DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am planning a celebration of my late husband's life, and being good to myself by having it catered. Nothing fancy, but I am worrying about how much food and drink to order.
In light of the current habit of disregarding a request for a response, could I include on the invitation something like, "If you attend without an RSVP, kindly do not eat or drink anything"? I am sorely tempted.
GENTLE READER: People are sorely tempted to do many things, but civilization is hinged on thwarting those baser desires.
Meanwhile, Miss Manners is left wondering how you would even go about policing those guests who show up unannounced. A rap on the hand as they reach for a shrimp? An elaborate pantomime of handing them a pretend glass and not filling it?
Unfortunately, the only proper thing to do with these brazen guests is to express surprise at their appearance. Courting insult in the form of threats is a rude and fruitless activity.
However, if you find yourself running low on refreshments and those same guests have the gall to complain, you may say, "Oh dear, I'm afraid that I only planned for those who told me they were attending." And plan not to invite them next time.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When is it necessary to give a card, and to wrap a gift?
For the former, I've always felt that it's appropriate when sending greetings through the mail, but not face-to-face. I've consistently told family to please not give me cards in person, yet they continue to do so anyway.
I find them a waste of paper (and money, as some of the fancy ones are very expensive) when you're just going to say "Happy birthday" or "Merry Christmas" directly to them anyway on the day in question. The sole exception is when they are being used as a gift wrapper themselves, such as with cash or a gift certificate.
As for the latter, I consider it suitable when the element of surprise and anticipation is important — such as during a party, at a shower or opening Christmas presents — but again, I think it wasteful to wrap gifts when shipping them to the receiver's address or when the gift is spontaneous.
Lastly, on the issue of gift-wrapping, does an authority on etiquette have an opinion on gift bags vs. boxed and wrapped gifts? It had never occurred to me until people started bragging about how easy it was to "shove it in a bag" instead of wrapping it.
GENTLE READER: The purpose of a present is, Miss Manners wishes to remind you, to show gratitude or appreciation. Efforts to make the act of giving as efficient — in other words, effortless — as possible therefore invalidate the reason for giving the present in the first place.
By contrast, wrapping and accompanying notes emphasize those reasons. Were efficiency the only standard, one could merely slow down the car and toss the present onto the porch.
Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, email@example.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.