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Miss Manners: Nobody wins in supermarket etiquette skirmish

By Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin Andrews McMeel Syndication

DEAR MISS MANNERS: At the grocery store, I was walking down a narrow aisle with my cart, keeping to my side of the aisle. While you could fit two carts passing side by side, it would have been a tight squeeze.

I was two-thirds of the way through when an older woman approached the aisle. She saw me coming, backed up a few steps, and moved aside for me to pass through. I smiled and nodded and continued on, out of her way.

As I passed, she irately yelled, “YOU’RE WELCOME!!!” at my back. Reflexively, I turned and said “Thank you,” but as I walked away, chastising myself for being rude, I began to question who was in the wrong in this scenario.

I had the right of way, since I was already in the aisle; I didn’t need or ask her to step aside, as we both could have fit through; stepping aside and waiting was her preference, and I obliged her by quickly getting out of her way so she could proceed comfortably.

Doesn’t she, in fact, owe me a “thank you,” if one is owed at all? Also, wouldn’t my smile and nod have sufficed in a situation of mutual convenience?

Miss Manners, I pride myself on etiquette and manners, and this situation has been eating at me for far longer than it’s worth.

GENTLE READER: To thank is polite; to demand thanks is rude. Miss Manners therefore declares that this etiquette competition is nullified. But she wonders why you would want to pursue the opponent’s way of thinking.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have always been generous with tips, particularly to restaurant servers. As a teenager, I would bring my baby-sitting money to sneak onto the table and supplement the somewhat miserly tips left by my father. (He insisted then, and still does, that 5 percent is acceptable and 10 percent is generous.)

Now, as an adult in her 30s, I tend to tip over the standard. Unless there was an issue with the server, I typically tip 30 percent. I understand that I give more than the typical amount, and have no issue with those who give less.

I run into trouble, however, when out to dinner with other people. My dining partners almost always ask, “What are you tipping?” and lean over the table to look at the ticket I am completing.

When I respond honestly, they act either embarrassed or upset (for tipping less) or they lecture me for the amount of my tip. When I refuse to answer, they seem suspicious. What is the best way to respond to the question, “What are you tipping?”

GENTLE READER: “A cow and three chickens. How about you?”

Demanding disclosure of financial decisions is not polite. Miss Manners recommends that you reply to those seeking it, “Oh, I probably overdo it, but I know what it’s like to have student loans and fast food for dinner.”

And for any companions you suspect need more specific help, you might add, “Can you believe that my father used to think that 10 percent was generous?”

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website,; to her email,; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

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