The Washington Post

Miss Manners: Brief thank-you should end courtesy exchange

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I came into possession of some things that had belonged to the parents of a celebrity. My aunt had married a man whose father had been married to this person’s mother.

When her mother passed away, she left some things with her husband, and they passed down to my uncle. My aunt wasn’t able to get hold of this person, so, knowing I was a fan, she sent them to me.

I was able to make contact and return the things, which were of a fairly personal nature. I know that if it had been my parents, I would have wanted them. The lady sent me a personalized autographed photo and a three-page letter. I am thinking of writing back, just a brief thank-you note for the photo and the letter, no response expected.

Is it silly to send a thank-you for something that was itself basically a thank-you? I want to express my thanks, but I don’t want to overstep and intrude upon her privacy.

GENTLE READER: Ordinarily, whether to thank for thanks is a simple matter. Yet it throws many a Gentle Reader into a tizzy, envisioning an endless exchange that consumes the lives of both parties.

Miss Manners can assure them that this need not happen. It is not necessary to thank someone for thanking you.

But wait! Don’t go away. If the letter of thanks is accompanied by a present, including such tokens as flowers or candy, it is necessary to express thanks for the present. Just don’t send anything tangible with it, or you really will be trapped in a spiral of courtesy.

What makes your situation problematical is whether an autographed photograph is a present. When Queen Mary sent one in a silver frame to your great-grandmother, who kept it on the piano discreetly facing the sofa, probably, yes.

But for a modern celebrity, it seems more like a calling card; the lady probably has stacks of them to send to fans. Her real graciousness was in sending you the three-page letter of thanks, but that does not require a response.

You have already been extremely gracious to someone who responded in kind. Miss Manners suggests leaving it at that. You don’t want to make her feel as though you are using that to open a correspondence.

However, if you consider the photograph to be a present, at least keep your thanks so brief (“I’m so pleased to have your photograph”) that it will be obvious that you expect the exchange to end there.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Years ago, my gay cousin married a lesbian for appearances’ sake because they wanted a child. They are both professionals. His longtime partner moved in with them as well. She does not have a partner.

My daughter is inviting my cousin, his partner and his wife to her wedding. She uses her maiden name. Would it be OK to just put all three names on one invitation?

GENTLE READER: Three persons living at the same address may be issued a single invitation. It was not necessary to entertain Miss Manners by spelling out why and how they live at that address.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays on You can send questions to Miss Manners at her Web site,

, by Judith Martin



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