DEAR MISS MANNERS: We have received a gift from friends that was actually a gift of a goat to a family in another country in need of sustenance. I was perplexed as to how to word the thank you note.
"Thank you for thinking of us and others" seemed insufficient, but I struggled to come up with a second sentence. Since this situation may reoccur, I would appreciate knowing the appropriate way to express our thanks.
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners just about had your letter of thanks written for you:
"We are thrilled with the delightful goat you so kindly gave us. What a merry and playful fellow he is. But we were moved to discover that he also has his serious side, and is as committed to recycling as we are. Perhaps even more so, if you can imagine that. Last summer, when we grumbled about our rickety lawn mower, we little imagined that you were exercising your thoughtful ingenuity on our lawn problem. Only you could have come up with such a charming solution. ..."
But wait. You haven't actually got the goat. It went to a more deserving family.
Miss Manners has no doubt that this is for the best all around -- for you, the recipient and for your neighbors -- but the fact remains that your friends did not give you a present. They got a twofer out of their philanthropy by merging their gift list with their charity list.
So your first sentence of thanks strikes her as perfectly adequate. The second sentence should express your hope that the recipients' lives will be made easier because of your friends' donation. You probably didn't want your own goat, anyway.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: After all the work of buying presents and otherwise preparing for the holidays, I do not have the energy to shop for my own presents with the many gift cards I received. I placed them in my wallet, with the intent of using them if I ever happen across the stores that issued them, but this is unlikely as I seldom go to shopping malls.
Some of the retailers have Web sites, so I moved those cards from my wallet to my desk to remind myself to visit the sites when I am online conducting other business. But I keep forgetting to do so.
The one time I remembered, I found that the purchasing power of my gift card would not cover shipping charges for the item I wanted, and I didn't wish to spend any money on the item, so I canceled the transaction.
Given that I wrote warm thank-you letters a few days after receiving the cards, am I required to use them and thank the givers for the items I select? What should I say if they ask me what I bought? Should I admit that I have not yet had the time or felt the urge to shop?
GENTLE READER: Isn't that what they have admitted to you? That they find it too much trouble to shop for you?
Mind you, Miss Manners requires that even minimum-effort presents receive gracious thanks. But having done that, you are not obliged to report back again.