DEAR MISS MANNERS: Summer seems to bring out the worst in some friends and neighbors. One neighbor wants me to walk her obnoxious, poorly trained dog -- for free, of course. Lots of kids would love a job like that and would do it well, but not me.
A friend (?) feels I should take over "clinic visits": surprise visitations to complete strangers -- her friends, not mine. I'm not being mean, but I'm a retired nurse and tired of medical problems. For some reason she thinks I'm available or interested. I retired to get away from this.
Would her friends want to see a stranger visiting? I don't think so.
Another neighbor constantly asks me when I'll get siding. I'm a fairly new widow and have done a lot inside, but outside bids are not written out, and in some cases the contractor's insurance is questionable. (One refused to give me the name of their insurance company. Does that sound honest or reliable?) She got taken on some home repairs and seems envious.
We've never been friends, but I stay out of her business and wish she'd stay out of mine. How do I deal with her politely?
GENTLE READER: Although she is happy to treat this as the standard query about fending off nosiness and impositions, Miss Manners stumbled on the part about your being a fairly new widow.
Could that be connected with the multiplicity of neighbors who are making admittedly bizarre requests? Could they be worrying about you and trying to think of activities that would keep you active?
If so, they are not very good at it, and you are in need of the standard method of refusing without possibility of discussion: "I'm terribly sorry, but I'm afraid I can't," offering no excuse with which they could argue. However, if you suspect concern rather than simple exploitation, Miss Manners wishes you would at the same time propose some small activity, perhaps just having coffee together, as a way of recognizing their good intentions.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was walking down the street, engaged in my own thoughts, when a man yelled at me as I walked by: "Hey you, smile! It's a beautiful day, and it's free!"
Needless to say, having a stranger yell at me did not make me feel like smiling. I ignored him completely.
But, as I continued away, my train of thought interrupted and feeling a bit irritated, I wondered if I ought to have said something. I realize that it is not polite to provide unsolicited etiquette advice to others. However, I also suspect that he accosts people in this manner because he doesn't realize that his behavior is offensive, and as long as no one explains that to him, he will continue to intrude upon others. Is it appropriate to explain to someone that his behavior is offensive and precisely why?
GENTLE READER: Didn't you just get through telling Miss Manners that you found it offensive for strangers to tell others how to behave?
Bad as it is to issue smiling orders to strangers, issuing them reprimands is worse. The way to indicate a rejection of any sort of improper approach is to sail by as if the person did not exist.