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Miss Manners: ‘No gifts’ is invitation to confusion

Dear Miss Manners: My young children were invited to birthday parties where some variation of “No gifts” had been designated, so I decided to take them at their word and not bring a gift. At the door, we were met by an adorable birthday child whose little face fell as she asked my son, “Didn’t you bring a gift?” while pointing to a table full of presents behind her. Everyone else had brought something, anyway!

Having learned that hard lesson, I brought a small gift to the next “No gifts” party. This time, all the other parents commented that the invitation had clearly said “No gifts” and that I was making everyone look bad. Yikes!

When the next “No gifts” invitation inevitably arrives, what do I do? My inclination is not to attend rather than to continue getting it wrong.

Gentle Reader: This is exactly why Miss Manners has a rule against “No gifts” on an invitation. It plants an explicit expectation where there wasn’t one. Clearly, no good can come from doing this if people are ignoring it.

If you are told “No gifts” again and decide to go to the party anyway, do as instructed. And if this meets with a disappointed child, try saying, “I’m so sorry, but your parents told me not to bring anything.”

While it won’t feel good in the moment to dash the hopes of an adorable (but etiquette-impaired) child, doing so may teach two lessons: Don’t ask for presents – and don’t let parents make rude requests on a child’s behalf that they don’t intend to keep.

Behind tall person in theater

Dear Miss Manners: What is the best course of action if one is at a movie theater and someone tall enough to block your view sits in front of you?

Tall friends of mine say they would be bothered by someone asking them to move because the person seated behind them is the one with the problem, so they should be the one to move. Others say they would consider someone getting up to move right after they sit in front of them to be more offensive because it’s passive-aggressive behavior.

Are tall folks obliged to try to avoid sitting in front of people, especially short people, if possible? Does the fullness of the theater affect these metrics?

Gentle Reader: Well, yes, Miss Manners would think so. If it is a practically empty theater and a tall person sits in front of a smaller one, she would consider that aggressive-aggressive behavior.

It is generally good form for a taller person to take into consideration the comfort and sightlines of others – and when it is at all possible, to try to avoid sitting in front of them. However, if they misjudge the situation and do it, anyway, Miss Manners is inclined to forgive them – but only if they agree not to get offended if the people behind them move.