DEAR MISS MANNERS: In the wake of the tragic attacks on New York and Washington, my wife and I canceled a trip to attend the late September wedding of an old friend in Europe. While we believed that flying was safe, our parents were terrified, and we did not want to put them through the anxiety they would feel during our absence.
We anguished over the decision, in part because our friend and his fiancee had attended our wedding in the United States earlier this year, but finally decided that it would be better to call off our travels.
Although I suggested to my friend soon after the tragedy that we might need to cancel our trip, I told him only six days before the wedding, in a long letter of apology that explained our reasons. I then sent him, the bride-to-be and their parents flowers with a note of both regret and congratulations. I said that though my wife and I would not be able to be at the ceremony, we had postponed our trip for later in the year, and hoped we might be allowed to toast their happiness then.
My friend is now very angry, and the letter I received in reply was chilly. I fear I have permanently damaged our relationship. Did we do wrong, and, if so, how might we do right? Or should our friend be more understanding of the difficult decision we made?
GENTLE READER: On the one hand, it is rude to rescind the acceptance of a wedding invitation. On the other hand, etiquette makes allowances for emergencies, and this was a major emergency. On another hand, your friend considered his wedding to be a major event.
How many hands does that make? Miss Manners hopes you have at least one left to stretch across the seas, in a generous gesture of friendship. Perhaps if you ignore his chilliness and apologize for being caught up in strong and stressful emotions, he will realize that he, too, was acting under emotional distress, although of a different sort.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When a guest brings a package to a party I have normally thanked the person and then put the gift off to the side inconspicuously. I did not want others who did not bring something to feel like this was a required "entry fee."
However, last year one present was food; I only discovered later that this was a dish meant to be served that night. I am sure the giver must have thought I did not approve of the dish or the food since it never made it to the table. What is the best way to handle this situation?
Finally, when these types of gifts are received, I normally send thank-you notes. If this is correct, what is the difference between a regular present and a food gift in terms of thank-you notes? I have been told the host does not need to do this, that the partygoer should send me a thank-you note.
GENTLE READER: Everyone has to be thanked. You have to thank the guests for their presents. They have to thank you for the hospitality. So the question Miss Manners is left with is whether this should be done in writing, or by word of mouth, or by chewing of mouth.
If possible, you should thank anyone who arrives with a present, grabbing a quick look at it, perhaps on a trip to the kitchen. You need not serve any food that is brought, because you presumably have a meal planned, and can assume you will enjoy this later.
The guests are obligated to write their thanks to you, but you need write only if you have not managed to thank them on the spot, or if the present is an extraordinary one beyond the category of hostess present. A whole ox, perhaps.