Q: Last year at Thanksgiving, we broke our longstanding tradition of a cosy, intimate, candlelight dinner to go to a friend's house for a "community" Thanksgiving dinner.

It ended up as a grab-it-first buffet. The hostess had never cooked a turkey before, and knew nothing about gravy. And instant mashed potatoes are high on my list of avoided convenience foods.

The hostess thought it was a wonderful get-together. She thought that we should all plan to do it again next year.

It is now next year, and we are expecting another invitation. We do not want to go!

If that horrible moment does arrive, how can we gracefully decline without coming right out and saying we prefer a more intimate setting? The hostess is a very nice person and will be offended no matter what we say, I think.

A: Miss Manners should certainly think so, if the sample reasons you gave are anything like what you have in mind to explain. She doesn't like instant mashed potatoes any more than you do, but is even less fond of the way you put "community" in quotation marks, as if it were a repulsive idea for a nice, selfish holiday like Thanksgiving.

This is by no means meant to suggest that anyone should accept an unwanted invitation when not bound by family duty. All you have to say is a polite no.

Giving prospective hostesses reasons why you would not enjoy their parties is not polite. It is also not necessary. Why tell "a very nice person" that she invites too many guests, or can't cook her way out of a giblet bag, when it would be so simple to say, "Oh, thank you so much for inviting us, but I'm afraid we have other plans this year."