Is it de rigueur to also bring gifts for siblings of the birthday kid?Plus, why do doctors introduce themselves as "Dr. Smith" and yet address the patient by their first name?
Each week, Miss Manners answers questions exclusivelyfrom the MSN audience on all of your etiquette dilemmas.(Have an issue you want help with? Send in a question today.) Read on for this week's hot topics:
DEAR MISS MANNERS,
There are several children in my extended family under the age of 10. Of course, when there is a birthday party, I bring a gift for the child whose birthday we are celebrating.
Last week, my mom told me that during the last several parties, she has attended she noticed that other family members not only bring gifts for the birthday kid, but their siblings as well. I told her that I thought this was going overboard and honestly, could lead to greediness. I refuse to do this. My mother is afraid of upsetting the parents if she doesn't comply.
Growing up, we never did buy gifts for the siblings, so I'm not sure why it's happening now. Is this normal these days? How can we best handle this situation?
"It is not easy to oppose a practice whose purpose is to gladden the hearts of little children, but Miss Manners will assist you.
It may be charming to bring a sibling present when one is paying a call on parents with a new baby. That a stranger has taken over the family, commanding everyone's attention and raking in the presents, is hard to take.
But to repeat this with every child's every birthday smacks of the practice of sports when every participant receives a trophy, rendering meaningless what ought to be special, and creating unrealistic and unattractive expectations.
As these are relatives, Miss Manners recommends an informal family council, at which you state your love for the children, and your desire to please them, but also your concerns about this practice. Even if they don't agree, they will understand your refusal to participate."
DEAR MISS MANNERS,
Why is it that doctors introduce themselves as Dr. Smith and yet address the patient, who is often sitting, vulnerable, in a paper gown on the examination table, by their first name? I have asked the doctor to call me Mrs. Brown, although it seldom works. (My last name is actually a more difficult name than Brown.)
When the doctor then persists on using my first name, shall I call the doctor by his/her first name, since s/he has already unilaterally decided we are on a first-name basis? When I have done that, most doctors seem to take offense. I rather miss the formality of being Mrs. Brown in this setting. It helps me keep my dignity and it seems to prevent the paternalistic talking-down that some doctors adopt as friendly bedside manner. Heaven forbid I tell them I am a lawyer; that's the end of frank medical advice.
"When Miss Manners takes this up with doctors, the response is always that they were just being friendly, to put the patient at ease. And she always has to explain that if it were a friendship, either both of you would have your clothes on, or both would have them off.
As you point out, what people wearing paper gowns badly need is dignity. The way to assert yours is to say pleasantly, "I would be pleased if you would call me Mrs. Brown."Repeat as often as necessary."
Judith Martin's latest book is No Vulgar Hotel: The Desire and Pursuit of Venice. She is also the author ofMiss Manners' Guide toExcruciatingly Correct Behavior(Freshly Updated). She and her husband, a scientist and playwright, live in Washington, D.C. Theyhave two perfect children, of course.
Hold a meeting to explain why every child is not receiving a gift for every occasion? I'm surprised Miss Manners would consider it good manners to demand an explanation for someone's gift-giving preferences. Does she now believe that wedding guests must match the cost of the reception with their gifts or explain to the bride why they didn't?
Doctors aren't sacred cows whom we dare not offend - they are basically well-educated hired help. We certainly pay them enough to be able to call the shots. (hee hee) If you don't like how your doctor talks to you, go to another one.
Doctors and their staff refer to patients by their first names because of HIPAA. Staff members are not allowed to use a name aloud for a patient which other people could hear and attribute to that patient--a first name is probably common enough, a surname is not. Both the first name and the surname definitely is going to identify that patient to strangers.
While I do feel that it is best to address older people who prefer to be called by their surname as they wish to be called, once the doctor and patient are alone, understand that they have no choice when they are where they can be heard. I think it might be easier for the doctors to simply use the same name when they are speaking to the patient and when they can be overheard--they visit with dozens of people each day, and it's got to be hard to remember that many names.
Of course, it helps me that my doctor practices in the same office as her spouse, and people refer to them as "Dr. Adam" and "Dr. Eve" (rather than Dr. Smith and Dr. Smith) to distinguish them from one another. It also helps that in my neck of the woods, people are referred to as "Ms. Firstname" and "Mr. Firstname" on a common basis.
I do think that one should indulge people, particularly older people, by using the name that they prefer--but please do look up the HIPAA act so that you understand when they can and cannot do it, by law.
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