DEAR MISS MANNERS: Would you please give me one or two examples of what would be considered an acceptable gift to present to someone I enjoy spending time with and am seeing on a regular basis?
I regret to inform you that I gave her a bracelet for Valentine's Day. Although she said she liked it -- and as far as I know, still likes me -- I understand that respectable ladies do not accept jewelry from their gentlemen admirers.
GENTLE READER: So -- do you still like her? Did you get the answer you wanted to the question of whether this lady is respectable?
Miss Manners confesses to hoping that you did not offer the bracelet as a test, but found out only later that accepting it was questionable. Furthermore, she would like to believe that the lady was equally unaware, or perhaps embarrassed to refuse, for fear of your taking that as an insult.
Yet despite this uncharacteristic burst of tolerance, Miss Manners is not prepared to remove that rule from the books. She will, however, broaden it from merely barring ladies from accepting jewels, clothing or anything of substance, because "favors" (and we all know what that means) might be expected in return.
The refurbished rule, now that couples form and disband frequently, should be that neither person in a courtship should accept valuable presents before there is a formal commitment. The era when ladies flung back any token associated with a failed romance seems to be over. Squabbling, and even suing to take back things of value, is more common and uglier than ever.
The classic Valentine's Day presents are roses and/or chocolates, and, to up the ante, books of love poetry. Not knowing this particular lady, Miss Manners cannot suggest other suitable presents, but only caution that they should be items that would not be in dispute should you part.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: For Valentine's Day, my husband had flowers sent to the place I work. The roses were obviously thrown into a so-so vase quickly without taking care or time to arrange them, probably due to the overwhelming amount of business (read: opportunity to gouge customers) on such a holiday.
When I got the credit card bill, I was shocked at the price. It had nearly doubled from the cost of last year's roses, which were beautifully arranged. I would like to check with the florist to see if there was a mistake. I really don't think there was. But I would like to not do business with these people again, and I don't know how to tell my husband without making him feel that I don't appreciate his thoughtfulness.
How does one question the monetary value of a gift without offending the giver?
GENTLE READER: Which giver? Your husband provided the sentiment; the florist provided the flowers. Miss Manners suggests you complain to the party whose contribution you found objectionable.
A reputable florist will apologize with more flowers, thus increasing your husband's reputation at the office. If the response is unsatisfactory, you can mention to your husband -- next January -- that you have found a new florist you like.
(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.)