Miss Manners: Halloween's etiquette imps

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dear Miss Manners:

I write to you to ask about the balance between community responsibility for children without visible parents and politeness.

I had large numbers of unaccompanied children to my door for trick-or-treating. Not one of the unaccompanied children (nor several of those with parents) said thank you in response to my candy.

One even went so far as to declare, upon my opening my door, that I have a "messy house." These children all live in my apartment complex, where it is safe for them to wander alone, but I'm not sure how to deal with outright insults like the messy house comment, or impoliteness like not saying thank you.

I didn't say anything about the lack of thank you, but I did respond to the mess comment with a rather miffed "excuse me?" and had to resist the urge to take back the candy I had just given the girl who should have been old enough to know better than to make such comments.

In response to my excuse me, Miss Neat Police eventually said "trick or treat," and ended with "Happy Halloween" but not thank you. Please advise me about what to do next year.

Maybe go to the movies that night.

You know that Miss Manners sympathizes with you about the need for children to learn manners. She also believes that the community can help.

But not by grabbing them in the middle of a candy frenzy and chastising them. That will only make you known as The Mean Lady in 705.

If you truly want to influence them, you will have to make friends with them. You could invite one or two over for a treat and slip in a few mild directives: "I hope you like the cookies. When people say 'Thank you,' that's how we know it was a good idea to offer them. Or if not, they can say 'No, thank you.' Now tell me more about your game coming up." No doubt this is more than you bargained for. You wanted to snatch the candy back, or perhaps to snap at the children or their parents that they have no manners.

Aside from being rude, this would be ineffective. So you might want to look at the movie schedule next October.

Dear Miss Manners:

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