DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it OK to just call new parents and say, "I am stopping by today," or should people wait to be invited over to see the new baby?
GENTLE READER: How do you imagine that the parents of newborn babies pass the time of day? Hanging around their quiet, orderly homes, hoping for a knock at the door indicating that someone has come along to break the tedium?
So, no, you do not call to say you are stopping by. You call to ask, "Would this be a good time for me to stop by to see the baby? Or would another time be better?"
Miss Manners has no wish to discourage the charming tradition of paying visits to new babies. On the contrary, she is dismayed that the overblown modern baby shower has left many acquaintances feeling, by the time the baby arrives, that they have done quite enough. But surely cooing over an actual infant is more fun than cooing over its wardrobe and equipment.
Just please allow the parents to approve the timing. Showing up unexpectedly and demanding to see a baby who has been coaxed to sleep after three hours of fussing is not a good idea.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When I take my family out to dinner (we have five kids, so this is a rare treat), is it correct for my wife to thank me for the dinner, in front of the kids, to teach them gratitude? I always pay for dinner.
My wife says no (i.e., it's incorrect). If she thanks me, she says it shows the children that she's not important, so she won't thank me.
GENTLE READER: You might thank your wife for her good sense. What you would be teaching the children is not gratitude, but an unpleasant notion of female economic dependence.
Miss Manners is astonished to find herself condemning any expression of gratitude. She would not dream of objecting if you thanked your wife every time she cooked dinner or did another chore from which you benefited.
But money is different from effort. A mutually respectful couple does not equate earning power with family power. Thus, you did not treat your wife to a restaurant meal; you drew on the family funds to pay for it.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a friend who constantly brags about what her boyfriend buys her. Out of the blue, I will get a random text that will state something along the lines of, "Conrad bought me a new handbag. I'm thrilled about it," or a picture of the product saying, "Look at this watch Conrad bought me."
Not only does she send these text messages, but in person all she can talk about is how her boyfriend took her here and there and paid for this and that. It is really obnoxious, and I don't know how to respond in these circumstances because I don't want to come across as rude myself.
The one time I did respond, I kept it short and sweet and said: "Well, that's great. I like the watch. Good for you." She said she thought I would be happier for her. What should I do?
GENTLE READER: Well, then, start by saying, "I'm so happy for you." But Miss Manners suggests following this up -- quickly, while your friend is working to come up with another whine -- with, "And what did you get him?"
(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.)