DEAR MISS MANNERS: Last year, my boyfriend and I attended the wedding of a colleague. At the reception, the bride and groom got into an argument that turned into a brawl. They left the reception separately, and later in the week filed for divorce. They have not reconciled.
Since then, colleagues at work have occasionally asked each other if their wedding gifts were returned. None have been.
When I’ve been asked, I really didn’t know what to say. I think the circumstances are very unfortunate, but I really haven’t thought about whether our gift should be returned. I’ve never been in this situation before. But I have no intentions of making this an issue with my colleague, who provided a beautiful wedding and didn’t expect the unhappy ending.
GENTLE READER: Wait – what was the argument about?
Of course, it’s none of Miss Manners’ business, but you can hardly blame her for wondering what got the couple so quickly from vowing to brawling.
Oh, yes, the etiquette question, even though that seems rather tame now.
The technical rule is that presents should be returned if the marriage does not take place. Whether the ceremony itself is enough or the bond should last through the reception could be debated. Miss Manners admires your wisdom in letting it go.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I feel that most rules for etiquette are lost on me.
At times when I answer a question honestly, it comes off as rude or too blunt. For example, when someone asks if I think their outfit looks good on them. I’ll say no and explain why I think so.
When I received birthday gifts from co-workers at a small celebration in our office, my boss told me I should write thank-you notes to everyone. I had never heard of a thank-you note before that.
What is the best way to start learning better etiquette?
GENTLE READER: You might study the rules, and you have a great deal of catching up to do. There are a lot of them, and many are very specific. People who have been taught from childhood to dash off letters of thanks have easier lives than those to whom the idea is new.
But Miss Manners strongly suggests that you begin your retraining by learning the underlying principle of manners: that other people have feelings that must be taken into account. You may not always yield to them, but if you do not understand what they are, you are going to keep antagonizing others unintentionally. And that makes for an unpleasant life.
Developing empathy will enable you to figure out why, for example, someone asks how an outfit looks. Perhaps it is an outfit that person is considering buying, or just wearing, and there is time to make another choice. In that case, your actual opinion is probably being solicited.
But more often, the question is actually a plea for reassurance, not a request for aesthetic judgment. And unless there is something that is seriously wrong and correctable, “You look fine” is a tactful and, as meant generally, honest answer.
If you have ever given a present or done a favor, it should not be hard to imagine that acknowledgment of generosity is appreciated.
Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.