DEAR MISS MANNERS: Over the course of many years, because of my professional and social activities, I have been privileged to be invited to lunches and dinners at the White House, the governor's manson and other such venues. On a trip to Europe, I was a guest at a dinner at the residence of our ambassador to a major European country. Since the ambassador and his wife are friends, I immediately sent a thank you note to the ambassador's wife, as I have always been taught to do.
Several friends said that in this instance and the other official entertainments, I should have sent my thank you to the ambassador, president, governor, etc., and not to their wives.
What is your opinion and direction?
GENTLE READER: Your friends gave you an opinion; Miss Manners can direct you to what is correct. Etiquette, especially at the level of protocol, is not something you can figure out for yourself by deciding what ought to be done without knowing what is customarily done, and therefore expected.
When you are on official business, it is perfectly true that the male office holder is the person responsible for your invitation, and his wife is a private citizen. Nevertheless, she is considered the hostess, to whom the letter of thanks should be addressed.
Does it follow that when you are entertained by a female office holder, you should write to her husband? No. The lady is still considered the hostess.
Is this fair (as your friends would argue)? Is it logical? No. Should it change?
Possibly. After government has fully recognized the injustice of expecting wives to run the protocol side of such jobs for free or meager pay, they may choose not to attend official events. But if they do, treating them as presiding hostesses may be one of those anachronistic courtesies that we maintain simply because it feels rude not to do so.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I are both professors at a very small, private liberal arts college (about 750 students). Because of its size, we get to really know and love many students!
We get invited to many graduation parties and receptions, and always manage to get to every party and spend a few minutes conversing with and congratulating the graduate. I love finding just the right card for each student, and I personalize each one for him/her.
However, we cannot afford to give everyone a gift. A friend of mine says my husband and I should not attend the parties if we do not bring a gift. Is she right?
GENTLE READER: That there is an admission charge to parties? No. Oddly enough, guests are supposed to be invited because the hosts want the pleasure of their company.
Although the world is unfortunately full of people who grasp for more, Miss Manners doubts that this is the case here. What you and your husband have presumably already given these students is of inestimable value, and your continued interest doubtless confers a pleasure beyond that of any trinket.