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Miss Manners: Calling people on social lies


DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was recently a guest at a group campout. While enjoying the fire after a day of outdoor fun, another guest claimed to have been a sniper with a Marine reconnaissance unit in Iraq.

His garbled, panicky answers to a few simple ballistics questions revealed this to be an outright lie, but the other guests appeared none the wiser. This spoiled the evening’s conversation for me, and I retired immediately.

In such a case, where a fellow invitee is obviously trying to hijack other men’s valor, what can the good guest do to call out the fraud without ruining the party spirits of others? It’s simple to call out someone in a public place, but what does one do in a group social gathering or a friend’s home?

GENTLE READER: You were all sitting around the campfire, and someone went creeping around trying to hijack the men’s valor?

How exactly does that work?

Never mind. Miss Manners doesn’t want to know.

She can tell you how to dampen such conversation politely, but your fellow campers already know: It is by asking questions. As long as you seem to ask them in a spirit of interest in the narrative, these questions needn’t be kept simple.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I play in a seven-team basketball league at work. Each Wednesday, the league holds three games, with two teams playing at 6 p.m., two at 7 p.m., two at 8 p.m. and one team not playing that day.

The other week, my team played first. I brought a somewhat expensive basketball with which to practice. After our game (which, I should mention, we won!), I saw one of the other teams using the ball to practice.

I am friendly with most of the people on that team, so I approached them and told them they could use it as long as they got it back to me. I specifically told one person to make sure it got back to me.

Of course, it never did. When I approached this person to ask where it was, she said she thought someone else had taken it to me. When I asked that person, they said the ball they brought was actually someone else’s.

Either way, the ball is gone. I’ve e-mailed the league and no one has it, nor does the gym.

Am I right to be ticked off that trying to do a nice thing by lending my ball to a group of work acquaintances cost me a $35 piece of sports merchandise, or is this just plain fourth-grade playground-style silly on my part and I should just forget about it and buy a new ball? And if the former, whom do I approach – the person, the league commissioner – and what do I say?

GENTLE READER: “Make them give me back my ball”?

Your irritation is not silly, but your airing it, with no known target whom you have not already queried, is bound to sound so. Miss Manners is sorry to tell you that the chances of your getting it back are slim. So after posting a sign merely asking that it be returned, she suggests that you resign yourself and resolve not to lend anything to these people again.

Readers may write to Miss Manners at MissManners@united Judith Martin writes for United Feature Syndicate.

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