DEAR MISS MANNERS: While helping a friend move from one apartment to another, I accidentally dropped a box marked “fragile.” It turns out that I broke a decanter that cost more than $500 (most of her belongings are not nearly this expensive).
My friend has asked me to reimburse her for half the price. I appreciate that she’s trying to “meet me halfway” by covering half the cost herself, and I feel terrible, but I can’t afford to spend $250 right now. I also think that she should have had such an expensive item insured.
I was just trying to help her (at her own request), and now I’m afraid that I’m going to ruin the friendship. Does etiquette dictate that I must pay for all or part of such an expensive item?
GENTLE READER: It is always gracious for guests to offer to replace any property that they damaged – and for hosts to demur, knowing that a reasonable amount of damage is part of the cost of entertaining.
In this case, you were acting, in effect, as an employee, rather than a guest, even though your reason for doing so was for the sake of friendship, not pay. And breakage is also part of the cost of doing business. That is why employers carry insurance. Had you injured yourself as a result of the work you were asked to do, Miss Manners hopes that your friend would have stepped in to defray any reasonable associated medical costs.
How this will affect your friendship, Miss Manners cannot say. That your friend calculated the cost of her property without allowing for the donation of your labor is not a good sign.
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