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Dear Miss Manners: I have faithfully sent birthday and Christmas greetings, sometimes with a gift, to my nephew his whole life. He usually sends a note of thanks.

But he is a globe-trotting academic whose failure to reciprocate properly is hurtful. He nearly always misses such occasions, but out of the blue will send a random gift of flowers or a silk scarf whenever he feels like it with a short "thinking of you" note on dates that have no significance for me or him whatsoever.

His uncle, my husband, feels I should acknowledge receipt of these gifts, but I haven't been inclined to do so. Yet, he just keeps sending them. Would it be rude to tell him to stop?

Gentle Reader: Goodness knows that Miss Manners is not in the habit of declaring that surface behavior doesn't matter as long as the heart is good. Good manners and a devious heart are better company.

But here you have a nephew who thinks of you, who sends you presents, and who thanks you for the presents that you send him. He does reciprocate. Yet because he is not on the conventional schedule -- and you even realize that he travels a lot, which could make that difficult -- you are contemplating being outrageously rude to him.

If you would seriously prefer a nephew who leaves a list of dates with a personal shopper and doesn't think of you at odd moments, you can probably arrange a trade, as those kinds of nephews are plentiful.

A formal address

Dear Miss Manners: Has the conventional wisdom on addressing formal invitations evolved? I just can't seem to stomach the traditional "Mr. and Mrs. Harry Oglethorpe" form.

Many of my contemporaries happily took their husband's surnames as a means of cementing their new families, but that doesn't mean they enjoy being transformed into a three-letter appendage.

Is it polite to address correspondence to married couples of all generations using both first names -- "Mr. and Mrs. Harry and Jenna Oglethorpe," for example?

Gentle Reader: Miss Manners has heard of people judging the proper thing to do by what makes them comfortable -- a bad system, considering how many people feel comfortable taking advantage of others.

The traditional "Mr. and Mrs." form is still correct for those who prefer it, whether you can stomach it or not. It is also correct to address a couple (on two lines) as Ms. Jenna Oglethorpe/Mr. Harry Oglethorpe. Having this choice is complicated enough without others (or others' stomachs) making up awkward alternatives.

Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners at

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