DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am the queen of a Mardi Gras krewe and am hosting a semiformal Queen's Party. I will be serving a buffet but don't want to use the word "buffet." Is there another, "classier" word I can use?
GENTLE READER: Victorians who first used the word "buffet," pronounced the French way, to describe a meal laid out for self-service on the buffett (the sideboard), probably thought they were classier than people who were still using the 16th-century word "collation" for a light evening meal.
Buffet is now standard, however, and Miss Manners fails to see why you think it is declasse. It tells your guests what to expect -- that whatever they grab from the table will have to be eaten standing up.
However, she bequeaths you the abandoned word "collation," which will probably fail to convey the terms of your gathering and leave them wondering whether they should make dinner reservations. And she adds the warning that attempts to be "classy" almost inevitably produce the opposite effect.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: During a big storm, a relative of mine lost all power in her apartment. A neighbor took her in and provided her with food and shelter for several days.
When she was able to return to her own apartment, my relative sent the neighbor a thank-you card and included a gift certificate for a local department store. Now she is put out because she received no thank-you for the thank-you card. Is it necessary to say "thank you" for a thank-you card?
GENTLE READER: No, that would make an endless cycle. But one must send thanks for a present, even when the present was sent in order to thank. Miss Manners concedes that the gift certificate qualifies as a present, although it strikes her as a paltry return for a grand humanitarian act. Having just stayed in the house, your relative could have noticed her neighbor's taste and chosen something specifically to please her.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Our women's club honors our president at a dinner at the end of the club year. Is it proper for the president to select the location and control events?
The president is presented with a gift at this dinner. Is it proper to ask her what she would like for a specified amount of money?
This has been an issue between myself and a friend. Over many years neither of these issues was in question, but things have changed!
GENTLE READER: Ah, yes, the change that now has people taking charge of honoring themselves, even when others propose to do it. Tossing modesty and gratitude aside, they dictate the arrangements and presents for their own birthday parties, showers and, as you have found, any other occasion.
Miss Manners would be inclined to cede it all to them, allowing them to give the toasts and speeches about how wonderful they are, and to let them do all the clapping, too.
She would rather you didn't encourage such behavior by handing over the choice of the present. But she supposes you should humor the outgoing president about the other arrangements, and choose for the next president one whose admiration and organizational skills are concentrated on the organization.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)