The Washington Post

Miss Manners: Break cycle of sweet thank-yous with merely a note

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My neighbors were kind enough to help me with a large household problem. In order to demonstrate my gratitude, I baked a cake and took it to their house two days later.

When the plate was returned, cleaned and within a reasonable time frame, there was a box of chocolates on it. This token was greatly appreciated, but I now find myself in a position to, yet again, reciprocate with either another cake or some other baked item.

How does one put a stop to the constant “thank you” reciprocations of such gifts? I feel that I should be the last one to give such a gift, since I had the original household problem that my neighbors assisted me in resolving.

GENTLE READER: In Greek mythology, Agamemnon appeases the goddess Artemis for a serious etiquette breach (bragging) by making a human sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia. He does this without consulting his wife, Clytemnestra, who, upon his return from the Trojan War, returns the favor by stabbing him in his bath. Their son Orestes then murders Clytemnestra in retaliation. Eventually, the Greek gods have to step in to break the cycle of vendetta before it depopulates the Peloponnese.

Miss Manners realizes that your situation is not quite as drastic, but the principle is the same. If you answer the chocolates with baked goods, you will only prolong things. Send them a letter covering both the chocolates and the original help.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Several family members were casually talking after our Thanksgiving dinner. I asked my husband if he would get me some coffee (he was standing, I was sitting). My brother-in-law piped up and corrected me with “Please.”

Should he have corrected me? I’m58 and felt like a 2-year-old. I told him I thought the please was implied, as we have been married 34 years.

GENTLE READER: At what year did you decide that it was no longer necessary to be polite? And when did your brother-in-law decide that he no longer needed to be polite to you?

Miss Manners should not have to tell you that being related does not justify suspending politeness. You have discovered that for yourself.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: The owner of a bar I frequent just passed away, and everyone who knew him, especially the bartenders, are understandably quite upset.

I want to buy the place, but I don’t know how long I should wait to bid, out of respect. The reality is that everyone would benefit from my owning the place interms of job security, etc., but I don’t want to look opportunistic.

GENTLE READER: Mourning etiquette was historically elaborate and burdensome on those who did not work to support themselves. But it always recognized that after some point, business still needed to get done, whatever the private feelings of the mourners.

Miss Manners trusts that you will not read that to mean that business always comes first, or that it is unilaterally in your power to affect the good you hope for. You could write a note to the heirs explaining that, “When you are ready to think about the future of the business, I would appreciate the chance to talk with you.” After that, you will have to be patient. People in that position have more than enough to remind them to “get on with their lives.”

New Miss Manners columns are posted Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays on You can send questions to Miss Manners at her Web site,

, by Judith Martin



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