ADVERTISEMENT

Dear Miss Manners: A few years ago, we got a panettone from a distant family member for Christmas. We said thank you enthusiastically.

The next year, we got one again. Receiving the gift, it didn’t seem appropriate to say, “Oh, now that we’ve tasted this, we really don’t see how marketing men managed to pass dry, tasteless bread off as a Christmas cake,” so we said thank you again, and if with markedly less enthusiasm, it wasn’t noticed.

Now, it seems, this has become a tradition. We see the gifter once or twice a year, and so the options seem to be keeping our mouths closed and getting a gift we don’t appreciate, saying something right before Christmas when perhaps the miserable stuff is already bought, or saying something now, which would make it clear the gift was a failure.

What is the right thing to do?

Gentle Reader: Ah, a new version of the classic Fruitcake Problem. The difference is that a fruitcake can be passed around pretty much forever, while panettone has a limited life span.

The etiquette question is whether you can call off an unwanted annual present. The answer is that you probably cannot. It only gives the donors an unpleasant retrospective look at their continuing misjudgment. On the bright side, Christmas is an excellent time to make food donations to organizations that feed the poor.

An unreasonable request

Dear Miss Manners: I am 14 years old and have very little money of my own. For the holidays, my dad usually gives me some cash to buy presents for family and friends, but I also enjoy giving handmade gifts, such as the socks I am currently knitting for my grandmother, and I try hard to avoid the commercial side of the holiday season.

Twice this December, my mother, who I do not live with, has mentioned that she wants me to buy her a food processor for Christmas. I think this is a highly unreasonable request to make of anyone, but particularly of one’s teenage daughter.

How do you recommend that I handle such situations? My mother has never seemed to follow any of the etiquette guidelines I have been taught or, for that matter, be aware of them. I doubt she even realized that asking me to buy her a food processor was such an inappropriate request. What can I say when she mentions things like this?

Gentle Reader: How about, “I wish I could, but frankly, I can’t afford it”?

This is, after all, your mother, who has an idea of what your financial situation is. And that gives Miss Manners the ugly suspicion that she is using you to tell your father that he should spring for more. However, that is no concern of yours. You need only answer, as above, on your own behalf.