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Miss Manners: Don’t want to give a lecture? Then don’t

DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the proper way to offer kindness and condolences to someone who has experienced a tragedy as the result of their own poor choices (e.g. legal troubles, reckless motor accident, etc.)?

I realize this is no time for a lecture, and I do not want to give one – I simply want to offer kindness and help. But it seems trite to say “I’m so sorry X happened” when X was obviously a result of the person’s own lack of forethought or good judgment. However, it seems borderline delusional to just ignore it.

GENTLE READER: The proper way to offer kindness and condolences – without giving a lecture, which would almost certainly be unwelcome – is to do so.

You know that the person made poor choices. Given the results, he likely knows he made poor choices. Miss Manners now knows he made poor choices. The only delusion would be in thinking that one cannot be aware of something without being bound to give voice to it at every opportunity.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My father’s family lives in another state, and it takes almost a full day to drive there. When we visit, we stay with his sister, who then extends open invitations to all other family members in the area to come and see us anytime. Dinner is usually included in that invitation.

Many of my aunts, uncles and cousins drive over to visit, but a handful do not – and then make comments about how we never come to see them. Should we be expected to drive to each and every relative’s residence when we visit? Or is it too much to expect our nearby relations to come see us when their schedule permits?

GENTLE READER: Depending on circumstances, it may or may not be too much to expect nearby relations to come to you (or, in this case, to your aunt’s). But it is not too much for them to extend an invitation if they want you to come to them. Such an invitation could easily have been made when they were turning down your aunt’s. Miss Manners does not give even partial credit for their merely complaining after the fact.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I stuck my head into the office of the owner of a retail establishment. I wanted to thank him for something, and his wife had suggested that I stop by his office, where he was having lunch. I walked in with my hand out, saying, “Thank you …” (I am a lady.)

He neither rose from his seat nor extended his hand. He merely said, “I don’t shake hands when I am eating.”

While I appreciate his hygiene, am I wrong to feel insulted? I’m quite sure soap and hot water were available for cleaning himself before resuming his meal.

GENTLE READER: This man’s hygiene is hardly commendable when it becomes an excuse for rudeness. If he truly felt unable to shake your hand, he could have simply apologized, nodded and smiled at you. Miss Manners hopes for his sake that he never finds himself in the presence of late-arriving dignitaries.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com.


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