DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it appropriate for the woman to pick out the style of engagement/wedding ring that she has to wear on her finger for the rest of her life? Or should the man pick it out without any hint?

The ring could be ugly or not suit her personality. It will save her the pain of having to wear an ugly ring and be secretly unhappy about it, right?

GENTLE READER: You make a sensible point -- one that hasn’t a chance of being implemented.

That is because of the modern invention of the Mandatory Surprise Proposal. It is now obligatory for a young gentleman in this situation to plan an elaborate scene in an exotic place, designed to shock and surprise a lady with whom he has probably been living and debating marriage for years, by falling to his knees, whipping out a diamond ring and blurting out a proposal. He is supposed to have a photographer hidden nearby to record her amazement.

But (Miss Manners hears you ask) isn’t this the old-fashioned way, charmingly revived?

Not exactly. True, it has been a staple of cartoons for many years. But as old-fashioned gentlemen tended to lack the intimate courtship opportunities of today, marriage proposals were not mere formalities, and the surprise was sometimes in the response. Unless he had a family ring to offer, a suitor would be foolhardy to invest in jewelry before being sure of obtaining the hand.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Last night I went out partying with some fellow graduate students and got inebriated. I overheard the woman giving me a ride say at the event that she hates it when people get drunk and act stupid.

I am sure I did and said stupid things around her. I don’t know her very well and won’t see her again for several months. Should I contact her to apologize for my behavior?

GENTLE READER: You mean that you did not fall all over yourself with apologies in your letter of thanks?

Oh. You mean you never thanked her, beyond what you may have mumbled drunkenly when you stumbled out of her car.

It is not only for the sake of manners that Miss Manners urges you to write a profuse letter immediately. Do you really want to risk running into your benefactor at another party, and guessing what she is quietly saying to another guest when she sees you? For that matter, do you want to keep waking up at night thinking of that scene, dismissing it as a bad dream, and then remembering that no, it really happened?

DEAR MISS MANNERS: The mother of a young woman I know insists that it’s “proper etiquette” to stick postage stamps on envelopes (in this case, containing holiday cards) that are being hand-delivered. Surely this can’t be right! She may have some vague idea that hand-delivery looks cheap, as if you’re only trying to save money on stamps. I feel it’s the other way around: Hand-delivery is a luxury. And what a terrible waste of a stamp.

GENTLE READER: Unless you think of it as saving the Postal Service.

Traditionally, you are right that hand-delivered letters have been considered more important. As Miss Manners recalls, a stamp used to mean that you were trying to save the cost of employing a footman to deliver it.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site,, where you can send her your questions.

2012, by Judith Martin

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