DEAR MISS MANNERS: You could assist an entire profession if you would advise undergraduates on how to compose e-mail messages to their professors.
Like my colleagues, I've received peremptory messages from undergraduates, even entering freshmen, the tone of which might have been used by an aristocrat to a particularly lax and unpleasant waiter. After the remonstrances, there's often a transparent attempt at manipulation, as in "Have a great weekend!" or "Thanks in advance for your understanding."
I want to be available to my students, but I don't want to be addressed as if I were their employee. Can you give them some suggestions?
GENTLE READER: Certainly. Miss Manners regrets that Deportment is no longer graded. Here is what a polite student would write:
"Dear Professor Wise,
"I regret that because of a tragedy in my family, I must ask you for an extension on the paper that is due on Friday. My beloved grandmother has died, and my presence has been urgently requested in Aspen, not only to attend her funeral but to deal with matters concerning her estate. I expect to be able to return here within two weeks, and could certainly deliver the paper before Thanksgiving break or, so as not to burden you with it during the holiday, soon after.
"Let me say what a privilege it is to hear your lectures and how much I hate to have to miss even one of them. Please accept my apologies for this regrettable absence.
"P.S. I don't want to impose on you with my family troubles, but you should know that this not the same grandmother who passed away at Stowe earlier in the semester. Owing to my parents' remarriages, I am blessed with several."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My family was invited to a Halloween party with an invitation that mentioned a gift registry at a local store, recommending that everyone look at it for gift ideas. It looks like a wedding registry or something for a birthday, covering everything from household goods to entertainment wants.
I would understand bringing a gift to a birthday party, anniversary party or even a dinner party, but I have never heard of bringing a gift to a Halloween costume party. Is this rude to expect a gift, or is it polite to bring a gift for the host no matter what type of party it is?
GENTLE READER: You are on that slippery slope along with your greedy friends, Miss Manners is sorry to say. Like them, you see nothing wrong with asking to be given presents; your only quibble is whether this applies to Halloween parties.
No -- "hostess gifts" are not considered obligatory except for overnight stays, although many people now feel that handing over a bottle of wine exempts them from reciprocating a dinner invitation.
Even more widespread is the practice of ordering one's own presents. Since you have accepted this vulgar practice, you should not be surprised that it keeps spreading.