Dear Miss Manners: I very strongly feel you are remiss to insist that manners or custom dictate that a card or handwritten note be the "acceptable" and "appropriate" way to express condolences. What happens if, in the near future, paper ceases to exist? In a world without paper, would everyone be violating "manners" because no one can offer a card or written correspondence to express sympathy?

While, in a perfect world, individuals would take the mannerisms of the recipient into account and adjust accordingly, you shortchange and diminish the thoughts, feelings and well intentioned attempt to reach out with a sympathetic response by putting forth that an e-mail is "not enough." If my e-mails expressing shared happiness, condolences or any other emotion are "not enough," perhaps it is on the recipient to be more receptive of those who intend goodwill.

Gentle Reader: Surely you do not expect Miss Manners to deny that it is the message itself that is important. But that argument is like saying it doesn't matter if you wear your gym clothes to a wedding, as long as you genuinely wish the couple well.

Thoughtful condolence letters mean a great deal to the bereaved. As appreciations of the deceased and expressions of compassion, they are often treasured and kept, rather than read and deleted.

You could point out that in that case, the recipients could print them out, keeping the words, if not the immediacy of handwriting. But, then, that would involve using paper, wouldn't it?

Too personal

Dear Miss Manners: When I am shopping for clothes, sales assistants say, "Tell me your first name" as they assist me to the dressing room. This has become ubiquitous.

I hate it! I understand why they do it, and am not a little embarrassed at my internal response. But I am 60, and I do not want to give out my name in order to try on clothes.

The request seems forward and overly personal, and interrupts the otherwise anonymous vibe of my shopping experience. I swallow my negative feelings and give my name with a smile.

Is there a polite response that protects my anonymity, or should I contact management to suggest that not everyone enjoys the "personal touch"? And if I am being overly sensitive, I would accept a gentle rap on the knuckles and will take it like a lady!

Gentle Reader: Going around rapping knuckles is not the way to teach good manners, and Miss Manners neither practices it nor recommends it to you. All your recommendation to the manager would get you would be the untested assertion that most customers like it.

But there is a phrase that will handle the problem. It is: "Call me madam."

"Miss Manners" is Judith Martin of the Washington Post. Send questions to