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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Miss Manners: Guest welcomed with cat litter and inedible food

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

DEAR MISS MANNERS: When I was a guest in some friends’ home, my bathroom had a cat box in it, which smelled bad, and the cat frequently knocked litter all over the floor.

I asked where a broom was. My friend swept it up with one and pointed to where it was stored, never moving the box or apologizing.

She knew that I had a longtime milk allergy and tried to plan accordingly. However, the husband, who fancies himself a chef, kept trying to offer me dishes I couldn’t eat and was upset when I declined.

I brought a proper gift, bought them a dinner and thought I behaved correctly, but I didn’t think the visit went well.

GENTLE READER: Did you suppose that your friends hated the scented candle you brought them so much that they were quietly trying to kill you with cat smells and milk?

Miss Manners concedes that it was not nice for the kitty litter cleaning to be left to you and for the husband to push food on you, but recommends that you call this behavior what it is: mindless thoughtlessness. You might find other accommodations next time you are in their city.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: It happens, not so infrequently, that during a conversation where I am relating a story to a friend, the friend interrupts and gives an account of a similar situation that has happened to her. I then politely listen to her story, and by the time she finishes, the content of my tale has lost its significance.

This usually happens with well-meaning friends. I don’t want to alienate them with a rude response, but at the same time, it would be nice to be able to finish my story before they so eagerly jump in to tell theirs. How should I handle this type of waning etiquette?

GENTLE READER: Talk faster? Barring that, Miss Manners recommends that you try returning to your narrative, saying, “Oh dear, I got so wrapped up in your story that I am afraid I lost track of mine,” followed by a wistful look and a polite but weak smile. And then resolve to model good behavior and be an advocate for someone else the next time there is an impolite interruption.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have noticed a peculiar attempt at good manners: the second-hand thank-you.

An example – and I could cite many – came from an acquaintance who asked a mutual friend to thank me for a sympathy card I had recently sent to her. Knowing that it is unnecessary for cards of this sort to be acknowledged, to receive a second-hand thank-you strikes me as worse than none at all. Am I guilty of splitting hairs?

GENTLE READER: Allow Miss Manners to split one for you – and make you feel much better about being annoyed in the first place. A response is necessary for a letter of sympathy, although not for pre-printed statements accompanied only by a signature. Second-hand thank-yous, though, are lazy at best and put undue burden on an innocent third party. So split away.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website,