DEAR MISS MANNERS: I gave a relative a pot of poinsettia as a hostess gift, thinking it was festive and appropriate for a holiday visit. The hostess received it saying "Thanks, isn't this poisonous?"
I was embarrassed and dumbfounded (managed to grit my teeth into an almost-smile and told myself to not mind -- but obviously I cannot "not mind it"!). I was also angry at myself for not having a glib reply.
Belatedly, a friend suggested "That's why we got it for you," but I doubt my ability to carry off cheeky responses with aplomb. Is there a remedial school somewhere for catty comebacks?
My husband claims that it is just sarcastic humor. I think it shows ill manners and ungraciousness. There shouldn't be room for sarcasm in thanks, except perhaps among very good friends who share the same sarcastic wit. And in a social situation, isn't it arrogant to assume that everyone will love and enjoy one's sarcastic wit applied liberally?
I probably would not be this miffed if the comment had been said by someone I have experienced as a nice person. In the few times I have been in social contact with this woman, she's had no qualms about sharing her critical opinions of anyone and everyone who is not in the room -- including people I like and respect and consider to be my friends. What could I have said at that moment?
P.S.: I researched poinsettias as soon as we got home, and found that there is a commonmisconception that poinsettias are toxic. They are not very toxic, but those sensitive to latex may suffer an allergic reaction, and, if eaten, poinsettias may cause diarrhea and vomiting in people and animals.
GENTLE READER: Then how about "You'll be fine as long as you don't eat them"?
No, Miss Manners supposes not. In spite of your research, you might consider this to be joking, which you have disallowed.
Fortunately, earnestness works just as well. You could have taken her by both hands, given her a look of deep concern and said, "You know I would never do anything to hurt you. I only hoped to please you." If possible, make your lip quiver when you say this.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Our daughter-in-law constantly takes Christmas and birthday presents we give to her and our grandchildren back to the store and either trades them for something entirely different or gets cash refunds. Most stores will take returns without a receipt if a customer is demanding enough.
She does this without our knowledge and no one tells us unless we specifically ask where a present is. It is her thought that once a gift is given it belongs to the person and they can do as they please with the gift. Any thoughts?
GENTLE READER: Yes: Stop asking where the presents are. Your dissatisfied daughter-in-law is right about that.
You might, instead, ask your son-in-law for guidance about what might please the lady. However, since she also returns the children's presents, Miss Manners suspects that the answer might be that nothing pleases her except what she selects herself.
In that case, leave it alone and be grateful that you are not told about the exchanges or, worse, given instructions to do the exchange yourself. In a desultory way, the arrangement is working.