We are about to celebrate a holiday that is dedicated to a word that sticks in many people's craws: "Thanks."
Whatever God might receive in the way of expressions of gratitude, the earthly pickings have become scarce.
This is because many people are extremely idealistic. They have explained to Miss Manners that generosity is a virtue that should be kept pure, and that people who expect to be thanked for presents or favors should feel ashamed of themselves for being selfish and unworthy.
A more practical argument comes from people on the receiving end who explain that they are simply too busy to issue thanks. They are not asking for shame from those who take the time to think about what might please them, and to acquire and send this, but for the sympathy that should flow from understanding of the importance of their time.
Miss Manners recommends taking pity on both sorts of no-thanks folks.
They should be relieved of the burden of thanking by the simple measure of removing any cause for doing so.
If necessary, one might explain to them that delicacy requires ceasing to shower them with attentions considering the likelihood that these are unwelcome. Without positive feedback, the sensitive donor should assume that the effort to please has failed.
She has no pity for those who turn on people who do thank -- who even thank them. Following their own theories, they should dismiss the thankers, along with their benefactors who expect thanks, as being of bad character or simply too unimportant to have better things to do.
Instead, they go after them, on the grounds that they are giving ingratitude a bad name. Here are some reports from Gentle Readers who have been chastised because they dared to thank:
"I was rather puzzled last Christmas when two of my older sisters requested that I not write them thank-you notes because it would make them feel guilty for not writing their own."
"I have gotten into the habit of sending thank-you notes since I reached adulthood, and wish to continue doing so for my engagement and wedding presents. When my mother discovered that this was my intention, she was furious. She says that I should thank the givers via telephone, that our friends and relatives will be at best confused and at worst insulted if I send written thanks instead, for I would be implying that I don't want to talk to them."
"A friend of ours asked me not to send her thank-you notes any longer for the Christmas gift she gives us each year. She said that she does not have time to send thank-you notes. I appreciate the time and effort that others spend in purchasing and giving us gifts and like to show my appreciation by sending thank-you cards but do not want to make her feel uncomfortable in any way."
Thanksgiving must be a rough day for the anti-thanks people. One should at least wish them a thankless Christmas.
Dear Miss Manners:
My job involves meeting quite a few new people each week, getting to know them enough to understand what their technical requirements are, and then completing consulting assignments for them. Lately I seem to be surrounded by people who are chronic name-droppers. If I don't seem impressed enough that they know the renowned Mr. So-and-so, they assume it's out of ignorance and stop their story to explain to me exactly how important he really is. My boss is among the worst offenders -- regularly coming into my office to share stories about the important people he knows.
Is there a gentle and polite way to move these people back to the subject at hand?
Yes, and don't stop now.
If there is one thing that drives name-droppers wild, Miss Manners has noticed, it is failing to catch the names as they drop. You need only keep a polite show of mild interest on your face as you ask for explanations:
"Who did you say?"
"Is she famous?"
"Is that the new employee?"
"How do you spell that name?"
"I'm sorry, I don't watch much television, so you'll have to tell me who he is."
They soon discover that it takes all the fun out of name-dropping if they have to pick them up themselves.
Dear Miss Manners:
My mother says putting lipstick on at the table in a restaurant is poor manners. I say that if you have a beautiful holder or compact and don't take all evening, it is accepted today. Who is right -- her (old school) or me (new school)?
The new school is right. But wait -- before you rush off to triumph over your mother, Miss Manners must point out that it is your mother who represents the new school in this dispute.
Before World War I, ladies did not put on makeup in public for the sensible reason that they were pretending they never wore any. After the war, some of them inaugurated the modern era of fashion by wearing little else.
Thus the beautiful compacts, which it soon came to be permissible to flash at the table, date from the 1920s and 1930s. These often matched elaborate cigarette holders, as smoking at the table was also permitted.
In recent times, onlookers revolted against both smoking and grooming at the table on the grounds that they found those practices unappetizing. They have, therefore, been banned by the new school.
Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.
(c)2002, Judith Martin