DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a friend who sells many of her unused items via a popular online auction site, and I have discovered that she frequently auctions off birthday and Christmas gifts I have given her. Although I am disappointed that she didn't like my gift, I understand that it was indeed a gift to do with as she pleases.
Occasionally, though, I will offer her unused or unneeded items when I am cleaning out closets, the kitchen, etc. For example, I'll say, "Do you happen to need a bread machine? We never use this." She always accepts the item willingly like she wants or needs it. Then she sells it in an online auction!
Should I just shut my mouth because this was a gift for her to do with as she pleases? Or is she taking advantage of my generosity?
GENTLE READER: Yes it was, and sure she is.
As you suspect, you are being too generous -- and not just with your goods and your trust. You have too generous an idea of the amount of leeway that etiquette allows the recipient of a present.
That the giver loses control once the present is given is perfectly true, so remarks such as "Where's the monkey statue I gave you?" and "You're not wearing that nose stud I gave you!" are out of line. But that does not mean that the person who gets a present is free of all restrictions.
The proper expression of gratitude involves not only declaring it on paper, but shielding the giver from finding out how ungrateful one really is for this particular present. So asking the giver to exchange a present and putting it out at a yard sale in the giver's neighborhood are also forbidden.
We could give your friend the benefit of the doubt and suppose that she never imagined you would find her presents on auction. But there is no excusing her taking conditional presents without meeting the condition. You didn't wrap up the bread machine and give it to her for her anniversary, you asked whether she needed it. If she didn't need it, she was not supposed to take it. Miss Manners refuses to allow the interpretation that yes, she needed it, but not for making the kind of bread for which it was intended.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have been married for many years to a most accomplished and attractive lady. After raising a substantial family, she has become a professional in her chosen field.
Over the years, we often have socialized with her fellows, many of whom seem as impressed with her as I am. On a number of occasions, some have approached me with remarks such as "Do you know how lucky you are?" or "I guess you know how lucky you are."
I find this patronizing and irritating. My response now is to reply, mildly, "Yes, and I think she's lucky, too."
Those who even listen tend to retire in a somewhat flustered manner, which, admittedly, I take secret delight in. Have I violated basic etiquette and must I simply (as I used to do) accept the remark graciously? Oh, I hope not.
GENTLE READER: But Miss Manners is afraid so. Your refusing to take pride in compliments about your wife is not just ungracious; it belies your intention. A lady whose husband appears to resent her being successful and admired cannot be said to be lucky.