DEAR MISS MANNERS: What's the proper response to a homeowner's admonition to "just ignore the mess" when entering her home? "OK!" seems insulting; "What mess?" is phony; and "Mine's a lot worse" is transparent and self-deprecating.
GENTLE READER: When there is no right answer, polite people smile. Head tilted to one side, please, and no teeth showing.
Miss Manners assures you that this can convey either sympathy for the universal human problem of keeping things neat or amusement that anyone would apologize for a basically orderly house -- depending on which interpretation the homeowner prefers.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I received a formal invitation to a distant relation's black-tie evening wedding, but, unable to afford the attire for such an event, we chose not to attend.
However, the invitation's response card had only selections for what we would like to eat at the reception, and no place where we could let the couple know that we would not be attending. We were under the impression that when there is no option on the invitation to decline the event, then not returning the card tells the couple that we will not be attending.
Later, I received a frantic call from the bride's mother asking whether we would be attending and what we wanted to eat. My husband's family thought we were wrong not to respond immediately to say we wouldn't be attending.
Should I have written a note on the response card declining, but offering our best wishes? Or were my husband and I correct that in such a situation no response is a "No, thank you"?
This type of invitation (without a means to decline) is common for this branch of the family, and it is not the first phone call from them to confirm events. I know I am supposed to respond with the same method as the invitation, but since they generally do not provide a means to decline, and do not agree that no response means "No, thank you," should I telephone them instead? I do not wish to appear like I am snubbing them. Please tell me, what is the proper way to handle this?
GENTLE READER: May a despairing Miss Manners plead that you, and the many others who declare themselves baffled by formal invitations, apply a modicum of common sense to the situation?
If so, you would surely realize that:
1. Every invitation, no matter how formal or how casual, requires a response. Silence is both uninformative and rude. It is, as you say, a snub.
2. Responding is the obligation of the person who was invited, even if the host (probably out of bitter experience with noncompliance) tries to help by issuing reminders, deadlines or cards.
3. Responding in kind means that a written invitation is answered in writing, a telephoned invitation by telephone, and so on. So unless you are unable to put your hands on a pen, a piece of paper and a stamp, you do not lack the means of responding. And even then, some response, say by telephone, would be better than none at all.