Q: What's the right way to tell a 77-year-old grandmother who gets you clothes at thrift stores (cheap-looking, too) that you really don't like them? Most of the time, they're not "in," and they usually have a tear or something is missing. If they are okay, they usually break or tear and she blames me for not taking care of them.
She can usually tell that I don't like a garment by my expression. I can say I like it, but still she says, "No, you don't, hon."
Should I tell her to give me money instead, or have her bring me along when she shops, or what?
A: There is no right way to tell her. That is not what she needs to know. Miss Manners understands that there is a real problem here, which cannot be ignored, but you have to deepen your understanding of it before you can solve it.
There are two things to be learned from this situation, and both of them are way beyond the matter of the actual offensive presents:
1. Your grandmother wants to please you.
2. She is short of money.
The real question, therefore, is not how you can turn clothing you don't want into items you do, but how you can allow your grandmother to feel that she is succeeding in her kind attempts, without undue cost.
That eliminates your suggestions of her giving you money directly or shopping with you. And because she sees through your attempts to look pleased when you are not, your well-meant policy of accepting with thanks, and letting it go at that, isn't working, either.
Because you know your tastes and what might be possible for your grandmother to do, Miss Manners asks for your ingenuity in coming up with solutions. Begin by telling her sheepishly, "Well, since you asked, it's true that the kids wear all kinds of crazy fashions I wouldn't expect you to keep up with, and I really would prefer ... " and then mention something of little or no cost. A pencil kit, a copy of a family photograph, a key ring -- just make sure it is something she can easily supply.
And make sure that your gratitude beams on your face. Miss Manners promises you that such an exercise in consideration will be an invaluable addition to your life.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.