Advice Columns

Miss Manners: A world without gratitude is a bleak place indeed

Q: What is the importance of thank-you notes?

A: What is the importance of generosity? What is the importance of kindness?

Miss Manners supposes that in a world in which there were no presents, favors, good deeds or thoughtful words, there would be no need for serious expressions of thanks. She just wouldn’t want to live there.

Q: I attend church services nearly every Sunday at a small neighborhood church, where almost all the attendees know one another across many dimensions of life, not just religion/worship.

Because the number of seats is usually less than the number of attendees, people tend to arrive early. Before services begin, there is an active buzz of conversation, about yesterday’s ballgame, politics, who is the host for tomorrow’s book club meeting …

I find this inappropriate, as if attendees at a dinner party in someone’s home paid the host no attention until the meal was served. My “example” of quietly reading the day’s Bible passages has had no effect.

Is mine an old fuddy-duddy attitude? If not, what might be a reasonable approach to changing things?

A: Different faiths — even different worship groups within the same faith — practice different etiquette in regard to nonreligious discussions at church, synagogue or mosque. There are, however, common threads.

Nearly all religions treat the place of worship as a holy site, literally the divine home. But services are also generally a communal activity — joint worship is a means to cement societal bonds. So Miss Manners cannot join you in condemning ordinary sociability, which most congregations see as strengthening their community.

The comparison to a dinner party, though lighthearted, is therefore on point in many respects. While nonreligious conversation is acceptable, participants should be respectful of the host and mindful of the location. This means some topics are more acceptable than others, and jokes about the religious fervor of one’s devotion to the local sports team should be off-limits.

Q: I am attending the (first) wedding of an old friend. The couple are registered at traditional sites.

I’d like to do something less boring than cutlery or towels. These guys are in their 40s and have a reasonable household established. It’s OK for me to choose my own gift, right?

A: What a radical idea — that you, as a friend, would put some thought into giving them something that might please them!

Does anyone but Miss Manners remember that that is not only the real tradition but also the entire justification for the custom of exchanging presents?

By all means, do so. Let us hope that your friends and others will appreciate this and take it up as a novelty among those who otherwise merely exchange shopping lists.

Q: Why would a lady — or a gentleman, for that matter — be obliged to answer any personal question?

A: They are not obliged. So the real question is why they feel obliged to answer. Miss Manners supposes it is because they need a polite alternative response, which is, “Oh, I’m afraid that’s a personal matter.”

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.

12/28

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