DEAR MISS MANNERS: Hoo, boy. My live-in boyfriend found out his mother paid less for her cable service than we do, and asked to borrow one of her bills so that I could find out what her deal was and maybe get the same one. I did, and found we had more channels than she; I put a yellow Post-It on the bill reading, "She's got fewer channels than we do -- can't do any better."
He inadvertently gave the bill back to her with the Post-It still intact. She asked him to have me call her, then blasted me for referring to her as "she." "I'm not a 'she,'" she maintained in the most adamant terms. "I have a name, and I insist that you use it when referring to me."
I think this is utterly crazy-nutso-cuckoo. However, I have to live in this family. Do I need to apologize for using a pronoun in a private note that was misdirected to her attention, or should I just pretend the entire conversation (during which I could not get a word in edgewise) never happened?
I'm not kidding, by the way.
GENTLE READER: Hoo, boy, is right. This lady is spoiling for a fight, and Miss Manners is afraid that anything short of an apology will deliver it to her.
Referring to people by using pronouns is an insult only when obviously done to avoid pronouncing the name. You could hardly be expected to scrawl a note saying "Mrs. Humper has fewer channels..."
Only she has announced that she does expect it. If you value peace, Miss Manners recommends writing her a note along these lines: "Dear Mrs. Humper. I want to assure you, Mrs. Humper, that I meant no disrespect. I am delighted to have the privilege of knowing you, Mrs. Humper, and am distressed that I inadvertently displeased you. Believe me, Mrs. Humper, to be your sincere admirer..."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I know you oppose having wedding guests "cater" a wedding reception, but my situation seems different. I am paying for all the food and decorations, but I have some talented relatives who want to help decorate the church before the wedding and clean it afterward, and some relatives who want to serve punch, cut cake, buy and assemble sandwiches and hors d'oeuvres (I am paying them back for this), and decorate the reception hall and clean up and do dishes after it's all over.
Pretty much all my relatives (four generations) that I see every summer at our family campout are going to work all day and all evening of the wedding/reception to make it special for me, but they want to and they'll be there anyway, so why should I spend extra money on strangers to come be decorators, caterers and dishwashers when this would just leave my relatives with nothing to help out with?
GENTLE READER: The key to what would make your situation different from that of the folks who think that the momentous occasion of their marriages entitles them to conscript everyone they know into service is in that question of your relatives wanting to.
How do you know they want to? If they have said, "Please, please, let us do something, we want to be involved so we feel it is truly a family wedding," Miss Manners has no objection to their doing whatever it is that they volunteer to do. If you know because you just figure that it would be an honor to serve you, the objection stands.