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Don’t Let Them Know You Know

Judith Martin United Features Sy

Dear Miss Manners: Four years ago, we sent friends a unique gift for Christmas. This year, they sent our gift back to us in an unused state as a Christmas present. One must assume that they had forgotten that we had given it to them in the first place and that there was no intended malice on their part.

What is the correct way to deal with this situation? (We have no desire to sever our relationship with them.)

Gentle Reader: Then why don’t you just thank them?

Miss Manners knows the answer to that one. You have an almost irresistible impulse to let them know that you know. But even if you do it slyly - for example, by writing, “How did you know that this was exactly to our taste?” - you take the chance of triggering their memories. And then every future sight of you will trigger it again.

So resist that impulse, understandable as it is, if you want to preserve the friendship. If they ever come to realize what they have done, they will cling to the solace that you didn’t notice. Removing that small comfort from people who intended no malice would, Miss Manners is afraid, smack of malice.

Dear Miss Manners: I know that one is supposed to put one’s napkin in one’s lap. But what about paper napkins? They slide right off!

Gentle Reader: Of course a piece of paper won’t do the work of a piece of cloth. Whoever said it would?

Not Miss Manners, who hates paper napkins and should not be called upon to defend them.

When one isn’t given sufficient equipment to do the job, one does the best one can. Try crumpling the silly thing to increase its traction.

Dear Miss Manners: I am a former career woman but quit my job in order to care for a mildly autistic son. I use whatever spare time I have to support his school, where volunteers are badly needed.

During my working-woman times, people were sympathetic about my limitations to volunteer, especially after they found out that I was too busy being a Ph.D. with a pompous job title, managing high-dollar contracts. Now that I am too busy at home, “worthy, active volunteers” nag at me for “not giving back to the community” and for “distressing myself too much about that kid”!

I need advice on how to politely say to these people that, instead of badgering, they should be encouraging and thanking all stay-at-home parents of special-needs children. These parents are dying to get out of the house, to chat with people, and to be appreciated. Instead of getting all that through volunteering, they work hard and quietly at home, striving to give back to the community the best gifts they could possibly want: a productive adult instead of a dependent one, and (as for the siblings of their special-needs kids) well-adjusted adults instead of resentful ones.

Gentle Reader: You are being given a double dose of a form of rudeness that Miss Manners calls Bad Behavior for Good Causes. And one of these isn’t even a good cause.

A great many people seem to think that rude behavior - embarrassing people, nosing in their business, telling them how to run their lives - is fine as long as it is connected with charity. And a great many people think it is particularly charitable to subject mothers to this embarrassing nosiness because by definition they must be in need of help to figure out how best to run their lives.

Miss Manners does not recommend adding to your scheduling burdens by attempting to justify yourself to such people. A cool “Thank you for your interest, but I am managing as I think best” would be sufficient.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Judith Martin United Features Syndicate

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