Dear Miss Manners: At the first family wedding I have been to in years (basically because of cost considerations), I asked my sister (mother of the bride) when the presents were going to be opened and placed for viewing.

I was informed that "we don't do that anymore; the bride and groom open them the next day."

When I was growing up, at all weddings and showers, the gifts were opened and placed for others to see.

Is this new? I realize that this is not an obligation to display the gifts, but I have always thought it was a courtesy, because others might enjoy seeing everything.

Gentle Reader: It is true that etiquette did used to sanction the display of wedding presents, although not, as you seem to have experienced, with the children's birthday-party routine (also used at showers) of opening them in front of the guests. Nor would they have been opening them "the next day," when the couple would be off to enjoy their first sanctioned privacy, not hanging around with nothing better to do.

The presents would be opened as each arrived — and the letters of thanks written and sent immediately. At the time of the wedding, when the bride's parents were likely to be receiving, and perhaps even holding the wedding at home, they were displayed on tables covered by white damask cloths with, or, more discreetly, without, the cards of the donors.

Miss Manners does not doubt that it is also true that guests relished inspecting them, but not because they found it heartwarming. You know they must have been checking to see how much was spent, and whether, in comparison, they spent too much or too little on the presents they sent.

As this is not a particularly seemly activity, etiquette was already condemning the practice decades ago. Miss Manners considers that a custom justly killed.

Dear Miss Manners: I'm a cashier at a local grocery store. This is the first job I've ever had, and I enjoy it a lot. Occasionally, however, when a customer has alcohol in their order and I don't ask to see their ID, they will ask, in a very serious manner, why I didn't.

I usually blush and stammer over "um"s and "ah"s, which isn't the most eloquent answer, I know, but is the only thing my mind can come up with after being caught off-guard. Sometimes, I can awkwardly manage to change the subject by telling them their total, but then they spend the rest of the transaction glaring at me, or they'll actually press their case and repeat their question.

How do I answer without insulting them?

Gentle Reader: What would the insult be — that they looked grown-up? Miss Manners finds the jokey pretense to youthfulness terribly tedious. Don't these people know that asking to be carded is a sure proof of being over age?

But you still have to deal with them. The kind explanation would be, "You look honest, so I assumed you wouldn't be attempting anything illegal, but you're right, I should have checked."

Or since they have that silly age sensitivity, you might cure them of this habit by asking, "My mistake (now your voice gets louder) — exactly how old are you?"

Dear Miss Manners: It's that time of year again. My in-box gets cluttered with solicitations for donations payable to the young lady or young man that is graduating from high school, college, beauty school or the school of hard knocks.

These are children that I will most likely never meet, and I have had to cover the workload when their parents (my co-workers) missed work because said child was sick.

Why is this practice used? Am I right to be mortified that complete strangers solicit me for my hard-earned money?

Gentle Reader: Mortified? No.

If these really are solicitations, not just invitations that you interpret as such (in which case you owe nothing more than politely declining and wishing the graduate well), all you have to do is to throw them away. It is the parents who Miss Manners believes should be mortified that their children, whom they cannot throw away, are out begging.


Readers may write to Miss Manners at [email protected], or via postal mail at United Media, 200 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016 or (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper. Miss Manners' newest book is "No Vulgar Hotel: The Desire and Pursuit of Venice," written under her real name, Judith Martin.

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