DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a cleaning lady, and I also clean my church. My problem is that when I go to someone's home for a social occasion where I'm invited as a guest, I'm expected to help serve and clean up.
I had one lady hand me a dish towel when I came in, and I was told to wipe off glasses and fix the drinks while she visited with her guests. I don't mind helping, but I think if you are an invited guest, you shouldn't be expected to serve. How can I tell them nicely that I would like to be treated like the others?
GENTLE READER: It is true that Miss Manners is in the business of putting sticky statements nicely, but suddenly she doesn't feel so nice.
What these people are doing is outrageous. This is not helping a friend, as a guest may volunteer -- but not be conscripted -- to do. This is using a social pretext to get your professional services free.
Miss Manners has three suggestions for you, all of them polite but firm statements to deliver in a pleasant manner. Frankly, she is hoping you will choose the third.
1. "Oh, my goodness, I misunderstood; I didn't realize you wanted to hire me for the evening. Let me tell you what I charge."
2. "I'm afraid you had better ask one of the other guests to help. I do this for a living, as you know, and so when I accept an invitation to go out, it's only to relax."
3. "You know, I've been doing this sort of thing all week, and suddenly I find that I'm tired. You will excuse me, but I think I will go home now to rest. Here's your dishtowel. Have a pleasant evening."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When a friend of mine I've known since grade school phones me and I say hello, she will quite often say, "Are you all right? You don't sound so good." And then she laughs.
I do not call her anymore because I think she gets a kick from asking me that, then the laugh. I'm always taken aback, because I do not know what to say other than to explain that I feel fine and there's nothing wrong, and I've grown tired of explaining myself. (I did have cancer three years ago, but it's in remission.)
What can I say as a comeback? I thought she would get the message when I quit calling her, but she continues to call me.
GENTLE READER: Could we please assume that the laugh is a nervous laugh? Miss Manners doesn't feel up to dealing with the possibility of its being a shriek of pleasure at presuming to find you ill.
It is still rude to announce to people how they feel, rather than to ask them and wait for the answer, but at least it is not malicious. The cure is to say, "Oh, I'm fine, except that I'm worried about you. Are you all right?" This is not intended as a comeback so much as an opportunity for you to illustrate the point that not all shows of concern are comforting, and to set an example by accepting her answer at face value.