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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Miss Manners 2/3

By Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION

DEAR MISS MANNERS: At the hardware store a few weeks ago, I was balancing a 60-pound bag of mortar mix, easing it off a shelf on its way to my cart. Then a strange gentleman came barreling toward me with his hands outstretched.

“I’ve got it!” I said.

He kept coming, yelling, “Let me help!”

“Back off!” I said sharply. “Back off!! BACK OFF!!!”

We reached a standoff after he had basically chased me backwards several feet away from my cart, along with my 60-pound bag of mortar mix, now in my arms. He finally turned around, saying he was sorry and that he was just trying to help.

Virtually the same thing happened last week at another hardware store, where a bag of mulch was at issue.

When encountering a woman carrying a heavy item, some gentlemen seem to believe that it is helpful to interfere with her progress, and even to remove things forcibly from her hands, either without asking or after having had their help declined.

It is obvious to me that this endangers the woman’s balance, shows a disregard for her desires, and these days, risks the transmission of coronavirus. Can you comment, please, on the etiquette of offering help with heavy items?

GENTLE READER: An offer can be politely refused, and such refusal must be politely accepted, Miss Manners agrees – and so instructs overzealous gentlemen. Once we have reached the stage of yelling or grabbing on either side, the activity can no longer be considered an offer – or polite.

How, then, to make the overly insistent gentleman stop before he sends the mortar flying or infects the customers? An escalating refusal can work if the emotion being escalated is concern, discomfort or even fear, rather than anger.

You want other shoppers to worry about you, not that the gentleman is about to be slugged with a 60-pound bag of mortar. The gratification of the latter impulse would wear off when you had to deal with the subsequent cleanup, hospital bills and general apologizing.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have been married for 20 years to someone who cannot keep a secret. I learned early in our marriage not to tell her anything I didn’t want to see on social media or to be shared with her friends and family. And while it’s been hard to have a marriage with someone I can’t talk to about anything private, I’ve made the best of it.

She found out that I’ve known for months about a confidential matter involving a family member, and didn’t tell her about it. She confronted me and asked why I didn’t tell her.

Since she asked me directly, I told her that it’s because she can’t keep a secret, and gave her some examples of confidential information she’s blabbed about in the past. So of course she’s mad at me, and now I’m wondering what I should have said instead.

How does one diplomatically tell one’s spouse that one won’t tell her anything confidential because she’s a blabbermouth?

GENTLE READER: “Do I hear the doorbell ringing?”

Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website

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