The friends who give those wonderful annual parties you never miss are not as happy to greet many of you as they are gracious enough to pretend.

Where have you been all year?

Are you sure you were invited this year?

Come to think of it, who are you, anyway?

Year-round, Miss Manners provides a sympathetic shoulder for those who have come to be known as People Who Still Entertain. Many of their guests think of them as a subdivision of People Who Still Wear Spats -- eccentrics who are pleasant company, but whom no one in his right mind would think of imitating.

What is it that these genial folk do that is so strange?

They invite friends home instead of meeting them at restaurants. They mark special occasions, theirs and other people's, with parties. They give dinner parties for no reason other than to get people together whose company they enjoy and think would enjoy one another's, undertaking all the planning and work themselves.

What do they get in return?

Lots of happy times, pleasant memories and the satisfaction of knowing that their hospitality has been a source of delight for others.

And that, along with the odd bottle of wine handed over at the door, ought to be enough, their guests believe. That hosts should also expect definitive replies to their invitations and honored commitments strikes the people from whom they expect this as excessive.

Indeed, anyone who has not quit entertaining altogether has already scaled down his or her expectations, forfeiting most traditional hostly privileges. Guests have long since ceased to allow their hosts to control such things as time of arrival or departure, guest list, menu or dress code, and instead routinely announce that they are arriving late, going on to another party, bringing someone extra, eating selectively and not dressing up.

But People Who Still Entertain do cherish the hope that someday they, too, will be invited to cross the thresholds of some of their guests. They do occasionally get reciprocal invitations, but these tend to be to meet people in restaurants, attend fundraisers or otherwise tag along and entertain themselves at what their sort-of hosts are planning to do anyway.

Then there is what one Gentle Reader calls the half-invitation. "Our acquaintances don't seem to be able to actually fully invite us to do things. Instead we get e-mails or phone messages such as, 'We really enjoyed going to the emu races with you last Saturday. We should get together again sometime soon. Give us a call sometime. Thanks, Pat & Pat.' I believe they are sincere, just indecisive or wanting others to take charge. We don't mind being the instigators, it's just that sometimes we'd like to let others take charge and let us relax and enjoy the company."

Not that the guests necessarily demand this formality for themselves. For many, an invitation consists of them asking the hosts when the annual party will be, or just faithfully showing up and not bothering them in between.

Dear Miss Manners:

I have a sister who has told our other siblings that she plans on being artificially inseminated this year. I cannot think of anything polite to say about this, for a variety of reasons.

I think my sister will make a horrible parent. I do not want to give her the impression that I approve of her having a child, but she is my sister and I don't want to alienate her. What can I say without being rude when she tells me she is pregnant?

"Congratulations."

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