DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have been bothered that I may have made a social gaffe and rudely hurt someone's feelings at the same time:
At a wedding reception, I noticed a young woman who had been standing alone on the fringes of the gathering for several minutes. Being of a gregarious and friendly nature, I approached, her extending my hand, and introduced myself.
She looked at me warily and said, "I don't shake hands."
Feeling rebuffed and surprised, I interpreted her refusal to shake my hand as a personal affront, as if she thought I had just crawled out of the gutter, and I replied with cutting sarcasm, "Oh, arthritis? I'm so sorry. I do hope it gets better," and briskly walked away with a smirk on my face.
I was later told that the young lady belongs to an orthodox religion that forbids married women from shaking hands with men. After hearing this, I was uncomfortable and felt guilty, and I avoided going near the lady for the rest of the evening.
How about it, Miss Manners? How big of a fool did I make of myself?
GENTLE READER: Huge. Immense. Gigantic.
It is not just the sarcasm and the smirk, either, although Miss Manners deplores them both, and would even if it were certain that an affront was intended. Not giving people the benefit of the doubt, but starting from the assumption that one has been insulted and must retaliate is in large part responsible for the pugnacious state of society today.
There could be a number of reasons that a polite person would be unable to shake hands. Your crack about arthritis, presumably intended to ridicule illness and, for good measure, old age, indicates that you know this. Would you have felt better if it turned out that she did have arthritis?
Just for good measure, you, not the lady, violated simple hand-shaking etiquette. A gentleman does not offer his hand but waits until a lady offers hers, which she is by no means obligated to do.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When my husband and I attended the wedding of my first cousin, we brought our wedding gift with us, and during the reception my husband retrieved the gift from our car and put it on the gift table.
Several weeks after the wedding, I was unloading items from the trunk of my car and found the wedding card that was to have accompanied the gift. Apparently, it had fallen off the gift, and my husband failed to notice that it was missing.
Is there a tactful way to let the bride and groom know that we did indeed get them a gift, and which one it was? My cousin came to our wedding and gave us a very nice gift, and I don't want her to think I've forgotten her.
GENTLE READER: You have a trifling etiquette problem here, but you have the solution to a hideous one. For heaven's sake, call them immediately and tell them what happened. Miss Manners keeps hearing from frantic brides who are eager to do their solemn duty of writing thanks for presents, but prevented because cards were lost, or even because presents were stolen. This is why Miss Manners keeps telling people not to bring their presents to the wedding -- to send them ahead or -- since one Gentle Reader waxed indignant about the extra expense for postage -- drop them off before the wedding at the bride's house.