Last Christmas, Miss Manners made the mistake of opening two cards that arrived by e-mail. One turned out to feature an amusingly revolving Christmas tree, and the other pictured some children of whom she is extremely fond.
Did they spread joy in her heart? No. Each card took several hours to download, rendering her computer useless when she had other plans for it.
Miss Manners does not want to hear that she should buy faster equipment (or be faster on the uptake, in which case she would have learned from the first card not to attempt opening the second). What she wants are cards that arrive more slowly but can be appreciated more quickly.
Mind you (or rather it was Miss Manners who had to keep reminding herself), these people meant well. They intended to spread cheer, not consternation. People who want to cause trouble can be trusted to find more direct ways of doing it than sending holiday greetings.
The e-mail problem is a relatively new one, and Miss Manners recognizes that the new rule she is setting--that you must know or inquire whether the recipient has the equipment and the desire to receive anything complicated--will become unnecessary when the technology becomes faster and more common. Yet every year, complaints about conventional cards also have poured in because they manage to annoy the people whom they were intended to please.
Often it starts with the envelope. It isn't easy to figure out what your friends are now using for a last name, much less an honorific, and more and more people are giving up, scrawling a guessed name without any honorific. Both choosing wrong and choosing none are taken as insults.
But they are your friends, and you are supposed to try. A Gentle Reader who has been trying to help by mailing her cards very early, with a return address label showing her preference, found that no one took any notice.
As these cards are supposed to be social, you are expected to know who is and who is not part of a couple, and address the card accordingly. However, that presumes that people do their part by notifying you of marriages and quasi-marriages as well as divorces and deaths, so it may be a draw.
There is dissatisfaction about the senders' names, as well. Their handwriting is illegible or they forgot to include their surnames and cannot be identified, or they used printed names, instead of signatures, which is taken as too impersonal.
The too-impersonal complaint is not to be confused with the too-personal complaint. The former deems the card meaningless because nothing has been written on it by the sender. The latter has to do with receiving more personal news than interest warrants, in a tone considered too smug or, more rarely, too frankly depressing.
Religion has a long history of causing offense, and regarding cards, Miss Manners has received complaints that there is too much of it, too little of it, that it's the wrong one or that it's the right one.
That last one may seem a stretch, but it has to do with cards corresponding to the religion of the recipient without the sender realizing that other holidays may have no such tradition.
Receiving any card at all is cited as a nuisance by people who don't know the senders well enough to make a bond that will come due every year, or who know the senders so well that they see them every day, or those who hardly remember them and think it's time to stop.
Miss Manners was thankful to be pulled out of this unseasonable morass by a Gentle Reader who pleaded, "Please tell your readers who object to these letters to lighten up, not be so judgmental and just be thankful that their friends and relatives are at least keeping in touch."
That is exactly what Miss Manners would have said until her computer messed up. No, it's exactly what she does say.
Dear Miss Manners: Is it correct for Jews to use a Hanukkah postage stamp when sending Christmas cards to gentiles?
It is incorrect for anyone of any religion to take offense at a kindly meant greeting on the basis of the denomination of the stamp.
(c) 1999, Judith Martin