DEAR MISS MANNERS: When we have company, my husband and I have been confounded on several occasions by people who, upon seeing a computer in our study, say they need to "log on" to check their e-mail.
Our study, and particularly our desk, has many personal and confidential papers within view of anyone sitting at the computer. Usually, we keep the desk as organized as possible and the door to the room closed.
But this has not deterred some people who ask for a tour of the house and who then squeal with delight at the sight of our computer. When I have told people that the desk is piled with personal papers, they just shrug it off and say "don't worry," they "won't look," or they become offended because I don't trust them.
Once, I caught a houseguest in the middle of the night at my desk, surfing the Internet because he "couldn't sleep." We were deluged with pornographic ads after that. Another time, someone commented on a paper that was in a folder on the computer desktop screen.
One relative, after reading his e-mail, began reading our e-mail and God knows what else. Short of locking the door, what would be the polite way to tell people they can't use our computer? Even if, as they say, it's "just for a minute"?
GENTLE READER: When it comes to the sort of people who read their hosts' mail and bring pornography into the house, the door that should be locked is the front door.
But in regard to polite guests, Miss Manners is afraid that the computer is taking the place that the telephone had before the widespread use of cellular ones. That is, guests should ask before using it, keep their use of it short, avoid incurring expenses or pay for those they do and leave it in the same shape they found it. (That last was not a problem with telephones, but refers delicately to the nastiness of opening the computer to pornographers.)
But when they do ask, reasonable hosts allow them brief use.
And yes, that means cleaning up your desk, because even polite people find their eyes straying. It also means putting security on your data in the computer and establishing a guest sign-in. You cannot expect Miss Manners to know how to do this, but she has been assured that it can be done.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am attending a wedding in a couple of weeks. There was no gift registry mentioned or included in the invitation. The couple is rich, has lived together for years, etc. What do I give them for a wedding gift? I was thinking just a cash amount. Please advise.
GENTLE READER: Although she despises registries because it is crass to show guests you are expecting them to fork over, let alone to pick out what you expect them to buy, Miss Manners thought the justification was to avoid giving people what they already have.
And you indicate that these people already have money.
Perhaps they also have the good taste not to ask for presents, making them a great rarity these days.
Miss Manners is afraid that you will have to exercise some thought to determine what might please these people. That is what is meant when presents are spoken of and appreciated as being thoughtful.