Miss Conduct

Etiquette police

Cracking down on the party planner? Plus, handling honesty’s aftermath.

Lucy Truman

> I threw a surprise birthday for my partner at a local restaurant, planning everything from engraved invitations to the party favors to the open bar. Four months later, he still has not sent out thank you cards. I feel if people took the time to attend (I specified “no gifts”), they deserve a note of thanks. He feels no note is required. I feel I should write them — I’m embarrassed, but it is his responsibility.

E.B. / Watertown

Dear heavens, E.B., your notions of hospitality are generous to a fault. Are you always like this? I fear for the day some guest at your home should collapse of a long-untreated illness, leaving you no choice, according to your own code of hostly responsibility, but to donate a major organ on your guest’s behalf.  

Having provided your friends with a lavish and delightful party, there is no need to then write notes thanking them for attending. They ought to be writing thank you notes to you, although I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that. And I should hope your partner thanked you appropriately — that is, with less formality, more intimacy, and equal sincerity to a handwritten note.


You say you specified “no gifts,” which I bet was disregarded. Gifts ought to get thank you notes, but most people are forgiving if they’ve given the gift in person. It’s not worth breaking up the peace of your home over this. The next time you talk to Gary Gifterson, however, tell him that your partner got and appreciated his present. Because there isn’t a gift table at “no-gifts” parties, gift givers may be concerned that their present got lost in the hubbub.

> For the past few years, a relative has vacationed when and where my family and I do. She repeatedly asks for help (“We’re only packing carry-ons. Can you bring sunscreen, chairs, and an umbrella for us?”) and includes herself in our activities. We don’t have much in common, and I don’t particularly enjoy her company. This year I told her that I was not interested in vacationing together. She cried, and now I’m full of guilt. What’s the best way to deal with this? 

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K.N. / Boston

You have dealt with it, and this is what the aftermath looks like. Did you think that she would shake her head and sputter, “My goodness, of course you’d like some private time. Let’s take a break for several years, shall we?” If she were the kind of person who would react like that, you would probably feel differently about vacationing with her.

You’ve crossed the Rubicon, and you’d better not go back, no matter how much she cries. If you relent and let her come along, everyone will be far too embarrassed and guilt-ridden and self-conscious to enjoy themselves. It’s possible, given tears and so on, that you may have been a little harsh in your delivery of the message. If so, you can apologize for your tone and make amends without backing down on the separate-vacations business.

  I assume (by which I mean “hope for your sake”) that before you disinvited your relative, you talked to your husband and kids about it, and that they were in agreement. And I hope you and your family find enough to keep you occupied without having your relatives to provide for and complain about.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology. NEED MISS CONDUCT’S HELP?Write to her at And get advice live during a chat with Robin Abrahams this Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m.