DEAR MISS MANNERS – Last year, while visiting a friend who is an artist, I expressed interest in a painting but did not commit to the purchase. This week, over a year later, I received the painting in the mail, along with an invoice for three times the original price.
Am I obligated to purchase the painting, or is returning it an acceptable option?
GENTLE READER – You know that you are not legally required to buy something for which you did not contract. Miss Manners therefore supposes that you worry that the etiquette of friendship requires you to do so.
It does not. Here is an excellent example of why people are wrong when they declare that etiquette is “just a matter of making others feel comfortable.” To make a scam-artist feel comfortable might prove endlessly expensive. Yet presumably you do not want to be unduly harsh to a scam-artist who also happens to be your friend.
The note accompanying the return should therefore read something like this: “There seems to have been a misunderstanding about your beautiful picture. Much as I admire it, I had never asked to be the owner, although I will envy the person who is fortunate enough to acquire it.” Optional dig: “I congratulate you on its also having increased in value since I saw it.”
DEAR MISS MANNERS – How does one write a condolence note about a person one has never met?
I’m getting to the age where the parents of my friends are dying with some regularity, and I’m increasingly faced with this situation: The deceased live(d) in a different city from my friend and myself; the friendship isn’t close enough to warrant traveling a great distance for the funeral; but some kind of official acknowledgment should be made and condolence offered.
This is exactly the situation for condolence letters, but what should they say when I don’t have any anecdotes about or memories of the deceased?
GENTLE READER – Handwriting is always better than a preprinted card
Eulogizing is indeed an important part of the condolence letter, but, as in this case, it is not always possible. Nor is it the most important part, which is to express sympathy for the bereaved. That you can do: “I was so terribly sorry to hear about your loss. Please accept my deepest sympathy.”