DEAR MISS MANNERS: A few years ago, we got a panettone from a distant family member for Christmas. We said thank you enthusiastically.

The next year, we got one again. Receiving the gift, it didn’t seem appropriate to say, “Oh, now that we’ve tasted this, we really don’t see how marketing men managed to pass dry, tasteless bread off as a Christmas cake,” so we said thank you again, and if with markedly less enthusiasm, it wasn’t noticed.

Now, it seems, this has become a tradition. We see the gifter once or twice a year, and so the options seem to be keeping our mouths closed and getting a gift we don’t appreciate, saying something right before Christmas when perhaps the miserable stuff is already bought, or saying something now, which would make it clear the gift was a failure.

What is the right thing to do?

Note, I’m not aiming for a more expensive gift, just something I’d enjoy consuming. I find wasting food psychically uncomfortable, so unwanted food gifts are unpleasant to me, not what the gifter intended.

GENTLE READER: Ah, a new version of the classic Fruitcake Problem. The difference is that a fruitcake can be passed around pretty much forever, while panettone has a limited life span.

Wait, Miss Manners just remembered another difference: You can soak a panettone in zabaglione. It softens it up, and anyway, you can eat the custard and skip the cake (although she disagrees with your critique of it).

However, this is not the household hints department. The etiquette question is whether you can call off an unwanted annual present. The answer is that you probably cannot. It only gives the donors an unpleasant retrospective look at their continuing misjudgment. On the bright side, Christmas is an excellent time to make food donations to organizations that feed the poor.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am 14 years old and have very little money of my own. For the holidays, my dad usually gives me some cash to buy presents for family and friends, but I also enjoy giving handmade gifts, such as the socks I am currently knitting for my grandmother, and I try hard to avoid the commercial side of the holiday season.

Twice this December, my mother, who I do not live with, has mentioned out of the blue that she wants me to buy her a food processor for Christmas. I think this is a highly unreasonable request to make of anyone, but particularly of one’s teenage daughter. It was a rather shocking thing to hear her mention it and left me quite flustered as to what to say.

How do you recommend that I handle such situations? My mother has never seemed to follow any of the etiquette guidelines I have been taught, or, for that matter, be aware of them. I doubt she even realized that asking me to buy her a food processor was such an inappropriate request. What can I say when she mentions things like this?

GENTLE READER: How about, “I wish I could, but frankly, I can’t afford it”?

This is, after all, your mother, who has an idea of what your financial situation is. And that gives Miss Manners the ugly suspicion that she is using you to tell your father that he should spring for more. However, that is no concern of yours. You need only answer, as above, on your own behalf.

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

2012, by Judith Martin

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