DEAR MISS MANNERS: I saw a toddler sitting in a shopping cart at the supermarket as his father shopped for produce, and the toddler had a plastic produce bag over his head and seemed to be enjoying himself. Presumably the father gave the bag the toddler to entertain himself as the father shopped.
Fearful that he would suffocate, I gestured to the toddler to pull the bag off of his head. Keeping the bag on his head, the toddler just smiled at me.
Was there a diplomatic way to ask the father to remove the bag from his toddler's head? Was I wrong not to say anything to the father? I feared being a meddler, but am haunted by the horrific vision of a lifeless young body. Plastic bags are potential deathtraps, not playthings.
GENTLE READER: Wait a minute: Is this baby alive? Knowing what you do, you walked away from a baby who was putting a plastic bag over his head?
Miss Manners is haunted -- not only by the danger involved, but by the outrageous assumption that etiquette condones human sacrifice.
True, there are rules against criticizing parents and assuming unauthorized authority over other people's children. However, this does not sound like a difference regarding child-rearing methods. Unless you believe the father was committing infanticide in the hopes of enjoying eating that produce all by himself, you have to assume that he was ignorant or unaware of a clear and present danger.
Miss Manners hastens to inform you that etiquette is not the foolishly inflexible system you seem to believe. It also has a rule against shouting at people, but if you were drowning, it would not take you to task for raising your voice to say "Help!"
Something more was called for here than using pantomime to administer a safety course to a baby. You could have spared both the baby and the father's feelings by saying apologetically -- after snatching away the bag -- "Forgive me, but I'm afraid those bags can be lethal."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My father recently passed away, and our family has received many cards of condolence. Is it proper for me to send thank you cards to those who mailed us condolence cards? Do I acknowledge condolence cards with thank you cards of my own when, for example, the original card was sent to me from a neighbor just next door?
GENTLE READER: The definition of "card" here troubles Miss Manners. Are you talking about an impersonal exchange of printed matter -- one card announcing "deepest sympathy" and the other "thank you"? Or an exchange of important sentiments that only happens to be written on smaller paper than is formally required on such occasions?
All letters of condolence, with their kind words about the deceased and sympathetic ones for the bereaved, require written expression of gratitude. If you simply want to thank someone for a minimal, rote acknowledgment, you can do so just as unceremoniously, for example, by saying, "Thanks for the card" when you next see the neighbor.