Miss Manners: Workplace treats aren’t worth the accompanying insults

June 16

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a friend who routinely brings tasty treats to work for me. Although I appreciate her generosity, these treats are routinely accompanied with an insult.

For example, today she gave me a piece of a loaf with icing on top but promptly advised me to scrape off the icing. It’s little nuggets of advice like this that lead me to think she thinks I am overweight. (I most certainly am not!)

However, I can’t reject her food because she often leaves it on my desk. How do I get her to stop insulting my healthy (but never gluttonous) appetite?

GENTLE READER: It is unfortunate that the icing on your friend’s cake is an insult. But since the two are in direct contact, Miss Manners wonders, why, exactly, can you not politely reject the whole package?

Hand back the treat and say: “You are so right. It’s so kind of you to offer, but I really can’t.” If this makes your friend rethink her method of delivery, you will be in the happy position of having your cake and eating it too.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: How do I tell the person who is cutting my hair or cleaning my teeth that I don’t want to talk about my personal life?

GENTLE READER: Keeping your eyes shut might alert them that you are tuned out. If necessary, Miss Manners recommends telling the hair cutter that you are blissfully relaxed. To the dental hygienist, you need only say a version of “Ummpphhh,” which will be recognized as the inability to hold a conversation when there are instruments in your mouth.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: How much courtesy do I owe street solicitors?

I’m not referring to the homeless (for whom I feel compassion), but to salespeople who stop me as I’m going about my day and try to engage me in a conversation about some random product, service or cause they’d like to sell me.

I find the ambush sales-pitch imposing and rude. What I do now is to say, “No, thanks” without breaking my gait, and even then I feel a little guilty about being gruff.

However, in the scheme of things, I feel my response is more polite than the situation calls for. I would like to say, “Please don’t bother me,” but that seems disrespectful to a person who is just doing a job, albeit an annoying one.

I don’t think that accosting people, taking advantage of a natural tendency to avoid conflict, is a reasonable way to do business. I don’t like responding to it with more consideration than I’ve been extended.

I live in a major urban area and encounter tons of these folks. I’m sick of it. What’s your take?

GENTLE READER: Responding to rudeness with more consideration than has been extended is something of a guiding principle for Miss Manners.

She also knows that the alternative is ineffective: The people whom you wish to lecture are the agents, not the originators, of the approach. Far better to pass on with a “No, thank you,” as you are doing, leaving the would-be salesman without successes to report to his boss.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays on www.washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com.

2014, by Judith Martin

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