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How to return gifts graciously when the wedding goes kaput

Dear Social Grace,

At the last minute my fiance decided to back out of our wedding. And now I need to return some bridal gifts, but have no idea what to write in the cards … or should I even do cards? Any help on this would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks,
Confused

Dear Confused Madam,

I'm sorry for your difficulties, but I can help a bit: Yes, a card would be appropriate. It should briefly explain the situation (no details are necessary), and it should express gratitude. The note could look something like this:

Dear Penelope,

Michael and I have decided not to marry. Thank you for your generous gift, which I must return with apologies, and for your kindness, which I cherish.

Best,
Susan

Dear Social Grace,

I'm writing to you to ask about proper place settings for a formal dinner. According to a friend, at a formal setting, there should be no bread plate, and the dinner roll should be placed on the tablecloth. Also there should be no butter on the table. I may not be as knowledgeable about etiquette; however, every instance that I can think of has always included a bread plate.

DE

Dear DE,

Your friend seems to have been exposed to some out-of-date table etiquette. Butter was, for a fairly brief time in the early part of the 20th century, not to be found on many formal dinner tables.

This way of doing things didn't last too long, as you have observed. It is now widely considered more incorrect to put any food on a tablecloth, and it is normal for people to use a bread-and-butter plate in the manner its name suggests. (At a not-so-formal table, you'd use your dinner plate to hold bread and butter.) Only time will tell what massive changes widespread carbphobia will eventually wreak upon the bread-and-butter plate and its place in a formal table setting. It may just go the way of individual ashtrays.

Dear Social Grace,

What about having dinner with a baseball cap on? Is that acceptable in a restaurant? What about Sunday brunch?

Philippe

Dear Philippe,

I've said it before: A gentleman removes his hat when dining (both gentlemen and ladies remove baseball caps at the table). Picnics and the like can be exceptions. I could see how a certain type of very casual, outdoor brunch might be included here.

Removing one's hat is an age-old, heavily symbolic way of demonstrating respect. And eating with other people is, literally, the basis of civilization — an activity deserving of respect. There are plenty of people out there who would see leaving your cap on at the table, even a brunch table, as a telltale sign that you are a boor. Worse, dinner companions may view your cap as an intentional slight. I wouldn't risk it.

Dear Social Grace,

A few weeks ago, I invited my cousin and her soon-to-be husband to our home for Thanksgiving dinner. They accepted and we began discussions on logistics such as their accommodations and timing of the actual dinner.

As we were saying our goodbyes to them at their wedding, we told them we were looking forward to seeing them for Thanksgiving. My cousin informed me that she had since been invited out of town with another couple and would not be joining us.

It is my understanding that this was very rude — to accept an invitation and then decline for a better offer. My husband and I are very hurt/insulted and don't know how to handle this without coming off as bitter or resentful. Any advice would be appreciated!

Signed,
Two Empty Seats at the Table

Dear Unseated Madam,

You're quite right to be miffed — your cousin did not behave very well. An invitation to dine at someone's home on a holiday is a great honor (which goes back to what I just said about dining with other people being one of civilization's cornerstones). Once accepted, such an invitation should be backed out of only for true emergencies. Now, however, there's nothing for you to do but stay silent on the matter until your pique passes. Perhaps, after the holidays are over, you'll be able to convince yourself that she'd only temporarily lapsed into discourtesy. It happens. If you can manage it, forgiving a relative's missteps usually just feels better in the long run. Even so, you may decide to keep in mind that your cousin doesn't appreciate invitations to dine, and therefore not to trouble her with them anymore.

Dear Social Grace,

Online, I found a racing-bike frame at a store in Hawaii (I live in Oakland). The bike shop would not take a credit card, only COD. However, UPS delivered the bike frame without picking up a check. I have had the bike frame for two months now, and the bike shop has not made any attempt to contact me. They have (or did have) my e-mail address, phone number, and obviously my mailing address.

The bike frame is pretty expensive ($1,800), but it is out of production and not really in demand, and it was just sitting in his window for a couple of years.

Should I send the shop the money, or wait until they ask for it?

Thanks,
Dave

Dear Dave,

I think I know what you were hoping I'd say, but I can't believe you thought I might actually say it. Send the money today. And while you're at it, include an apology for its tardiness.

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