Dear Miss Manners: I commute by bicycle, and I walk many miles on the sidewalks of the dense inner city in which I live and work. I often call out expressions of encouragement to the people I observe in traffic, such as, "You go, girl, right through that red light! VIPs don't need to stop!" and "No need to park in a driveway when you can double-park in the bike lane!" and, to pedestrians, "Please, take your time crossing against the light. Your time's more important than everyone else's!"
I notice that the objects of my enthusiasm often respond with vulgar insults, obscene gestures and threats of violence. Am I missing something? Has my cheerleading been a breach of good manners?
Why, those people are just cheerleading you when they encourage you to do something to yourself. It is true that your insults are less crudely worded, but they are clearly insults, and they inspire retaliatory insults.
You started it. And Miss Manners is asking you to stop. You are making a public nuisance of yourself. Even she does not have license to go around the streets, criticizing people unasked. It is rude, and the only change it makes in behavior is for the worse.
Dear Miss Manners: How does one respond to unwanted gifts received while traveling to visit friends and family?
We live overseas, but we make an effort to visit family in the United States at least once a year — a trip that involves a one- or two-hour train ride, followed by a 12-hour plane ride, with two children younger than 5.
Before visiting, we explain to everyone that we will have no room in our luggage and request no gifts. Despite this, many family members give us things, saying, "It's small and easy to pack." If 10 people give "small and easy to pack" gifts, that's a carry-on bag's worth of gifts. Since we're already at max capacity with luggage, we end up having to make a stop at the post office to ship things back, which can cost more than $100.
I don't want to seem ungracious, and I know these people mean well, but how else can we explain the situation without seeming rude? A handwritten card would be just as personal as any trinket, or, if someone really wants to give us something, it can be shipped to where we live. This has been going on for three years, and we're starting to rethink our visits.
No, no, you are not going to cut off your relatives for the act of showering you with presents. This does not qualify as cause for breaking up families.
Still, Miss Manners sympathizes with the inconvenience they cause you. As they do not accept that in words, she is afraid that we will have to turn to deeds.
Thanking them without reservation at the time, you could wait until just before you leave to plead for a big favor. You find you cannot pack these wonderful things, and, as your time is short, hope that they will do you the great kindness of sending them to you. You should offer to pay. The nuisance of packing and posting it all will serve to illustrate the problem.