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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Genuine Offer Of Help Often Welcome

Judith Martin United Features Sy

Dear Miss Manners: I live in a town that has a theme park that is visited by tourists all the time. Thanks to the invention of the season pass, I enjoy going there frequently.

When I am in line, alone and not engaged in conversation, I try not to pay attention to other people’s conversations. But unintentionally, I constantly catch remarks such as:

“Honey, I am positive we are in line for such and-such.” (I know they are wrong.)

“Mommy, I have to go to the bathroom really bad!” “OK, dear, I think it is this way.” (If they go that way, they won’t encounter a bathroom for a long time.)

Is there a polite way to assist these persons without seeming to have been eavesdropping and without correcting them in front of their child, spouse, etc.?

Gentle Reader: Miss Manners hesitates to mention that the charge of butting into someone else’s business is nullified when the interference results in a direct and immediate rescue.

The problem is that the society is filled with pests declaring that anything to do with their favorite grievances constitutes such an emergency - and therefore justifies their lecturing strangers on just about anything. Miss Manners is loathe to say anything that might encourage such busybodies.

But you, with the delicacy to understand that people’s feelings must be considered along with their other needs, are clearly not anyone of this kind. Miss Manners certainly doesn’t want to discourage genuine helpfulness. She encourages you to avail yourself of these opportunities to be of service.

The likelihood that visitors would be humiliated at its being revealed to their families that they are unfamiliar with the theme park seems remote to Miss Manners. Surely any possibility of help’s being unwelcome is covered by opening with “Excuse me, but…”:

“Excuse me, but this is the line for the Centrifuge ride; was that what you wanted?”

“Excuse me, but I believe there is a much closer one just over there.”

Anyone who takes such an intrusion amiss will have to deal with Miss Manners - as well as with the relative whose interest is not in who knows more about the geography of the park but in getting to the nearest bathroom.

Dear Miss Manners: Since my daughter insisted upon having a large party in honor of my husband and my 50th wedding anniversary, I insisted that “no gifts” be printed on the invitations. I told everyone that I would return any gifts unless they were jokes.

Still, several friends have sent lovely gifts and I feel it would be impolite to return them and am sending thank you notes.

Now that you have the picture, can we return these gifts or maybe give them to the children of the givers?

Several of my friends will be interested in your answer.

Gentle Reader: Miss Manners has long argued the futility of that well-meant but improper announcement that hosts don’t want presents.

Better than its greedy alternative, “no gifts” is nevertheless wrong because it, too, indicates that presents are anticipated - it is tasteless for people to admit that their minds are focused, even negatively, on what they might receive.

But as your experience shows, many people don’t believe that “no gifts” is meant sincerely. So such an injunction makes one seem insincere as well as improper - and it doesn’t work.

Now will you give up?

In your case, giving up means handling the presents as if you had made no such request. Giving them back to the families would be insulting. After thanking the donors, you either keep the presents or dispose of them so discreetly that the donors will never know.

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

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