DEAR MISS MANNERS: An old friend of mine was recently incarcerated and, assuming he would like visitors, I will be going to see him in the coming months. This friend lives far away, and under different circumstances we would have met for coffee and updated each other on our lives.
I'm a bit at a loss as how to go about that, or any other sort of polite conversation in this situation.
I realize that his life has gone from bad to worse in recent months, so asking "How have you been?" seems insensitive. It also seems rude to talk about my own life, which I'm happy with.
What are the appropriate questions to ask someone who's a resident of the state? "How's the food?"
GENTLE READER: Ah, no. Not a good one. Neither is "How are they treating you?"
The rule in dealing with sad situations is to let those in them decide whether or how much they want to discuss it. Thus you open with a sympathetic but neutral observation, such as "I've been worried about you" and let your friend direct the conversation.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I recently got married and treated our 250 guests to a five-course dinner, drinks and dancing. We also hosted an after-party, which offered more food, drinks and dancing. We basically threw a party for our family and friends that lasted seven hours.
My career background has always been in the nonprofit sector, and as a result, I believed that my husband and I should have a charity registry for our wedding. We expected that some guests might feel more comfortable giving us a personal gift, and that's fine, but we wanted the focus to be on supporting causes that matter most to us.
The wedding was wonderful and pretty much everyone stayed until the end and had a great time.
It has been a month now since the wedding and nearly half of my guests not only didn't donate to our charities, but they opted to give us nothing at all. The registry was listed on our wedding Web site (as well as our RSVP), so there is really no way they could have missed it. We feel like they just took advantage of the situation and thought we wouldn't notice.
It's not about the gift itself; it's the principle. We really want to write something, but we don't want to be tacky about it. What should we do?
GENTLE READER: Send them a bill for the dinner and drinks?
Chastise them for reneging on a charitable commitment that you so generously made for them without their consent?
This is about the gift, not the principle, Miss Manners must inform you. No principle allows you to charge people for attending your wedding. Wedding presents may be customary, but they are still given voluntarily, at the discretion of the guests.
Your wanting to collect their money for a good cause does not whitewash the situation. You still cannot complain that they owe you for having attended your wedding.