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Brief Note Ought to End Exchange of Courtesies

Dear Miss Manners : I came into possession of some things that had belonged to the parents of a celebrity. My aunt had married a man whose father had been married to this person’s mother.

When her mother passed away, she left some things with her husband, and they passed down to my uncle. My aunt wasn’t able to get hold of this person, so, knowing I was a fan, she sent them to me.

I was able to make contact and return the things, which were of a fairly personal nature. I know that if it had been my parents, I would have wanted them. The lady sent me a personalized autographed photo and a three-page letter. I am thinking of writing back, just a brief thank-you note for the photo and the letter, no response expected.

Is it silly to send a thank-you for something that was, itself, basically a thank-you? I want to express my thanks, but I don’t want to overstep and intrude upon her privacy.

Dear Miss Manners : Ordinarily, whether to thank for thanks is a simple matter. Yet it throws many a Gentle Reader into a tizzy, envisioning an endless exchange that consumes the lives of both parties. Miss Manners can assure them that this need not happen. It is not necessary to thank someone for thanking you.

But wait! Don’t go away. If the letter of thanks is accompanied by a present, including such tokens as flowers or candy, it is necessary to express thanks for the present. Just don’t send anything tangible with it, or you really will be trapped in a spiral of courtesy.

What makes your situation problematical is whether an autographed photograph is a present. When Queen Mary sent one in a silver frame to your great-grandmother, who kept it on the piano discreetly facing the sofa, probably, yes.

But for a modern celebrity, it seems more like a calling card; the lady probably has stacks of them to send to fans. Her real graciousness was in sending you the three-page letter of thanks, but that does not require a response.

You have already been extremely gracious to someone who responded in kind. Miss Manners suggests leaving it at that. You don’t want to make her feel as if you are using that to open a correspondence.

However, if you consider the photograph to be a present, at least keep your thanks so brief (“I’m so pleased to have your photograph”) that it will be obvious that you expect the exchange to end there.

Dear Miss Manners: Is it acceptable to sing aloud while others are working?

Dear Miss Manners: Certainly, presuming that you are a chorister or a monkey grinder.

Dear Miss Manners : Years ago, my gay cousin married a lesbian for appearances’ sake because they wanted a child. They are both professionals. His longtime partner moved in with them as well. She does not have a partner.

My daughter is inviting my cousin, his partner and his wife to her wedding. She uses her maiden name. Would it be OK to just put all three names on one invitation?

Dear Miss Manners : Three persons living at the same address may be issued a single invitation. It was not necessary to entertain Miss Manners by spelling out why and how they live at that address.

Dear Miss Manners: Say that I am on a subway car with a small child who does not want to be on the subway and is expressing that opinion at the top of her lungs. Say that I have tried everything I can think of to get her to quiet down, and neither reasoning, sympathizing nor firm warning has any effect.

What should I do?

On the one hand, I know she is disturbing the other passengers, and it would be polite to get off with her at the next station and so stop the noise. On the other hand, if I do that, it will teach her that a tantrum is a great means to get her own way, and I can expect an even louder tantrum every time we’re traveling when she doesn’t care to. (Not taking the train isn’t an option — we need to get to places too far to walk and can’t afford a car or taxi.)

How do I stay considerate of the other passengers without teaching the lesson that screaming loudly enough is the best way to get out of something unpleasant?

Dear Miss Manners: In the rearing of small children, results may vary, but effort counts. When Miss Manners gets complaints about children, they are invariably followed by “and the parents did nothing to try to stop them.”

If your fellow passengers see that you are trying to calm your child, they still may not like the noise, but should be satisfied by the attempt. Those who don’t have or dislike small children won’t be satisfied no matter what you do. And those who have been in your shoes, well, have been in your shoes and will sympathize.

But say that you have no particular plans one day and this small child begs you to go to the zoo or out for ice cream. Say that you agree to it, but tell her that you must travel by subway, and if there is a tantrum, you will return home immediately (on the subway, of course).

If the expedition is without incident, commend the child, but tell her that there will be no such fun trips in the future if there are protests on the routine ones.

“Threats and bribes” is the way one parent of Miss Manners’ acquaintance described this method. “Survival” is what Miss Manners would call it.

Dear Miss Manners: What is the proper wording for ordering food in a restaurant? My grandmother says it is “I will have ...” but my mom says it is “May I please have ...”

I am about to go to college, and I want to make sure I am polite when I order food since I know how waiters feel because I work in a restaurant.

Dear Miss Manners: It is good of you to think of the waiter’s feelings, and Miss Manners has no wish to discourage you from saying “please.” She only asks you to understand that your grandmother is not being rude. Ordering food in a restaurant is a business transaction, not a petition for a favor. It is not customary to say, in a store, for example, “May I please buy this?”

Miss Manners is written by Judith Martin, her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. You are invited to email your etiquette questions from www.missmanners.com.