DEAR MISS MANNERS: Cousin 1 recently wrote in a friendly way that she had found out that Cousin 2 was also writing to me, and Cousin 1 enclosed a photocopy of the letter she had gotten from Cousin 2.
Now, I have the feeling that I am supposed to thank Cousin 1 for the photocopy, and send her copies of the letters Cousin 2 has sent to me. Otherwise, I'm being unfriendly and unreciprocating to Cousin 1, yes?
These letters do not contain anything gossipy, but still, I would feel that I was violating Cousin 2's privacy and confidence if I gave copies of her letters to anyone. How do I know her reasons for including something in one letter and not another, even if it doesn't seem gossipy to me?
What should I say to Cousin 1? Should I thank her for the photocopy? Should I remark on one or two items that were common to Cousin 2's letters to both Cousin 1 and me? How should I respond if she asks me point blank for a copy of my letters from Cousin 2?
GENTLE READER: Does Cousin 1 date from the early days of regular postal service, when people would pass their letters around the breakfast table? (Yes, the mail actually arrived by breakfast time.)
Or does she think that letters are a form of e-mail, but without the convenient forward button, which it is safe to send around because no one in his right mind would put anything private into e-mail? (Would they?)
Miss Manners advises letting your cousins settle this themselves. You can arrange that by opening your next letter to Cousin 2 with a chatty, "I see from the photocopy of your letter that Cousin 1 sent me...."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Could you please tell me if traditional posted birth announcements serve a social purpose beyond announcing the happy news of a child's birth?
It seems to be common practice now to send e-mail announcements very soon after a birth. These almost always contain pictures and information, such as the baby's name and birthday, that is included in a traditional announcement, but arrive much more quickly.
Because all of our family members and close friends have access to e-mail, and word of her arrival will certainly go out electronically anyway, I am considering sending e-announcements after our daughter is born this summer and foregoing paper ones. Would this constitute some breech of etiquette or tradition that I am overlooking?
GENTLE READER: You will be surprised to hear that the world's biggest fan of the handwritten letter and of the formal announcement thinks that e-mail is preferable for announcing births.
What now passes for the traditional birth announcement -- the engraved parents' card with a wee baby card attached by ribbon-- was never a favorite with fastidious etiquetteers. Maybe it was something about an infant's having a card, but anyway, they took so long to make that the baby was practically in college before people heard. A handwritten line on the parents' usual card was preferred, and even those commercially cute little fill-in cards were tolerated.
Perhaps there are recipients who put mailed announcements into scrapbooks for sentiment or file boxes for reference, but we must not forget that the purpose of an announcement is to announce. And since Miss Manners knows that even the most informal cards are rarely sent promptly, e-mail seems a sensible solution.