Miss Manners: Resist those hosts who won’t take no for an answer

December 27, 2011

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am afraid that I am one of those people who tend not to respond to invitations if I don’t wish to accept.

Why, you ask?

I have found that declining an invitation has become merely the opening of negotiations. The host will want to know why I have said no and try to turn my answer to yes. I readily admit that I need to grow a spine, but I think people need to stop prying into other people’s business!

GENTLE READER: And thus we have a spiral of rudeness emerging from a courtesy, the offer of hospitality.

Indeed, your would-be hosts are rude to probe and argue when you decline an invitation. Rather like hosts who keep urging food on guests who have declined, they seem to think that as offering is good, insisting must be even better. It isn’t.

However, Miss Manners considers your reciprocal rudeness even ruder. By ignoring invitations, you are snubbing and seriously inconveniencing people who, at that point, have been nothing but hospitable.

What you need is not a spine, but patience. Rather than give reasons for declining, which, as you know, will be countered, just keep restating your inability to accept: “You are so kind to ask me, but I’m so sorry, I can’t.”

Why not?

“I’m afraid I’m busy then.”

What are you doing?

“I have other commitments.”

What are they?

“Other commitments. You are so kind to ask me, but ...”

And so on, until you exhaust your interrogator or the battery on your telephone wears out.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: An acquaintance (notice I did not say friend) of mine has a 20-year-old son who does not have a job, doesn’t go to school and lives at home. She has sent me a form letter asking for money since he is going to go “volunteer” in another country for an organization I have never heard of. They will do construction and renovation work.

Whatever money I would send would most likely be fun money. His mother addressed the envelope.

My husband told me to not send a cent, but I feel I should send something because I don’t want the mother to be mad at me. Times are hard for everyone, but I can spare a little for him — I just don’t want to pay for his beer! Help!

GENTLE READER: Paying protection money to an acquaintance so she won’t be mad at you is not Miss Manners’s idea of a sensible investment in friendship. Nor is it a good idea to encourage social begging, which nowadays is shamelessly rampant among those who are not destitute.

So Miss Manners sides with your husband. However, if you still want to respond, she suggests checking out the organization to make sure that it is legitimate, and making a direct contribution to it, which you can then report to the mother. You can even thank her for having drawn its work to your attention, which should be galling if, indeed, she was helping her son raise beer money.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

2011, by Judith Martin

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