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

Miss Manners: Look out, it’s the grave-robbing cousins!

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

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Next week is the funeral of a very dear friend. My husband had held his power of attorney for several years. This friend was a widower and an only child who never had children of his own. He has a few cousins, with whom he’d had little contact over the past several years, and he did not name these relatives in his will.

If anyone should come to us after the service to ask if they may drop by the deceased’s house to “see if there is anything they want,” what is the polite way to say, “Um, no”?

This actually happened to us several years ago at another loved one’s funeral. Some cousins went to the home of the dearly departed straight from the graveside service and loaded up their cars on their (out of state) way home!

GENTLE READER: Grave-robbing has a deservedly bad reputation, so all you have to do is refuse to abet any would-be criminals – which does not require any rudeness on your part.

“I’m afraid not,” you will reply, if asked. “Your cousin left me specific instructions about how he wanted me to dispose of his things.”

If this is not enough to shame the cousins, remember that you have the keys.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am about six months postpartum. My daughter and I were recently introduced to a man who promptly told me that my body “looks good for having had a baby.”

I felt stunned and offended that my body was being evaluated. I also did not want to return rudeness with rudeness. I have since been trying to think of an appropriate response that doesn’t accept the “compliment.”

GENTLE READER: One of the many reasons to prefer the real world to the virtual is the rich array of nonverbal behaviors that can be used in just such situations. Telling this man to watch his tongue would be rude. But a momentary stare followed by an icy “ah” will make your point.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: On occasion, friends invite me to participate in activities I simply do not enjoy. Examples include crowded street fairs, exuberant parties for small children, coffee dates at noisy cafes, and “get better acquainted” games.

I’m at a loss for polite refusals that let the friend know that I like them, but not the activity they’ve invited me to. Please give me a few gentle replies.

GENTLE READER: Although you are not required to like everything your friends like, Miss Manners agrees that expressing your distaste is best kept to a minimum. This is no doubt what gave rise to the overuse of the awkward “I’m not a huge fan of …” prefix.

Some of these activities require no explanation at all when you decline, at least not for the first invitation – street fairs, for example. Party games sprung on you at the door are more challenging, though you can still say you prefer to sit this one out, but would enjoy watching.

Repeat invitations can be greeted with an apologetic confession that you are not good at that particular activity – followed by a suggested alternative for another day.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website