If you've just put a massive effort into the great annual Christmas card project and are merrily wallowing in virtue, not to mention eggnog, after having magnanimously licked a stamp for each of your hitherto neglected friends, you may not want to hear about all the ways these friends will discover for taking offense at your accomplishment.
It is not, Miss Manners acknowledges, fair.
After all your exertions, no Christmas greeting of yours should end up on Miss Manners's desk, with a disdainful note from the object of your kind intentions saying only, "Will you look at that?"
It especially isn't fair to Miss Manners, who is not of the stick-'em-in-the-Venetian- blinds school of holiday decorating (or desk organizing). If Christmas card senders would be a mite more discriminating about whom they sent what, and if recipients could stretch themselves to accept greetings with a modicum of Christmas charity, she could reclaim her desktop for her own eggnog cup.
Here is a sampling of Christmas gripes. My, there are a lot of persnickety celebrators out there.
"One type of card we receive is the engraved variety with return address printed on the envelope and senders' names printed on the card. A second has our name and address in heavy calligraphy on the envelope, and senders' names in heavy calligraphy on the card. No personal note or greeting included. We feel that the first people could not be bothered with personally signing their names, let alone adding a happy short greeting, and that the second are more interested in showing off their calligraphy talent than in sincerely giving us a personal greeting."
"An acquaintance I've known for several years told me he was disappointed by the formality of the signature on my Christmas card. I had signed it Mary and John Doe. I am a single, never married, mother, and my 6-year-old son legally has my last name. I addressed the card to Mr. and Mrs. Henry Smith."
"I feel violated and stunned that someone would have the insensitivity to send us a Christmas letter in which her mother's death is mentioned right before the family trip to Disneyland, and the visit of some children is noted with 'their mom, our friend, is ill -- cancerous.' Treating her mother's death so flippantly sickens me, and it is absolutely none of her business to tell everyone her friend is fighting cancer."
"The newsletter greetings we receive from close relatives tell what has occurred in the last year and give high praise to their accomplishments. I never hear from them during the year, nor do they ever visit. Nowhere do they ask about us. While I feel these letters are appropriate for business associates, I do not feel they are appropriate for close family, who should receive a handwritten note or just a nice card."
"I would much rather have the end-of-the-year letter, even one that brags, than a beautiful card that has nothing personal in it and is probably signed with a first name and no return address."
"My daughter, who is married and very busy, told me that she was going to put her Christmas card list on her computer so she wouldn't have to hand-address all her 100 or so cards. I was upset, saying that it was in bad taste and Christmas cards should be addressed by hand."
"I send greeting cards only to people to whom I do not give gifts. Someone said I was cheap and just didn't want to pay the postage. Whenever I receive a greeting card in the mail and then receive a gift from the same person at Christmas, I consider it two greetings (which is nice, of course, but unnecessary)."
"Every year a woman sends my husband a Christmas card containing a very suggestive pinup picture of herself. It seems sleazy to me, and it embarrasses him. However, neither of us has mentioned it to her, as she is a salesperson for a company we need to buy from, and we see her on a regular basis."
Miss Manners is tempted to make everyone join hands and repeat: "Merry Christmas; I will be grateful for what I get." Those who criticize others for their signatures, their artistic writing or their habit of giving presents rather than cards deserve a lump of coal.
The rest of the problems might be eased, however, if the senders of Christmas cards could manage to keep the recipients in mind. Annual newsletters appeal only to those who are close enough to be known to be interested in the contents, but not close enough to be expected to keep in touch.
Miss Manners is willing to overlook computerized labels, but if the number of people who would be pleased to get your minimal greeting is so large that you need to have your name printed, you may be popular enough to invest in an automatic writing pen, such as presidents use to fake autographs.
But a perusal of Miss Manners's sampling of complaints could save you trouble. It seems that people are not so pleased with the technically polite minimum of an impersonal card -- or the startling one of you offering yourself as a visual Christmas present -- as the senders of such missiles fondly imagine.
Q. My husband has been asked to act as master of ceremonies at our niece's wedding. As he has never performed this duty before, I wondered if you might advise us of the correct procedure to follow -- how and when to introduce the head table, toasting and anything else that would make his duties interesting and lighthearted. It will be a relatively small wedding, with just over 100 guests.
A. Since when do people need a master of ceremonies to celebrate their own wedding?
Miss Manners is sorry to say that she knows the answer: Since the American people decided that the archetypal ceremony was the Academy Awards, and that all milestones of life should pattern themselves upon it, including applause and listings of credits.
Introducing the head table is a particular atrocity. Did everyone sneak in, skipping the receiving line? The bride is the one in the wedding dress. Anyone who can't recognize at least some of the others must be at the wrong wedding.
Please ask your husband to confine himself to the hostlike role of offering the first toast at dessert (wedding cake) time and then allowing others to offer toasts as well. Although he may do this with whatever lightheartedness and charm he may muster (Miss Manners can hardly recommend a routine -- he is supposed to be inspired by his affection for the couple), he should remember, even if no one else does, that a wedding is not a television show.
Q. I ordered a dinner of soup and salad at a restaurant, and the waitress brought the salad first. When I asked for the soup first, the answer was "Madam, you have to eat your salad first."
I couldn't do anything but laugh. She called the manager, who of course said it was no problem to serve the soup first. But where did the restaurant custom originate of serving salad first?
A. Wait a minute. "Madam, you have to eat your salad first"? And if you don't finish it, you don't get any dessert? Miss Manners thinks she knows where that attitude originated, and it wasn't in a restaurant.
The reason restaurants serve salad before the main course, whereas private service places the salad after it, is that restaurants need time to cook your food after you arrive and tell them what you want (which you're not supposed to do at a private home), and they don't want you to get cranky waiting.
But they are not supposed to serve the salad before the soup. And they are not entitled to get cranky themselves when you refuse to eat the salad first.