Dear Miss Manners: Our kitchen window is directly across from the kitchen window of a neighbor's house, which is only a few feet away. When I am doing dishes, I can see into their kitchen, and occasionally I will catch my neighbor's eye.
At first, we exchanged a wave or a smile. I guess the novelty has worn off, because lately the neighbor seems to pretend that I am not there.We hardly ever see them outside, but when we do, we exchange only hellos; they do not seem interested in conversation.
When I was a child, we knew almost everyone on the block. Do most people just want to be left to themselves these days? The current state of affairs has left me feeling uncomfortable and lonely.
Gentle Reader: Neighborliness is a wonderful thing, and Miss Manners would be delighted to help you revive it. But first, she has to explain that ignoring its limits is as much to blame for destroying it as is any modern self-centered aloofness.
The poor lady next door does not want to feel that you are forever in her kitchen, keeping a friendly eye on her as she attempts to live her own life in her own house.
Perhaps that is why she is limiting herself to polite greetings. If you are frankly peeking in now, she may well be wondering what you might do if she encouraged you. Call out that what she's cooking needs more salt? Or that she shouldn't be licking the pot?
Urban life requires a balance of sociability with privacy. For this reason, certain conventions are necessary, enabling people to ignore one another at times, without being rude. These can include not only hurrying by with a quick greeting, rather than treating each encounter as a visit, but sometimes actually pretending you do not see someone when you obviously do.
Modern folk are not good at this sort of subtlety. But without it, genuine feelings of neighborliness would be stretched beyond reasonable endurance. The mere accident of your being able to see in someone's window does not entitle you to free entrance through it.
By all means, continue to greet your neighbors on the street, but learn to pretend that you do not, in fact, see inside their houses. Miss Manners does not want to discourage you being sociable with your neighbors. But no friendship can flourish when one of the parties feels cornered, especially on her very own turf.
Dear Miss Manners: I received a formal, engraved engagement announcement; the couple does not plan to be married any time soon. Is a gift required, or even appropriate?
Gentle Reader: Traditionally, there is no such thing as a private, formal engagement announcement, as opposed to general announcements in newspapers. People are supposed to let their friends know the happy news by telephone, letter or other informal means.
Miss Manners does not want to suggest that your friends had any ulterior motive for inventing a new form. Perhaps they fell under the influence of a stationer who had an ulterior motive. Perhaps they have more friends than they can possibly keep in touch with using the normal methods, although that does seem to make nonsense out of the definition of friendship.
In any case, the response is the same as if they had written that friendly note. Write back, congratulating them and wishing them happiness.
Dear Miss Manners: I am a receptionist at a worldwide corporation, and generally people check in with me before they see the contact person(s) here. Excuse me (phone ringing).
Sometimes the person will hand me their business card. Do I give it back, since I have no use for it? Or do I keep it and give it to our person here?
Gentle Reader: Go right ahead and get the telephone. Miss Manners does not approve of dropping a live person actually present for a disembodied voice, but acknowledges that the call takes precedence over the letter.
(Excuse her. Tea time.)
Where were we?
Oh yes, the business card.
Perhaps it could be of use to the contact person. But Miss Manners is in little doubt that they will be given their own ones to keep, so if you want to give the cards back, rather than use them for bookmarks, there is a polite way to do so.
Presumably, visitors whip these out so that you will get their names right. If you keep your hand raised in the reading position, while greeting them correctly by name, you can then hand back the card. However, Miss Manners is afraid that once you have lowered your hand with the card to your desk, handing it back would be saying, "OK, get out and take all your stuff with you."