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Miss Manners: How to tell guests it’s time to go home?

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My wife and I invited longtime neighbors to an informal dinner party, called for 6:30 p.m. The evening progressed nicely until after 10 p.m., when my wife was washing dishes in the kitchen and the guests were all seated in the dining room.

Judith Martin

Finally at 11 p.m., well after the table had been cleared, one of the guests decided to excuse himself for the evening, and the balance of the group decided to call it a night. Is there any protocol that you would suggest for politely ending such a gathering at a time convenient for the hosts?

GENTLE READER: Guests who do not take the hostess’s washing the dishes as a blatant indication that she has had enough of their company are as unsubtle as she.

Moving guests away from the table after dinner — for coffee in the living room — should plant the idea that the evening is approaching its end by giving them a passing view of the exit. If not, it is an enjoyable progression in its own right.

It is also a good idea to ensure that one of the guests is a close friend who can be relied upon to stand up, stretch, and say what a lovely time it was, but it’s late and time to go. Too many people are (unnecessarily) embarrassed to leave first. In extremis, Miss Manners has known hosts to plead an outside commitment — accompanied by profuse apologies — although this may require some creativity at 11 o’clock at night.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My significant other, “Sean,” has a sister, “Jessica.” Several years ago, she married a man with two grown daughters, who have become part of Sean’s extended family.

One of the daughters, “Olivia,” recently had a baby, to the delight of the entire family on both sides. Sean and I sent a gift for the baby shortly after she was born. Two months later, we received the following text message from Jessica: “Hi! So Olivia wanted me to let you know that she isn’t going to get her thank-you cards out but loves your gift.”

I am at a loss as to how to respond to that. I’m extremely disappointed that the gift acknowledgment and/or thank-you did not come directly from the gift recipient, or in this case, the baby’s parents. I assume that Jessica considers this second-hand acknowledgment appropriate, as does Olivia. What should I do?

GENTLE READER: Jessica may or may not agree with Olivia’s behavior, although Miss Manners acknowledges that the casual nature of her acknowledgment hints that she does.

But it is equally possible that she has thanked you not because her stepdaughter asked her to, but because she is distraught that the stepdaughter did not do so herself. Olivia, not Jessica, is the guilty party, a fact that is easy to convey when you respond: “Thanks for letting me know. I was going to check that it was delivered because I was worried that I hadn’t heard anything from Olivia.”

Miss Manners is the pseudonym of Judith Martin and Nicholas Ivor Martin. Contact them at dearmissmanners@gmail.com.

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