Q. We are a family on assignment from France to this great country for the past three years. We have come to appreciate American hospitality and really enjoy the informality of backyard barbecues, play groups for children, yard sales, open houses and just the good neighborly "drop by for a cup of coffee" event.

However, there is one thing called a shower that has me utterly confused, if not frustrated.

A couple plans to get married. Friends, colleagues or relatives give a bridal shower. We take a gift or contribute to a collective gift coordinated by the host.

The same young couple gets married. We attend the wedding and take or send a gift.

The same young couple buys a new home. Friends, colleagues or relatives give a housewarming shower. We contribute as above.

The same young couple moves into a new home. We visit and take a housewarming gift.

The same young couple is going to have a baby. Friends, colleagues and/or relatives give a baby shower. We contribute.

The baby is born. We go and visit the young family and take a gift.

Word is out that the same couple (not so young any more) are not getting along so well and have filed for divorce. Friends, colleagues or relatives give a divorce shower. We contribute as described before.

Of course, I haven't been to a divorce shower yet. But, exaggeratedly speaking, I could carry this on until the bitter end (i.e., funeral shower), but I think I have made my point.

A. It is a point well-taken. Americans, as well as their gracious visitors, are being drenched by unusually prevalent showers.

In proper American etiquette, a shower is a lighthearted event among intimate friends, properly given only before a wedding or the birth of a first baby. Relatives should never issue invitations. If friends give them, they do so of their own free will -- it is not mandatory for bridesmaids, for example, to throw showers. No one should be invited to more than one such event for the occasion. Presents should be mere tokens. Housewarming parties are given by the owners themselves, but the traditional good-luck present is bread and salt.

However, we live in an age of greed and entitlement. The shower has been perceived as one more opportunity to turn a milestone to consumer advantage, and all these rules are being violated right and left.

This should not discourage you from abiding by the rules of etiquette available to guests: You may decline the invitation, sending nothing more than your good wishes.

Some of us used to think that that in itself was quite valuable.

Q. A good friend opened a home accessories business with one of her friends. I congratulated my friend, but I would like to do more.

Would a cocktail party with spouses, her business partner and some of their closest friends, be appropriate? What about a gift?

A. Miss Manners appreciates your kindly feelings, as no doubt your friends do. But for heaven's sake, please, do not exercise them by inventing one more occasion for a shower. The world does not need that.

Take your friend out to a luxurious lunch. Tell her how thrilled you are at her success. Tell all your other friends how wonderful her shop is. Refurnish your house there, at full price.

But do not attempt to turn a commercial venture into a personal milestone ranking with a birth or a marriage. Miss Manners warns you that the others you attempt to draw into this will not accept it gracefully. Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.