DEAR MISS MANNERS: I bought a friend of mine lunch at a nice restaurant. It was a way of celebrating an ordeal I had gone through that had finally come to a close.
After we were seated, he didn’t want to order any food, and kept his earbuds in to answer calls. He finally ordered something, took one bite and said he didn’t want it. He also kept looking around the restaurant to see if he knew anyone there that he could talk to. He wanted to abruptly leave because he realized he had an appointment to talk to a neighbor.
That evening, I called and demanded my money back for the lunch. He said he would give it back to me. The next day, he denied saying that. Money is very important to me right now. What do you think of his behavior?
GENTLE READER: The emotions Miss Manners is experiencing must be what the fire investigator feels when, moments after surveying the rubble, she is asked whether it was arson.
Your friend ought not to have reneged on his promise to return the money. But, working backwards, these were also rude: your asking him to return the money, his inattention and attempts to escape during the meal, and your idea that in paying for the food, you purchased his attention.
Which brings us to the initiating spark. It is time to stamp out the unpleasant idea that ordeals are to be celebrated. (And you may save yourself the trouble of protesting that you meant to say you were celebrating your triumph over said ordeal – she has heard enough about what is said and done at, for example, divorce parties to suspect you did not misspeak.)
When communities came together in the Middle Ages to give thanks for the ending of a plague, the tone was humble and funereal, not celebratory. It also focused on gratitude for having survived, not the reasons for doing so.
Your friend behaved badly, but one can sympathize with his reluctance to celebrate.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Throughout my life, I have always enjoyed sending and receiving personal, handwritten notes. Even a two-line thank-you from a nephew has meant more to me than any mother-enforced phone call.
For my own notes, I have collected an assortment of unique cards on which to write my messages. In the past three years or so, however, tremors in my hands have rendered my handwriting mostly illegible.
Now that I am forced to include a computer-generated note inside my cards, is it better to include a line like, “Please excuse the printed note; my hands have aged faster than the rest of me”? Or is it better to ignore the situation altogether? No matter what fancy font or graphics I use, the computer-generated notes still look impersonal.
GENTLE READER: Medical excuses have become too commonplace to retain any gracefulness – or, Miss Manners suspects, much power to convince, no matter how true they may be.
She would therefore skip the explanation and instead spend her energy making the substance of the communication that much more welcome – assuming, as she does, that it was the physical printing, and not the wording, that was computer-generated.
Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website www.missmanners.com.
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