Q: Is there any way to inquire politely what sort of milk/cream alternatives are available when the hostess asks whether anyone would like coffee? If skim or soy milk is the only alternative, I would rather forgo coffee altogether. I hate to accept a cup of coffee and then not drink it.
A: What alternative are you seeking? Cognac?
A host or hostess should properly ask how you prefer your coffee when it is offered. Should that not happen, Miss Manners will allow the recipient to make a reasonable request, as long as it is succinct. “With a bit of cream, please, if you have it” is acceptable. Ten descriptive qualifiers with made-up Italian words are not.
Q: I truly believe in thank-you notes when I receive a gift. However, I have a problem. How can I be politically correct and polite when writing a thank-you note for a recalled baby gift? I know that I cannot be the only parent who has this problem.
Do I just write a standard thank-you for baby’s gift, or let them know that I will be returning the toy and what I plan to replace it with? Or thank them for the lead-infested toy by name?
I do not wish to make the giver feel bad, as it was not their fault.
A: Then maybe do not lead with “lead-infested toy.”
Just as you would not mention in your thank-you letter that you subsequently returned a present, Miss Manners sees no need to mention that it was returned on your behalf. If the giver gets wind of the toy’s fate and asks about it, you may say, “Yes, we heard, but you were so sweet to think of us. My reaction was that Micah shouldn’t be putting that dollhouse in his mouth anyway, but I suppose better safe than sorry.”
Q: I invited a couple to a dinner party and requested an RSVP. Despite two follow-up phone calls to determine if they would attend, I got no answer.
As the table had two empty places, I went ahead and invited another couple who responded affirmatively. At less than 24 hours before said party, the first couple finally responded that they would attend.
I replied that unfortunately as I had not heard from them, I assumed they were not coming and invited others. Did I handle this correctly? Should I not have invited the other couple?
A: Evidently, you should not have invited the first couple.
Rather than performing the minimal duty of answering your invitation when it was issued, they allowed you to assume the burden of finding out their intention — and let you do it twice, without responding.
Miss Manners takes that as a sign that they feel they owe you nothing and thus are unlikely to trouble themselves to make your party a success, much less to thank you and to reciprocate.
You were prudent to handle the situation as you did. And let us hope that the substitute couple turned out to be more worthy of your hospitality.
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.