Q: Every year we receive a Christmas letter from a couple we see frequently and therefore we are up to date on what’s going on in their family. Their annual letter seems to be nothing more than an opportunity to brag about vacations, vacation homes, their children’s careers and their purchases.
If there was a death in their family and thus a duty to mention it, it is reported as the best funeral ever! Of course after the boasting has been thoroughly covered, the last sentence always includes a wish for our family to have a holiday filled with peace and joy.
I find this type of form letter to be shallow, self-serving and in very poor taste. What was once a means of keeping in touch with distant friends and relatives and conveying the spirit of the season seems to have morphed into a very different agenda. What is your opinion of these letters?
A: Astonishment that you get this only once a year.
Have these people not discovered that on social media, they could post every single day, even multiple times a day, boring not just you, but untold numbers of people, including some they don’t even know? That they could supplement this with pictures, including of every meal they had?
Miss Manners notices that selfie press releases, passed off as “news” about oneself and one’s family, have become a year-round nuisance. The object is to cast the subject in a favorable, if not enviable, light. No doubt your correspondents think of their tone as being cheerful, even when reporting a death.
But they, like nearly all social media posters, suffer from the fatal fault of failing to consider their targeted audience. Personal news should be sent only to people who do not otherwise know it and yet can be presumed to be interested.
Q: My ex-husband and I remained friendly after our divorce in 1979. He passed away 23 years ago. I have never remarried, and now I do not see myself as a divorcee, but a widow. Would it be incorrect to call myself a widow?
A: It doesn’t bother Miss Manners, and it certainly can’t bother your former husband; presumably, he did not leave a subsequent widow. But if you want to be fastidious, you can achieve the same effect by saying simply, “My husband died.”
Q: My niece was married 12 years ago at city hall with only her parents in attendance. She regrets having no pictures of the day.
I would like to surprise her with a vow renewal ceremony. Is a surprise a bad move? Many people are telling me to involve her in the planning.
A: First, allow Miss Manners to say how sweet it is that you want to do something for your niece and her husband.
Next she is obliged to tell you that surprising people with a set-up that requires them to go through a ceremony to which they had not agreed is an appalling plan. Please just ask them if they would enjoy your giving them an anniversary party.
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.