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Miss Conduct

Do you send gifts when you’re invited to a Zoom party?

Plus, dealing with grandkids who don’t send thank-you notes and neighbors who haven’t removed their Trump 2020 banner.

Submit questions for Miss Conduct here.

I’ve been invited to the bat mitzvah of the granddaughter of a longtime but not close friend. I have never met the girl, and haven’t seen her parents since their wedding. It is on Zoom and only for an hour or so, so I accepted the invitation for my friend’s sake. Do I give a gift? I’d prefer not to give a gift to a stranger who probably does not even know my name. If this were an in-person event, I think giving a gift would be appropriate, and not just because someone is serving me some food.


B.E. / Boston

Don’t feel obliged. If you had an actual relationship with the young woman or her parents, that would be one thing. And you’re right that if it were in person it would be different, too — not because of a nonexistent “cover your plate” rule, but because the roof creates the relationship, as it were. There’s something irreplaceable about sharing space and breath with others during the important rituals of their lives. You would know the girl if the bat mitzvah were in person, and that’s why you’d bring her a gift, for the privilege of standing at Sinai beside her as she assumes her part in the covenant as a Jewish woman. But that magic doesn’t happen over Zoom.

I send gifts to our grandchildren to help me feel connected to them during COVID. But they rarely thank us or even acknowledge the gifts. I blame the parents, who are not teaching the kids to express thanks, respect, and kindness, but I’m not comfortable sharing my feelings since they are obviously dealing with a lot. What should I do?

Anonymous / Boston

Talk to your kids. Not “the parents” — your kids. But be clear on what problem it is you’re trying to solve: not the absence of thank-you notes, but how to stay connected with your grandchildren during a pandemic. The grandkids don’t seem to be responding much to the gifts, but you want to stay in touch, so what would work better? Take that tack instead, and see where it goes. You aren’t wrong to feel that your grandkids’ manners aren’t up to snuff, mind you, but let’s say for argument’s sake that they began to send polite, prompt, pro forma thank-you notes for each gift received. That might make you feel less annoyed, but it wouldn’t make you actually happy. Aim for the happy!


My neighbors are still flying a Trump 2020 banner. We’ve ignored it thus far. But is there a point at which one can gently ask something like “When will the election be over for you?” Does etiquette permit suggesting it might be time for the sign to go away?

Anonymous / Framingham

The mere presence of the banner rather answers the question you’d like to ask, doesn’t it? Don’t say anything to them. It’s a favor when people show who they are so clearly; it saves the rest of us so much time.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.