DEAR MISS MANNERS: Once you've loaned a book, or someone has loaned you a book, what is the appropriate length of time for returning it? I'm not talking about a $6 paperback; I would not expect that to be returned to me (although I'd probably return it if I were the "loanee"). I'm talking about your average $25-$35 hardback. And then, is it appropriate to ask for it back after that length of time has passed?
GENTLE READER: The time to get the book back is when the borrower no longer mentions the book, either with literary pronouncements or with the excuse of being about to get to it any day now. It is then that you know it is on its way to being no longer considered yours. In the first instance, Miss Manners recommends saying, "If you're finished with it, I'll take it back," and in the second, "Why don't I take it back now, in case I need it, and you'll let me know when you have time."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am writing to ask advice about the proper way to respond to family gossip.
I come from a large extended family that gathers semi-yearly with great uncles, second cousins, third cousins twice removed, etc. My mother maintains regular contact with her aunts and first cousins; whereas we of the younger generation only see each other at the occasional family get-togethers.
My question has to do with the proper way to acknowledge news that passes through the family grapevine. My mother will often tell me somebody's son has bought a house or become divorced, their daughter has gotten engaged, gone back to college, taken ill or had a miscarriage. I would like to express my congratulations or concern on these occasions, but since I have limited contact and have not heard directly from the person, I find it awkward.
What do you believe would be an appropriate manner of addressing these situations?
GENTLE READER: By e-mail.
As the great proponent of handwritten letters, Miss Manners hopes she isn't causing shock or disillusionment. But she never said that e-mail wasn't vitally useful -- just not for everything. Responses to formal announcements and to written letters need to be answered in kind.
The grapevine is not a formal means of communication. It may not even be an authorized one, which is why you don't respond to anything that might not have been intended for broadcast and phrase everything else tentatively. So "I hear you bought a house" and "Are congratulations in order?" are warm messages; "Sorry you got ditched again" is not.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Last holiday season, I sent two friends of mine individual greeting cards, one addressed to "Mr. Smith" and one to "Mr. Jones." Then they got married.
I have never had to respond to the niceties of a same-sex marriage before this, and I find myself rather confused. Should I continue to send individual cards or should I send one card to Mr. & Mr. Smith-Jones? Or is there some other option that just isn't coming to mind?
I wish to be respectful, and they have been my friends since high school, but I just don't know what to do.
GENTLE READER: Wish them happy holidays. Miss Manners assures you that this is not as hard as it seems, and it also applies to opposite sex couples at the same address, if the lady has not changed her name.
Unless they have informed you that they have adopted a joint surname, you should address them by their proper names, but with one card.