Q: I know that times have probably changed with regard to the proper way to invite someone to your home, what with the popularity of social media, etc. I, myself, use social media, but I would like to know what is the protocol.
I moved to a city where an old acquaintance lives, and she reached out to me via Facebook and email to let me know she and her husband would like to have me and my husband over for dinner sometime. The invitation was casual, but she asked me what days my husband and I would be free.
I told her that Sundays are acceptable, and she can let me know what day would work for her family (they have small children; we do not).
She has not responded since, and I am wondering now if I’ve offended her or if I was expected to pick a certain date and make arrangements to have dinner at her house. I guess I always thought that if you extend an invitation to dine at your home, and the guest gives a general idea of when he/she would be free, it would then be up to the host/hostess to offer to have dinner on a certain date, with a potential back-up date in case something comes up.
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Am I wrong here? Am I being too old-fashioned in this case?
A: Social media has not changed the world to the extent that the guest determines the specifics of an invitation to someone else’s house.
Miss Manners suspects that the casualness that you are perceiving is instead a lack of timeliness — and/or that your friend simply hasn’t figured out the most convenient option yet. It is also possible that something in the word “acceptable” threw her off, and she fears that this will be more of an obligation for you than a pleasure.
If you are concerned, contact her again, say that you are eager to see her and that you hope a Sunday works out soon. Or invite her over to your house instead. At a specific date and time.
Q: I work in an office where I have to correspond with customers in foreign countries. I will sometimes run into a foreign name where I cannot figure out if the person is male or female (this, of course, could happen with “domestic” names as well).
How do I address my letter or email back to them? If the person signed their letter as “First Last,” I don’t want to appear too familiar and address my reply to “Dear First.” But I also don’t want to address it as “Dear Mr. Last” if “Mr.” Last is really a she. The least offensive thing that I can think of is “Dear First Last,” but that seems awfully strained. Do you have any better suggestions?
A: The solution you suggested will be less strained than the ensuing conversation if you guess wrong. (The first and surnames could also be reversed.) Miss Manners finds that “Dear Sir or Madam” is less personal, but also effective.
Judith Martin writes the Miss Manners column with help from her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, MissManners.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.