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Miss Manners: Guidelines for the gardener

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it considered to be stealing if your gardener just helps himself to your lemons, oranges, etc.?

GENTLE READER: It depends on what is included in the “et cetera” – or in this case, what is under the pile of leaves in the back of the gardener’s truck.

He has been hired to tend the garden, which, absent express authorization, is not a license to harvest or to hunt. He is expected to dispose of items that you would consider waste, even, Miss Manners notes, if he may not. This includes dead leaves, weeds and other floral detritus (even though he might be able to employ them elsewhere as fertilizer).

It does not include hanging fruit (high or low) or stray pets (dead or alive). Fruit that has fallen to the ground lies in unmarked territory as it has, technically, begun to decompose – even if it is still bouncing from the fall.

As it would be considerate to provide workers with some nourishment, you might wish to be more explicit and say that while your family plans to pick the apples this evening (though not to count them), you hope he and any assistants will enjoy one each as well.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have grown increasingly frustrated with the need to decipher the time of social invitations. There was a party announced with an 8 p.m. start time, but knowing the host and the guests, I arrived at 9:30 and was still the first to arrive by a long margin.

Sometimes these parties happen in certain minority communities, and this behavior is excused with some self-effacing joke, claiming, “It’s just how we are, we always show up late.” If I am looking forward to the event, I find it very frustrating to sit at home, waiting for the right time to leave so that I’ll arrive at the expected lateness. Is there an acceptable way to ask a host to be frank about the hour they expect guests to arrive?

Is there an acceptable way for a host to say that we would like to start the celebration at a particular time, with all guests present if at all possible?

GENTLE READER: This is an area where a lack of shared custom harms everyone, as most guests do not want to arrive early (or late) and most hosts prefer not to answer the door in their bathrobes.

These days, Miss Manners leans towards the simplest rule: namely, that guests should arrive near the stated time. This will not, unfortunately, solve your specific problem, which must be handled host by host, and perhaps party by party.

If you are in doubt about the expected time, call the host and, in the course of the conversation, ask what time he expects the other guests to arrive. This may not be the same time that the host would like them to be there, but it will save you from having to help set the table and put out the potato chips.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website.


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