DEAR MISS MANNERS: On the envelope of the Christmas card I sent to my cousin (whom I rarely see), I omitted "Dr." in front of his name. I instead addressed him as Mr.
I didn't intend to offend him. I just meant to send him good wishes for Christmas. Yesterday, I received from him a note that greatly offended me. He sent the same thing to my mother, who is 82 years old and a wonderful person and who cares for him very much.
Enclosed were a copy of his Doctorate of Philosophy degree, with "Doctor" and the year circled, and one of an envelope made out to him as "Dr." He wrote "Please note it is standard to use Ph.d. at the end or Dr. in front but not Mr. on the name of a person with a doctorate. You are only ones that use Mr. Thank you."
I am extremely offended. I feel like writing him back and asking for my Christmas card back.
GENTLE READER: No, no, it's Christmas time, and your poor cousin doesn't know that in the higher levels of the academic world, it is taken for granted that one has a Ph.D. and considered silly for anyone not in the medical field to use the title of doctor.
Miss Manners suggests a letter of apology that begins, "Dear Dr. Cousin."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I'm dreading the holidays. A few of our family members are self-employed (I'm one), and some of us are marketing relentlessly to the rest of us.
The mail brings envelopes that look like letters or packages, but turn out to be unrequested advertising and nothing else, not even a personal greeting. Any e-mail is certain to be a sales pitch, sent to a long list of victims (with not so much as a "Hi, Aunt Jackie"). We've been invited to sales presentations (politely declined) and bombarded by pitches.
The very worst offender declared that we "must" gather at her house for the holidays. I want to avoid spending the holidays as a captive audience for a sales pitch, but should I tell her why I won't come or just politely decline (again)? So far, I've just said something vague and changed the subject. I don't want to upset the rest of the family by creating a scene, but I don't want to be subjected to the sales pitches any more, either.
On a related note -- I'm self-employed, too, and I wouldn't send unrequested marketing material to my relatives, but where's the line? I'd like to share what I'm up to, which includes work, but is it rude to add an e-mail link to a Web site where others can see my work? I'd like to avoid being rude, or tacky, or (gulp) some combination of the two.
GENTLE READER: When Miss Manners was a budding young journalist, a fiercely strict distinction was made between news and advertising. They shared pages and cynical readers assumed that advertising dollars influenced the news, but honest journalists did not permit this.
By that standard, the question here is whether someone is telling family news or targeting relatives as customers.
The mailings are clearly entirely commercial in content, so even a "Hi, Aunt Jackie" would seem like the advertising gimmick of so-called "personalization." A mince-pie at the offender's house would not excuse a sales pitch. But as such people are unlikely to distinguish between hospitality and hustling, you will only antagonize them by adding an explanation when you send your regrets.
As for yourself, Miss Manners condones telling what you are doing but advises skipping the Web site connection. It sounds as if your family has been besieged enough.