DEAR MISS MANNERS - I was having lunch with a friend of my father's, and near the end of lunch, she lit a cigarette.I understood the mental and physical addiction that she was (and is) suffering and did not mind that she had a cigarette. But after lighting up, she decided to give me a lecture on how smoking was not bad for her, and how she could quit at any time.
I decided that it would be most polite to sit back and let her have her say. Was it? Or could I, in a polite way, have informed her of the number of people who die each year not only from actively smoking but from secondary smoke?
In retrospect, I see that every argument she presented had a gaping hole that should have been exposed to show not only that she was wrong but that she was in reality addicted to smoking.
GENTLE READER - Your father's friend has made two etiquette mistakes here: the first in lighting up without the express permission of everyone around her, and the second in opening an argument about a personal habit she obviously does not intend to change.
The temptation to you must have been severe. You could, politely, have asked her to refrain. It would have been impolite to open a lecture on the evils of smoking, but you could say that as she is the one who broached the subject, you could have politely argued with her opinion. As you point out, it would have been easy.
But Miss Manners is proud of you for letting the opportunity pass. Changing this person's mind would not have been easy, or even possible, Miss Manners dares say, and you would merely have turned a social event into a personal fight.
DEAR MISS MANNERS - The invitation to a 25th-anniversary party for our neighbors, given by their married daughter, specified "NO gifts, please!" with the emphasis just that way. When I responded, the daughter emphasized again: "Please don't bring a gift. My parents would be embarrassed. Just come and celebrate with us."
My husband was uncomfortable about attending without taking something along, but I assured him we were told not to. I bought a card and took flowers.
Of the dozen or so couples attending the party, only two of us did not take a gift. My husband was furious, and I was mortified.
Later in the evening, our friends opened the gifts, and most of them were quite nice pieces in silver. I sensed that my friends were uncomfortable opening the gifts, but not half as uncomfortable as I was having to sit there and watch them.
Our evening was ruined. On the way home, my husband said I had committed a social blunder.
The day after the party, my friend called to thank us for attending and said she wished no one had brought gifts. I wondered if she had picked up on our discomfort and was trying to make me feel better.
When your hostess tells you "Please do not bring a gift," should you ignore her wishes?
GENTLE READER - Miss Manners can hardly think of a more well-intentioned but misconceived attempt to meddle with etiquette than this notion that one can head off receiving presents.
She says "well-intentioned" because she believes it is genuine, and she so much prefers it to the more common form of manipulation, by which people try to squeeze more out of their guests than those people's own generous impulses might yield.
Yet one simply cannot politely acknowledge that one is even thinking of presents, even in the context of hoping to squelch the idea.
Perhaps Miss Manners might soften her stance against any mention of presents on the part of a host, which applies as much to the negative request as to a positive one, if it actually worked. But your experience, a typical one, is the proof that it does not. Most people ignore it.
You have done nothing wrong. There is no need for you to be embarrassed or to quarrel with your husband. Since the instruction was made, the other guests should have obeyed it.
The hostess also compounded their mistake. The proper way for her to discourage presents would have been to avoid mentioning the occasion in the invitation, simply giving a party in honor of her parents, and then offering a toast to their anniversary when the guests were assembled.
Once she and her parents noticed that their attempt had backfired, they should have refrained from making a show of opening presents. To spare the feelings of the innocent - you - they should have thanked their other guests, quickly put the presents aside (taking care to label them first with the names of the donors), opened them after the party, and thanked everyone by mail.
Miss Manners interprets the call to you not as an attempt to console you but as a way of showing that your decision to abide by their rule was appreciated, and that indeed it was your attendance that was most valued. In a dilemma about giving or receiving presents? Help is available in Miss Manners' "Present-Giving" pamphlet. Send $1.50, plus a long self-addressed stamped envelope, to Miss Manners, in care of the Deseret News, P.O. Box 91428, Cleveland, OH 44101-3428.- Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of the Deseret News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110. The quill shortage prevents Miss Manners from answering questions except through this column.
1992, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.