If you are home with nothing much to do, you may be surprised to hear that there are legions of people who are indignantly offended to receive social invitations.

How dare certain people ask for the pleasure of their company?

Oh, perhaps the popular ones wouldn't complain if they were invited to cruise the Aegean during the proper season. But they do complain, in droves, when they receive invitations to showers for ladies at the office they hardly know, invitations to dinner parties from people whose menus they know they won't like, invitations to weddings that are too far away, invitations to office parties when they'd like to go home, invitations from hopeful suitors who are too dreadful or birthday-party invitations from neighbors they don't like.

Their analysis of these invitations suggests that the inviters are either insensitive or motivated by social climbing, hope for business advantage, or greed. No one would bother to ask them over, they think, if not in the expectation of payment in some form, whether it is prestige or a present.

Miss Manners is thinking of starting a national drive to train the socially besieged to cope with this onslaught of unwelcome hospitality. The campaign will be called "Just Say No Thank You."

An invitation, unless it is to go to another realm, is not an insult and should not be treated as such.

The inviter's obvious expectation that the receiver would be pleased to attend may be totally wrong. But that does not mean that the would-be host harbored another reason for offering hospitality.

However, an invitation is not a summons. People who don't want to attend events to which they are invited have the very simple option of declining these invitations.

Provided they do so promptly and politely, they have no further obligations. They are not also required to supply excuses or presents. (However, those who genuinely regret having to decline welcome invitations often want to explain and send appropriate presents, which is perfectly charming of them, but voluntary.)

Here are the rules of Just Say No Thank You:

Answer all invitations upon receipt. (The exceptions are unsolicited pseudo-social invitations that require payment with acceptance, those from business enterprises rather than people, and those from totally unknown people. In other words, you can throw out your junk mail at home or in the office, no matter how "personal" it tries to look.)

Answer in the form in which the invitation was issued.

The correct way to decline a telephone invitation is, "Oh, dear, I'm so sorry, but I will be unable to attend."

To an informal written invitation, it is the same statement, but written.

To a formal invitation, it is the third-person formula used on that invitation:

"Dr. Arabella Carmel

"Mr. Ivan Johns

"regret that they are unable to accept

the extremely kind invitation of

Mr. and Mrs. Simon Nathernal

for Wednesday, the second of September."

Please note that in none of these cases does the invited person flounder about, trying to explain that he would have attended but for overwhelming circumstances: "Gee, uh, sure, except that no, I'll probably be busy that day, because my aunt said she thought she might visit, and I have baseball tickets, and, if she gets sick, I might have to take her to the hospital, so I'd better not."

When no excuse is offered, it is assumed that the person would love to attend the event if only it were humanly possible. It is when he or she babbles uncontrollably that doubts arise.

Just Say No Thank You.

Is it proper for a bride to send a thank-you note for a wedding gift prior to the actual wedding?

Upon receiving her wedding invitation, I selected an appropriate gift and had it sent to the bride's home. Within a week, I received the thank-you note.

The wedding was two weeks later. It seems correct to wait until after the actual ceremony to send these notes, but I am getting conflicting opinions.

You are about to get more than that from Miss Manners. You are going to get -- a cloudburst of tears.

Here poor old Miss Manners has been working so hard to get brides to send any thank-you letters at all, and then to get them out within the lifetimes of the present-givers, and you complain that you have gotten one too soon?

No, indeed, there is no impropriety in sending out prompt thank-you letters, before or after the ceremony. There is only Miss Manners' undying gratitude.