argues well for you that you do propose continuing to express thanks in writing, and that you extend your sacrifices to matters other than your social duties. You'd be surprised at how many virtuous-sounding people do neither.

How many letters of thanks do you send in a year, and how many pages do you write? How much more energy is used by sending a letter through the postal service as opposed to using your computer?

When you have an estimate, it should be weighed against the difference between the handwritten letter and the same text sent by e-mail. That would consist of the extra trouble your recipient observed you taking on his or her behalf. It is rather like handing over a bare object as a present rather than gift-wrapping it (which may also be one of your ways of saving paper). And the total should include the overall effect of doing away with small niceties.

Miss Manners does not presume to give you your answer. But she knows what she would decide.

Dear Miss Manners:

How is a case of suspected food poisoning handled? A few days after I served an inside lunch to some friends on a summer day, I found out that one of my guests had called several other guests to see if they, too, had gotten sick from the lunch I served.

None had, so the matter was dropped. I never talked to the caller, but I was miffed that she didn't talk to me before she called other guests. I was embarrassed that she called the other guests, who otherwise would never had thought ill of my food preparation.

How is a case of suspect food poisoning dealt with? Should the host be consulted? Should the person feeling sick not say anything? Should a person try to spare the hostess an anxious reflection of her lunch?

As it happens, you did not poison your guests, so there is no reason to think that people who did not get ill from your food nevertheless thought ill of you.

If you had, you would want to know about it so that you could notify your supplier, pay hospital visits and abase yourself, athough presumably you would not have done it on purpose. Miss Manners' guess is that the ill guest wanted to spare you the worry if her problem were unrelated to lunch, as indeed it turned out not to be.

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.

2008Judith Martin


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