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Refer to letter writers’ comments unedited

DEAR MISS MANNERS: As the communications director for a government agency, I respond to written constituent inquiries. In an effort to personalize my responses, I often excerpt from the original missive. For example, “You’re agency stnks!” (sic).

Should I correct spelling and grammatical errors from the original correspondence or leave them as is? I hate to fudge a quote, but if I don’t correct errors, I am concerned the constituent will think the mistakes are mine, putting my agency in a bad light.

Also, it seems rude to point out someone’s errors when they have taken the time to share their concerns. My agency does not yet have a policy regarding this point of professional etiquette.

GENTLE READER: But if you correct the quotation, won’t the letter writer think, “Stupid bureaucrats – can’t even quote accurately”?

Besides, surely it is a comfort to note that your critics are not, shall we say, discerning. Miss Manners would consider it polite enough if you preceded the letter writer’s words with “as you so colorfully put it….”

DEAR MISS MANNERS: –I am a mother of a 7-month-old son and have recently joined a local “mom’s club” to meet other mothers for friendship and play dates for our children. Some of the events the mom’s club puts together are evenings out to dinner where it’s “just the girls.”

Our family is struggling financially, not even making ends meet every month, and I am unemployed, desperately trying to find work. Like so many families these days, we do not have extra money for indulgences such as this.

There is an upcoming mom’s night out at a local Mexican restaurant for which I have found a few coupons – one for $5 off the total bill, and the other is buy one meal get the second free. I would like to use these coupons for this dinner and in theory believe they would more than pay for my entree, so when the bill comes at the end of the night, all that’s left for me to pay is my portion of the tax and tip.

But on the other hand, I can see how this would seem strange to others and perhaps even tacky. Or maybe the other moms would feel the savings these coupons provide should be disbursed over the group as a whole, and not apply solely to me.

GENTLE READER: As you are wise enough to realize, this is not just a mathematical matter but a social problem.

It is true that by throwing in both coupons, you will be paying for your meal plus $5. And it is fortunate that everyone wants to go to a restaurant for which you have coupons, because it sounds as if you need that night out.

But Miss Manners suspects that you are right that others, not having done the calculation, might feel somewhat taken advantage of. The way to make them think it through is to hand your coupons to the person calculating the bill and ask, “Does this take care of my share?” Any decent person will read it over and say yes. Especially if you do this after the others have paid, so that it would look petty to give them refunds at your expense.

Readers may write to Miss Manners at MissManners@unitedmedia.com, or via postal mail at United Media, 200 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016.


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