DEAR MISS MANNERS: I just received a sharp rebuke from a co-worker for sending him a personal e-mail (following up on a prior conversation) at 5:45 in the morning. His reply stated only that “this exchange should not occur before 7 a.m.”

I was taken aback by the tone of his reply. I have never exchanged e-mails with him outside of business hours before. Presumably, his smartphone alerts him of incoming e-mail and my message disturbed his sleep.

I hadn’t anticipated this — I may be old-fashioned, but I still think of e-mail as a desktop activity. Should I apologize for this apparent intrusion?

GENTLE READER: It used to be that surprise, late-night house calls were understood to be limited to those who could expect to be welcomed with open arms. Exceptions were made for emergencies, warrants and comic figures in Shakespeare plays.

But nocturnal knocks on the door and e-mails are not the same thing. You did not expect your co-worker instantly to act upon — or even to see — the early-morning e-mail, any more than you would have expected an immediate response to a posted letter.

That the mail came early and set the dog barking, which in turn woke up the baby, who toddled down the stairs to the kitchen, terrifying grandma, who spilled her coffee, is not your responsibility.

That said, the best answer to your co-worker is to apologize and gently say that you were having the same problem until you discovered that it was possible to mute the sound announcing new e-mails on your phone.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it necessary to bring the hostess of a potluck family dinner a hostess gift? Or is my contribution (as per her request), which is often more food than the hostess herself prepares, a hostess gift enough?

GENTLE READER: Hostess? What hostess?

Miss Manners has trouble thinking of someone who orders catered food from you as a hostess. And while you should not expect to be tipped if you also partook of these meals, the optional courtesy of another contribution is unnecessary

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Due to health problems such as migraines, I am sometimes forced to cancel doctor appointments at the last minute.

When this happens, should I give a brief apology over the phone, send a written apology, or assume that the health professionals go on with their day relatively unaffected by my absence?

GENTLE READER: While it is reasonable to assume that doctors are familiar with — and perhaps even sympathetic to — the effects of illness, Miss Manners can assure you that they do not go on with the day unaffected by your absence.

They have been hit hard by the growing societal disregard for the commitment implicit in scheduling an appointment. Most medical offices now call beforehand to remind patients to show up. And an increasing number are registering their displeasure with absenteeism by charging fees for last-minute cancellations.

You do not want to be confused with patients who offer an invented illness to cover a less defensible reason (“I really don’t feel like traipsing all the way downtown today”). A handwritten note of apology will reassure your doctor that you value her time. She is the last person you want suspecting you of feigning illness.

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