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Miss Manners: There’s no right way to handle this situation

Fri., Oct. 22, 2010

DEAR MISS MANNERS – What is the proper way to place your flatware in a flatware caddy? Handles down or up?

GENTLE READER – Oh, no you don’t. Miss Manners is backing away from this, but not because she is not the Household Hints Department. (If she were, she would stop hinting and say what she had to say outright.)

This is a well-known area of contention between otherwise happily married couples. If it were removed, they might find more damaging content for disagreements.

DEAR MISS MANNERS – My husband and I recently turned down a family member’s request for a short-term loan. We had helped her in the past, and there were hard feelings afterwards.

The individual explained that it was a crisis situation in that she was unable to pay her rent for that month, as she would not be receiving a tax return within her estimated time frame. The same individual had gone on a vacation to Florida just one month before.

We politely, yet firmly, reiterated our decision not to involve money in our relationships with family and/or friends. We received an outraged e-mail response in which she attempted to make us feel guilty for not helping her.

A few weeks later, we received a request (also via e-mail) from her that I return two designer sweaters which she had previously given me as Christmas and birthday gifts. She asked that I have them dry-cleaned and that I send them to her P.O. Box so that she could put them on consignment in order to generate some income.

We were stunned. What would be the best response to this kind of request?!

GENTLE READER – To return the sweaters with no comment, written or spoken.

Miss Manners is under no illusion that this will shame your relative, for the simple reason that she is apparently shameless. Nor should you wait to be thanked, for the sweaters or anything else.

Your relative is not as canny as she imagines. The guilt strategy, as applied to those whose only fault has been misplaced generosity, may work on some people, although fortunately not on you. But it engenders the desire to be rid of the person imposing it and – eventually – the realization that attempts to buy such people off only inspires them to keep at it.

What saddens Miss Manners most is that such behavior has led to common wisdom that it is a mistake to do financial favors for relatives or friends. Yes, as you have found out, it sometimes is. But she hates to think that people such as your relative are hardening others against good people in need.

DEAR MISS MANNERS – An afternoon wedding is planned and the invitation reads “black tie optional.” What is appropriate formal wear for this time of day for gentlemen?

GENTLE READER – To refrain from exercising the black tie option.

If you would like a copy of Miss Manners’ newsletters, “On Cellular Phone Courtesy,” “The Etiquette of Proper Eating” or “Proper Wedding Planning,” please send a self-addressed, stamped No. 10 envelope and $2 (per newsletter) to Newsletter, PO Box 167, Wicliffe, OH 44092-0167. Please state which newsletter(s) you wish to receive.

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