Q: My husband and I own a hot-air balloon that we fly for sport.
As you probably realize, one of the drawbacks of ballooning is that you cannot steer, but must go wherever the wind takes you. This means that you are almost always trespassing when you land, so of course you must exercise great politeness to whoever meets you, since they may be the owners of the property. Even if you land in a public park, you want to be pleasant and promote good will for the sake of the sport.
You are usually mobbed by people full of questions. Explaining how this or that works is just part of the fun of ballooning.
But it never fails that at least one person rushes up and blurts out, "How much did this balloon cost?" I can't say I don't know, and I usually try to sidestep the rude question with "Oh, about the average price" or something else vague. But they just keep digging for the dollar amount.
I usually end up acting as if I'm too busy to hear, because of course I can't say, "Mind your own business" or "How much did you pay for that car you're driving?"
I know they are curious because they think you have to be rich to own a balloon, which we surely are not. So how do I kindly answer such questions?
A: The principle that it is best not to be rude while trespassing is an extremely good one.
You are also right about two other things: Asking prices is rude in a noncommercial situation and this particular curiosity is not about whether you have a cheap balloon or an expensive one but whether ballooning is a rich person's sport.
There is no reason you cannot answer the latter question without answering the former.
Miss Manners has no idea what balloons cost (except that the ones offered children in front of the zoo seem somewhat inflated) and would not dream of asking. But if she were intrigued by yours enough to consider taking the sport up herself, she would want to know the general expense involved.
It is not necessary to say what your particular balloon cost if you can hint at the general price range of the sport -- is it like polo? shooting marbles? falconry? skateboarding? -- that would be helpful.
An answer such as "A lot less than your car -- it's more like bicycling" or "Well, it's like horseback riding -- you can spend a fortune or you can manage to do it modestly" should be sufficient.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.