DEAR MISS MANNERS: A cousin has come home from a long foreign trip, taken in part to fill a spiritual hole in her life. She has asked us to come to her home to hear excerpts from her trip journal and to see a showing of photos she took.

While we appreciate that she found the trip rewarding, we have no interest in sitting through such an evening. How do we politely decline? Claiming date unavailability won’t work, as she would persist in finding an alternate date.

GENTLE READER: You may have to go on a long trip yourself. Weighing the time, expense and inconvenience of fleeing against spending an evening listening to your cousin recount her geographical and spiritual adventures, you may want to start packing.

In a more kindly spirit, Miss Manners has to tell you that you are probably stuck. But you could exercise some control by adding to an apparently enthusiastic response your desire to tell her your own news. Whether it is about your last vacation, your children’s accomplishments or your hobby, bring pictures and ask to go first on the grounds that your presentation will be short. It will hasten the time during your cousin’s show at which you can declare, “My, look how late it is.”

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am soon to be graduating and everyone is talking about these “graduation announcements.” All my friends are excited to get them out so they can get presents.

I want nothing except a speedy and fun graduation. I was wondering if there is another way to announce my news that doesn’t imply asking for anything (even though I’ve looked at announcements and don’t understand that part anyway). A nice phone call?

GENTLE READER: Isn’t it strange that a generation that recognizes no more formal means of communication than the Internet still sends out graduation announcements? Well, not so strange, as you have explained.

This is, indeed, a milestone to be told casually to those you know would be interested. Instead, it is often broadcast around to many who have only the vaguest idea of who the laureate might be, but who quickly pick up on the purpose.

Miss Manners congratulates you, not only on your graduation, but also on your good taste.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a preschool teacher and need a nice way to ask the parents to chip in for a Mother’s Day gift the children are making. Each gift will cost about $8.

How do you ask mothers to help pay for their own gift? Ideally, I would write the dads, but some dads are not in the house. I don’t want this to come off as tacky.

GENTLE READER: Although Miss Manners understands that tight school budgets have led to assessing parents for materials, she considers that unfortunate. For parents who are also severely pressed, it can be an embarrassment, as well as a hardship.

If you can think of no cheaper way to do such a project, she suggests that you could avoid mentioning the specific use by asking for “school supplies” or “art material.”

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

, by Judith Martin

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