Q: A friend surprised me with a book as a gift. As it happened, I already owned a copy of that book, and had read and enjoyed it.
This book was not a best-seller — far from it — and my friend could not have expected that. So I laughed at the coincidence and told him the whole truth.
He looked a little chagrined, so I did my best to soften the blow. I praised the gift lavishly — it really was an excellent book — and I praised him for knowing the exact kind of book I would like. But I didn’t see any point in owning two copies, so I didn’t take it. (“Refused” sounds like such a harsh word!) I left it with him (we were at his house at the time) and recommended he keep it and read it himself, or give it to someone else.
By the way, it was not my birthday or any other special occasion. I wasn’t expecting a gift at all. I think he just happened to run across a book that was “right up my alley,” so to speak, and decided to buy it for me.
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Looking back on it, I wonder if I should have accepted the book. What do you say?
A: That you won’t be receiving more gifts from this gentleman any time soon.
Yes, Miss Manners confirms your better instinct, that you should have accepted the book. The “whole truth” in reaction to receiving a gift is rarely necessary. The polite thing to do would have been to thank him profusely for his thoughtfulness, say that you know about how good the book is, and then change the subject.
If he directly asks you if you have read it, then you can confess, but even then, you needn’t confess voluntarily to owning a copy. As he did not ask, it is up to your discretion to figure out what to do with the second copy, not his.
Q: When the party for my seventh birthday was planned, my mother cautioned me that since I had not invited everyone in my class, I was not to discuss the party at school. I could see the sense of this.
Now that I’m an adult, however, two different friends have regaled me with plans for future events with no invitation offered.
I have two questions — is my mother’s instruction now outdated? And how should I behave if this happens again?
A: Your mother’s instruction is certainly not outdated — nor is the impeccable child-rearing she did. Miss Manners commends you both.
If your friends tell you about events to which you are not invited, you may say, “That sounds like fun. I hope your guests enjoy it.”
Sadly, this lesson has been lost on the generation that posts their parties on social media and then wonders why their friends get insulted. Clearly they do not have mothers as wise as yours.
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.