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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Personal question can be insulting

Judith Martin United Feature Syndicate

Dear Miss Manners: Before a trip to the beach, I lost my favorite pair of sunglasses. Lounging on the beach one day, I noticed an older gentleman wearing sunglasses identical to the pair I had lost. I politely approached him and asked where he had gotten them and how much they cost.

Despite my polite demeanor, he looked shocked when I asked him where he got his sunglasses and seemed downright offended when I had asked him the price. He told me, but he answered in a tone that made me regret asking.

Do you think it’s impolite to nicely ask someone where an item came from and how much they paid for it? This man obviously thinks it is.

Gentle Reader: So does Miss Manners. Has it really never occurred to you that anyone might object to being approached by a stranger and asked a personal question? Or even that how much one paid for one’s possessions IS a personal question?

Miss Manners can see she has her work cut out for her.

You could have done it, but it would have required the acknowledgement that this was, in several ways, an intrusion. Huge advance apologies and an exaggerated story about your attachment to your lost sunglasses might have done it. At least it would have demonstrated that if he wanted to return to his sunbathing in peace, it would be easier to answer your question than to argue.

Dear Miss Manners: In August, my husband, two adult sons and myself will be visiting with in-laws at their lake home for an extended weekend. As they host guests every weekend, they are unable to take time off from the upkeep chores associated with a house and boat when we are there. We do bring groceries and help with meal preparation, but I’m worried that we should offer to do more.

I will add that my vacation time is extremely limited, as I’m providing the income for our household while my husband starts a business. I would greatly prefer to spend this precious time vacationing rather than weeding the garden or re-staining the deck. What are my obligations in this matter?

Gentle Reader: As a guest and a daughter-in-law, you are obligated to offer to help, Miss Manners regrets to tell you. Lying around watching your elders work is not a charming posture.

The trick is to get the offer refused. If your in-laws are not likely to do this, perhaps you can enlist your other relatives. You are, after all, the elder generation to your sons. They should be briefed beforehand to jump in after any offer of yours, saying, “No, Ma, you need your rest. We’ll do it.” And if they are slow to do this, your husband can speak up, saying, “No, dear, the boys want to do it.”

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