Dear Miss Manners: Last year, I asked my husband’s sister, who was having the family Thanksgiving dinner at her house, what I could bring. She insisted that it was easier for her to do it all herself and that we should just give her money.

I offered two more times to bring something, but she only wanted money. My husband did not agree and did not pay her when we ate at her house. When we arrived home, my husband’s other sister called, screaming at him for not paying up.

This year, we would like to avoid being treated like deadbeat customers, but I’m not sure how we could best do so.

Should we politely decline the invitation without a reason, should we go along with paying for our dinner for the sake of family harmony, or should we say we will come if we can participate as family members?

Gentle Reader: It can’t be easy to achieve harmony in a family where screaming and charging for dinner pass for acceptable behavior.

Miss Manners doubts that your relatives are able to see the crucial difference between helping to cook for a family gathering and paying admission to attend it. In the future, it would be good to give the dinner yourself, setting an example of hospitality.

This year, she suggests that you offer to do the grocery shopping, asking your sister-in-law for a list, and refusing even partial payment on the grounds that you wouldn’t feel right charging family or friends.

Always the initiator

Dear Miss Manners: I have been out several times with a charming gentleman acquaintance. I delight in his company, and the preponderance of the evidence indicates that he feels similarly … he introduces me to his friends, his correspondence is always thoughtful and droll, and he always accepts my invitations for future engagements.

However, I am always the initiator of said engagements.

There are several plausible benign interpretations for this … for instance, I know the city better, and the cup that is my social calendar often runneth over, so he may be politely deferring to my schedule. Or perhaps, because I like to plan ahead, I’ve just always beaten him to the punch, as it were.

Nevertheless, doubts are beginning to niggle. Should I infer from his lack of initiative that he is not interested? Should I wait for him to contact me? Should I raise the issue in conversation? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill?

Gentle Reader: A gentleman who is not interested in a lady does not generally see her every chance she suggests, write her droll yet thoughtful letters and introduce her to his friends.

So surely your real question is how you can get him to reciprocate your invitations. By asking. Miss Manners does not think it forward for a lady to say, “I’d love it if you would plan something you’d like us to do together.”

Upset by phone trick

Dear Miss Manners: Returning home after three months out of the country, I called a friend’s home phone. It turns out he has it set to forward all calls to his mobile. He answered and said, “Hello, Liz! You’ve got me in the middle of a meeting!” I felt guilty. It seems he sets a trap for his friends, and then springs it. What do you think?

Gentle Reader: That he is as good at shifting blame as you are at accepting it.

Miss Manners is amazed that it didn’t occur to either of you that he could avoid being interrupted at meetings by having the courtesy to turn off his telephone, or, failing that, to silence it and to check who was calling before he answered.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website,; to her email,; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.