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Miss Manners: Rejecting hand-me-downs doesn’t mean rejecting the friend

Dear Miss Manners: Last year I started an annual, seasonal job that I will be returning to soon. I got on especially well with my desk neighbor, as we have a lot in common. For example, we are both highly sensitive to fragrances and things like shirt tags and sock seams. We also share a propensity for saving items that most people would discard, such as cardboard boxes, in case we might find a use for them at a later date.

One day, I walked into work and saw two very outdated shirts on her desk. She announced she had no use for them and brought them in to see if I might want them. At the time, I thought my reply would surely be approved by Miss Manners. It was something like:

"Thank you for thinking of me. I always appreciate an offer of free clothes, and that is indeed a very high-quality brand. In fact, I, too, have a shirt of that brand that I never wear, but cannot bring myself to get rid of. Ha ha! Unfortunately, I have to be honest and admit I would never wear them, as I wear T-shirts for comfort everywhere but the office, and I really cannot pull off wearing that color. I would hate for these good-quality shirts to be wasted when they may be exactly what someone shopping at a thrift store is looking for. I do really appreciate the offer, though."

Two or three co-workers overheard the exchange, and I suspect they thought I was just being tactful (or pompous). But as a fellow pack-rat, I know how important it feels to have items be put to good use.

I almost immediately regretted my response. I fear that I may have squashed a sprouting friendship. I hope that when we return, we may become friends or at least lunch buddies. It may well have been no big deal to her, but I don't want to be obliviously friendly if she is inwardly bothered.

Should I just casually comment that I hope she found a good home for those shirts and I regret not having use for them — and by the way, that was really nice of her to offer them? Or should I just let what happened in 2020 stay in 2020?

The latter. Even if your co-worker had nothing better to brood about during a pandemic year, you have no evidence of her being offended.

If anyone was looking for insult, it might be you. “These don’t meet my standards, but maybe yours are lower” is not a present and does not have to be treated as such. Not that Miss Manners is looking for a fight, or trying to negate your response. If you detect pouting and resentment, you can try offering your casual approach of bringing it up again. But otherwise, steer clear of it — and of her future efforts to clean house.

Dear Miss Manners: I find the phrase "shut up" to be hostile, aggressive and just demoralizing. Are there any situations where it is okay to say it?

“Shut up the house before the storm hits, Pa!”

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.

2021, by Judith Martin