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Miss Manners: I don’t want to keep buying cakes for office birthdays

3 min

Dear Miss Manners: I am an attorney at a small firm. When the staff member who used to buy birthday cakes retired, I picked up a cake for a birthday that was going to be observed right after she left.

I then bought the next birthday cake, which was for my favorite member of the firm. And then I bought a cake for the least-liked person in the office, fearing that his feelings would be hurt because no one else was going to rise to the occasion.

Now, there is an expectation that I will supply all birthday cakes. This expectation is harmful because I am the first and only woman attorney at the firm, and one of the youngest, as well. It's also an expensive habit; the time taken getting the cakes equates to hundreds of dollars in billable hours, which I make up for by working later.

Do you have any suggestions on how to stop this cycle? I know that I’ve been part of the problem, but unfortunately my time machine is on the fritz.

Are there any junior staff members or receptionists at your firm? If so, Miss Manners suggests you solicit their assistance. Or build a rotating schedule among the attorneys.

Or best of all, suggest to your firm that you abandon the practice altogether. Cake in the office is not enough of a treat (and is often the object of dread by those watching sugar, gluten and other ingredients) to warrant all of this expense and angst.

Surely a card would suffice instead. But please promise just to leave it in the break room for people to sign — rather than use billable hours going from office to office collecting signatures.

Dear Miss Manners: I dislike it when people fuss over me, but I have relatives who cannot seem to help themselves. Any attempt at a conversation always circles back to questions about whether I am too hot, too cold, whether I might like a brownie, or …

Attempts to change the conversation may work momentarily, but somehow always devolve back into fussing over me. I know they intend to be kind and hospitable, but it makes me feel a bit snappish after a while.

What is the politest way to say, “Can we please talk about anything other than whether I am too hot, too cold, might like a brownie …?”

If you do not want it, may Miss Manners please have the brownie?

Because it does sound as if your relatives are merely being hospitable, if perhaps (overly) concerned for your health and well-being. Or they are avoiding your chosen topics of conversation and trying to change them (in which case, the brownie thing suddenly makes more sense).

In any event, if you do not like it, you may simply say, “Thank you for your concern, but I assure you that my temperature and constitution are absolutely fine. Now, let’s talk about your tiff with Aunt Eloise.”

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, You can also follow her @RealMissManners.

© 2023 Judith Martin