DEAR MISS MANNERS: In the “olde days,” I would receive emails in which I was addressed as “Dear Dr. X,” which indicated a level of formality, and the use of “Dear” did not denote any romantic implications. I also used the “Dear” salutation in my emails to other people. (I’m a college professor, by the way.)
Lately, however, I’m receiving emails addressed as “Hi, (First Name),” which, though it eliminates any romantic implications from the use of the word “dear,” strikes me as inappropriately casual for a business setting.
Is this now the proper, accepted salutation that people use in business emails? Should I be using “Hi, Miss Manners” or “Dear Miss Manners” in the salutations of my business emails and printed letters?
GENTLE READER: Let us remain on dear terms, please. It is true that those who believe in universal informality and can’t stop messing with conventions now use “Hi” as a salutation, even professionally. Miss Manners does not consider that a reason for more dignified people to succumb.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: A distant cousin invited my entire branch of the family to his wedding, except for me. I assume this to be an innocent mistake, because we don’t have enough of a relationship for him to have a grudge against me. Since I wouldn’t have been able to travel to the wedding destination on the weekend in question, I didn’t see any reason to try to correct the mistake.
At the wedding, my grandmother figured out that I hadn’t been invited and made a snarky comment to the mother of the groom. A few days later, my cousin and his mother angrily asked me why I didn’t tell them about the missing invitation, insisting that they had intended to invite me all along.
I was taken aback by this confrontation and apologized immediately, but the apology leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Did I owe them an apology? If not, how could I have responded gracefully?
GENTLE READER: Your cousin’s behavior does not pass Miss Manners’ sniff test.
It is ridiculous to expect the supposed recipient to report the absence of an unheralded invitation. Rather than apologizing, you might reasonably have asked how you were supposed to know it had been sent.
But the bigger giveaway is their response. People whose mail goes astray may get angry at the postal service, but not at the would-be recipient. And they turn apologetic, rather than demanding apologies.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I live in the South, where it is apparently acceptable behavior to ask someone on even the slightest acquaintance what church they attend.
Miss Manners, I do not attend church in the traditional sense. I follow an Earth-based spiritual path that, in centuries previous, led to followers being hanged, burned at the stake and drowned.
I do not wish to impart this information to those asking me the above question. I have not been able to formulate an acceptable answer. What would Miss Manners suggest?
GENTLE READER: Well, that description does sound like an effective conversation-stopper, but Miss Manners agrees that it is just as well not to use it. That phrase about “not in the traditional sense” is a lot better, but it would be good to turn the question around and allow the questioner to extol the virtues of his or her church.