DEAR MISS MANNERS: Would Miss Manners care to advise one on how to deal with relatives who persist in sending a video camera around on Christmas Eve and having each family tell about their year?
The problem is that there is a wide variation in income levels in the family, from a multimillionaire to several solidly middle-class working-couple families to a single mother who scrapes to put food on the table.
Would Miss Manners care to speculate on which family member takes the opportunity to expound on the latest African safari, daughter's private-riding lessons and horse, and son's new SUV? Judging from how intimidated this middle-class-family member feels, she can only imagine what the single mother must feel. Would Miss Manners care to furnish a response that would sweetly portray the ire this custom invokes?
GENTLE READER: With no intention of defending the cheeky practice of forcing people to perform for cameras, Miss Manners fails to see why you interpret this as a financial report.
How each person wishes to account for his or her year is a wide-open question, which does not require opening financial accounts of purchases made. Surely the relatives who are not rich have some accomplishments or other news to relate, possibly -- since you regard this as a contest -- even more than the rich ones. At the very least, they are less likely to have a daughter who falls off her horse and a son who crashes his SUV.
This is not to say that Miss Manners believes that everyone must go along with this project. It would be sensible to announce that one is camera-shy, but looks forward to seeing the others' reports.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: For the first time, this year I'll be spending Christmas away from my immediate family and with my fiancee and her family, with whom I am on excellent terms. Typically, my family will dress up in our best formal clothes for Christmas church services, whereas my fiancee indicates that her family usually takes a more business casual approach, even for Christmas.
While I have absolutely no problems with her family's choice of dress, I would feel uncomfortable dressing similarly for what I feel is an important occasion. At the same time, I do not wish to risk embarrassing my hosts by my choice of attire.
Given the general good nature of my future parents-in-law, I have no doubt that my worries are unfounded. However, proper etiquette is still important to them, and to me, and I would like to know what would be my most appropriate course of action this upcoming holiday.
GENTLE READER: Be grateful you are a gentleman, and not a lady. You can appear wearing a jacket and tie and submit to entreaties that you remove them. Ladies have no such flexibility, Miss Manners assures you. Even if they manage to wear changeable outfits, respectable people do not ask them to remove their clothing.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: With the better stores now giving gift receipts, what is the best protocol when giving a gift? Is it best to include it with the gift?
GENTLE READER: It beats the recipient asking where it was bought or, even more rudely, asking the donor to exchange it. And it saves that ungracious speech by which some people undercut their generosity: "If you don't like it, you can take it back." So yes, Miss Manners recommends tucking it discreetly into the tissues.