DEAR MISS MANNERS: I received the following in the mail last week, and I'm not sure what I'm to do. (The names are changed for privacy, the rest is word for word.)
Lisa Ann along with the memory of
the Late Christopher Luke Castle
and Cathy R. and Hamilton Fenton
are proud to finally announce
the marriage of
Louisa Anne Castle
Stanley Sean Fenton
Luanne and Stan will unite
their devoted love and affection
which began twenty years ago
in a private ceremony
on (date but no time or place)
Because you are so far away
and can not be with us to celebrate our union,
we wanted you to know of our marriage and
hope you will wish us well and think of us
on our happy day!
It arrived in a single envelope about five weeks before the event. Don't you usually send out announcements after the event? I'm so confused. Is this just a request for a gift?
GENTLE READER: It is hard to say just what this is.
A sigh of relief from beyond the grave of a father who can stop spinning because his daughter's 20-year courtship has progressed to marriage? A presumptuous refusal, by the hosts on behalf of the recipients, in response to an invitation that has not been issued?
And what went on in that private ceremony 20 years ago?
Miss Manners is at least sure that it is not either a proper formal communication or a proper informal one, since it uses the formal third-person style without honorifics and with informal nicknames. But that revealing, if split, infinitive, "to finally announce," certainly provides more emotional information than can be found in the usual bland forms.
She would not, however, assume that it is a request for a present, even though many people assume that to be the prime motivation for marriage. Nowadays the greedy express themselves explicitly, enclosing written demands for cash or specific dry goods. Let us assume, instead, that the timing was simply as misguided as the wording. You need send the couple only your good wishes.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am head of an environmental organization that values sustainability and using resources as wisely as possible. I am frequently invited to speak to civic organizations or sit on panels, after which I am provided with a thank you gift such as a mug or plaque with the organization's mission, or recently a frisbee with a newspaper's name and slogan.
I usually do not want this gift, partly because I do not use the item but also because I don't want to have the waste of owning an item I do not plan to use and can't be donated as they have little value. Is there a gracious way to decline a thank you gift without offending the kind individual who is making the offer?
GENTLE READER: Leaving that person standing there, holding on to an object you have just pronounced useless, in front of an audience whose organization it symbolizes?
Miss Manners is afraid that there is no way of doing that which would not be rude and embarrassing. The object is yours to put to whatever use you can find for it. It might assuage your misgivings if you learned to think of rudeness as a pollutant, which you should refrain from spreading.