DEAR MISS MANNERS: My neighbors were kind enough to help me with a large household problem. In order to demonstrate my gratitude, I baked a cake and took it to their house two days later.
When the plate was returned, cleaned and within a reasonable time frame, there was a box of chocolates on it. This token was greatly appreciated, but I now find myself in a position to, yet again, reciprocate with either another cake or some other baked item.
How does one put a stop to the constant “thank you” reciprocations of such gifts? I feel that I should be the last one to give such a gift since I had the original household problem that my neighbors assisted me in resolving.
GENTLE READER: In Greek mythology, Agamemnon appeases the goddess Artemis for a serious etiquette breach (bragging) by making a human sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia. He does this without consulting his wife, Clytemnestra, who, upon his return from the Trojan War, returns the favor by stabbing him in his bath. Their son Orestes then murders Clytemnestra in retaliation. Eventually, the Greek gods have to step in to break the cycle of vendetta before it depopulates the Peloponnese.
Miss Manners realizes that your situation is not quite as drastic, but the principle is the same. If you answer the chocolates with baked goods, you will only prolong things. Send them a letter covering both the chocolates and the original help.