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Miss Manners: No Matter How You Phrase It, Offer Your Thanks Sincerely

Dear Miss Manners: For years I have wondered why, when someone feels the need to thank someone else, most begin with the phrase, “I would like to thank so-and-so for doing so-and-so.”

My complaint is that if one wishes to thank someone, one proper way is to say, “My thanks to so-and-so for so-and-so.” Or, “My heartfelt thank you to so-and-so.” Why say, “I want to thank”? Why not go ahead and do it?

Gentle Reader: Is it because there is no verb in the declaration you recommend?

Miss Manners does not usually fret about the literal meanings of common, inoffensive expressions that everyone understands. This year alone, it has saved her enough time to reread Moby-Dick.

But somehow your question got to her. She has used the expression herself, and your point has not frightened her into abandoning it. Upon reflection, she thinks that the part about wanting to thank emphasizes that it is not being said in a perfunctory way, but out of a genuine desire to express gratitude.

Dear Miss Manners: I have not had the best relationship with my dad. When I got married, he wasn’t there — not because of any emergencies, but because he was simply running late. (I had even told him the ceremony started an hour earlier than it did.) We could not wait for him any longer, and he missed his only daughter’s wedding.

He has similarly missed or been late to many other important events in my life.

I have tried to forgive him for these occasions, since I know we all have our problems. But I graduated with my master’s degree last month, and I have yet to hear a peep from him about it.

I can’t help but feel sad and wonder why I always remember his birthday, Father’s Day and so on, when he doesn’t seem to care about once-in-a-lifetime events. I’m at a loss as to how to address this.

Should I still send him something for Father’s Day? I feel guilty even thinking about skipping it, but my husband thinks it’s the only way he’ll take notice that there’s a problem.

Gentle Reader: Perhaps there are cases in which people who have been inconsiderate all their lives suddenly realize the effect on others and reform. But Miss Manners would hate to think of your possibly waiting in vain for your father to react to your silence on Father’s Day.

As you point out, he does not pay attention to your milestones. However, that does not preclude his caring about his own. People do feel differently when it comes to what they want for themselves. But then they tend not to see a connection to their own behavior. What if your father decides that you are a neglectful daughter, without in the least blaming himself?

Miss Manners cannot advise you on whether to recognize Father’s Day. You could decide that you will be thoughtful despite his thoughtlessness, or you could decide that there is no point in marking an event for someone who has shown himself indifferent to events.

She is only asking you to decide on the basis of which would make you feel better, and not on what you imagine will produce a change.

Dear Miss Manners: I was raised that a “bridal tea” meant come and go, mingle, eat, no gift. A “shower” indicated a gift, come and stay, play games, eat. When did the procedure change? I am thoroughly confused over the new standard of coming to a “tea” with a gift (which is usually your wedding gift).

Am I wrong? Or are we so uncouth and untrained that anything goes and there is no polite society anymore?

Gentle Reader: It is true that there is a lot of impolite society around — people who do not think it worth having guests unless the guests arrive bearing gifts.

Thus the form of the shower is used so consistently that everyone has begun to believe that there is no other way to honor a bride or an expectant mother. This has confused even those who merely want to celebrate, driving them to ask Miss Manners how they can indicate that at the showers they are planning, no presents are expected.

So the distinction you learned is important: A shower is associated with presents, but a luncheon or a tea to honor someone should not be. It is unfortunate that you and Miss Manners are the only people who seem to remember that.

D ear Miss Manners: Is it rude to “like” a person’s post that they are sad, or have sad things going on? I don’t want them thinking I am “liking” their sadness. I sympathize with them, is what I mean.

Gentle Reader: To express sympathy, it is essential to demonstrate that you are thinking about the person with whom you sympathize. A computer interface — the purpose of which is to reduce the time spent to an absolute minimum — will not convey this message convincingly. If the depth of your sympathy extends as far as pressing a button, but not so far as writing a personal letter, Miss Manners fears that you are condemning yourself to being misunderstood.

Dear Miss Manners: My son recently married his partner of many years, but now I do not know what to call him. Do I say my son-in-law when I mention him to others? I have heard men referring to their married partners as husbands, but how would I know which one is the husband — my son or his partner? Or are both my son and his partner husbands? I am very confused and ashamed to ask my son.

Gentle Reader: The only part that confuses Miss Manners is that you are ashamed to ask your son. Why? Same-sex legal marriage being relatively new, it cannot be shameful to ask for preferred designations.

However, she can supply answers. Your son and his spouse are each other’s husband, and the spouse is your son-in-law. You should have had practice all those years in introducing them as each other’s partners.

Dear Miss Manners: I am a student worker at my university. We use cellphones quite frequently to communicate with each other and the other employees when they are needed.

The only other person in the office with me is the administrative assistant, and occasionally her phone will be lying on the desk, ringing, while she is in the back room. She invariably will yell at me to “grab that” and answer her phone for her.

When I pick up a friend’s phone, it is not difficult to say, “Rachel can’t talk now,” or, if I know the caller, to strike up a little conversation of my own. But in the office, it is usually her husband or one of her three children who is calling.

I never know how to answer, and usually fall back on my regular office-phone response: “Repair office, this is Susie.” All this does is confuse whoever is calling her. I have contemplated saying a simple “hello” or “hi,” but I am afraid this would involve interrupting the caller seconds later to explain that I am not who they think I am.

She has caller ID, so answering business calls is not such a problem. What would be the best way to answer personal ones?

Gentle Reader: Your professional response may confuse some callers, although it might also cause the university (or at least your supervisor) to re-examine the wisdom of conducting office business on personal telephones.

That would be preferable to dealing with the consequences of your inadvertently becoming party to something so personal that it embarrasses your careless co-worker. Failing that, Miss Manners would recommend the more neutral, “Hello, this is Rachel’s line. May I take a message for her?”

Dear Miss Manners: When talking to a friend, if you ask what they’re doing for the evening and they tell you they’re free, is it wrong if you invite yourself over and offer to bring something? Someone told me I should wait to be invited to someone’s house even though that someone is a friend. Please advise if I’m wrong for inviting myself.

Gentle Reader: Yes, you must wait to be invited to someone’s home. If you are not just looking for a free meal or shelter, then invite the friend to your home or out somewhere for the evening.

Oh, all right. Miss Manners will tell you how to politely fish for an invitation as long as you promise never to ask directly: After the friend says that he or she is free, suggest that you “do something together” and pause for a second to see if you are invited. If you are not, you must proceed with one of the other two plans.

D ear Miss Manners: When offered a box of chocolate, does one pick up the candy and leave the brown paper behind, thus maintaining order in the box and accounting for those that are missing? Or does one remove the candy with the paper so as not to soil one’s fingers? Should gloves be removed first? How does one dispose of the paper when finished?

Gentle Reader: Chocolates are not strictly subject to accountability. They may be picked up with the paper or not as you prefer. The paper, if taken, may then be returned to the box or held until a suitable receptacle is found.

Miss Manners is inclined to be flexible with chocolates, but not with gloves. They should always be removed before eating or drinking. You would learn that the hard way if you tried to remove chocolate stains from kid gloves.

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, if you promise to use the black or blue-black ink you’ll save by writing those thank you, condolence and congratulations letters you owe.