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Q. What is the etiquette if you get invited to a birthday party and cannot attend? Do you still send a gift?

Stefanie Boyajian

Plymouth, Massachusetts

A. Sending a gift is optional and should depend on your relationship with the honoree.

You're invited! Unfortunately, the party is on the same day as your best friend's 40th bash. Here's how to decline politely.

To properly turn down an invitation, follow its stated RSVP method. If this isn't specified, reply in kind (i.e., reply by e-mail to e-mailed invitations, by phone to telephoned invitations, by note or response card to formal mailed invitations). And take note: Etiquette doesn't require you to explain why you are unable to attend.

A present is nice but not a requisite; whether you give one depends on your relationship with the honoree. "A gift should be a voluntary expression of your well wishes," says Jodi R. R. Smith, founder and president of Mannersmith, an etiquette-consulting firm. "However, if you are close to the person, you should give at least a small, thoughtful gift." If you don't want to send it, schedule a time to get together and give your gift then.

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