The Washington Post

Miss Manners: Avoid the temptation to put neighbors in their place

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am wondering what is the best way to deal with an arrogant next-door neighbor. He and his wife are overly confident DINKS (double income, no kids), and any and every contact with them in the neighborhood is so annoying.

For example, the wife will offer her husband’s help with a problem because “he is the best with dealing with people,” or he tells people, “I work for a publicly traded company so anyone can go online and find out what I make,” or “I don’t do anything I can pay someone to do.”

I am in awe that people like this exist, but when you ask for a donation for a charity, they quickly run or have an excuse. Should they be put in their place with a candid remark, or is it best to just avoid them?

GENTLE READER: It is never a good idea to put people in their place when they live next to your place.

Instead, Miss Manners wants you to learn to say, “How nice for you” without a trace of sarcasm. It is going to take practice, because that edge is going to slip in. But it would only antagonize your neighbors and give them the satisfaction of thinking that you are envious of them.

When you can say it straight and cheerfully, you can use it to respond to every such remark your neighbors make. It is the repetition that will get to them eventually. They keep finding new ways to brag, but you keep giving them the same four-word reply.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My niece has been appointed as a judge. I plan to send a card of congratulations. Is there anything else I should do?

GENTLE READER: Such as clearing up all your unpaid parking tickets? Miss Manners would consider a handwritten letter of congratulation sufficient.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My family recently celebrated my sister’s marriage. My brother-in-law’s side of the family is very social, and we are not.

My sister wants us all to meet up with them, even though my parents do not want to — not because they don’t like my brother-in-law’s family, but simply because they are old, do not speak fluent English, and prefer to avoid potentially stressful situations (i.e. travel, social awkwardness).

How do we politely decline their request to meet up without offending them?

GENTLE READER: There is no inoffensive way for parents to tell a child that spending time with her new family is burdensome.

You can, however, make counterproposals. If the travel suggested is legitimately difficult for your parents, suggest alternatives: They could act as the hosts, or a more accessible meeting place could be substituted.

Miss Manners would not advise declining on the grounds that they “are not very social” or that it would be “stressful” or “socially awkward.” The former makes them sound snobbish, and the latter, unpresentable.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays on www.washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com.

2014, by Judith Martin

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