DEAR MISS MANNERS: For months, I had been trying to obtain a particular rare plant. The only place that has it, though rarely, is a local nursery. After calling, I was told they had one in, but that it was being held for someone. They said they would call her and see if she still wanted it.
About a half-hour later, I called back and asked, "Do you have that plant?" The clerk said, "My goodness, you called back quickly. You can come pick it up." I drove right over.
While still at the nursery, it dawned on me that the clerk thought I might be the other woman who had placed a hold on the plant. While I usually pay with credit, I quickly paid in cash and drove home with my new, rare plant.
When I shared my happiness and this clever story with my co-workers, I received a chilly response. For an entire day, they were curt with me and never once congratulated me or said they were happy for me. How can I politely tell my jealous co-workers that their rudeness hurt my feelings?
GENTLE READER: That wasn't rudeness. On the contrary, coldness is the politest and most restrained way of indicating moral repulsion.
Miss Manners, who feels a chill herself, will confine herself to the manners aspect of this situation. It is that if you are going to cheat people, at least refrain from bragging about it.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My mother-in-law and sister-in-law are planning a two-week visit, timing it for right after the birth of my twins. I also have two older children, ages 4 and 6.
My mother-in-law tells me that she needs all her food to be salt-free and low-fat, and she wants "plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables." My sister-in-law says she is a vegetarian, and that she only eats low-fat. Our family eats all food groups, and doesn't try to eat low-fat or low-salt. All the meals I make, and all the foods in our refrigerator and cabinets, and all my cookbooks and recipes, reflect this.
I follow Miss Manners' guidelines in all things, even when it means doing what I don't want to do. Obviously I don't want to cook vegetarian, salt-free and low-fat when I've never done it before, especially with newborn twins, especially for two full weeks. If this were one big family meal it wouldn't be an issue: I know that I could put out extra bowls of vegetables and extra baskets of bread, and leave out the salt and let people season their own. But I can't see feeding my sister-in-law nothing but corn and peas for two weeks -- she'll need vegetarian proteins, won't she?
GENTLE READER: And you will need rest, won't you? Did you think that Miss Manners would ignore that and insist upon rigidly applying rules of hospitality designed for ordinary visits?
You did not plan this visit, and it would not be rude of you to say that you cannot handle their staying with you at this time, suggesting another time or that they find accommodations nearby. Better yet, you could welcome them with the hearty exclamation, "I'm so glad you're coming! I can use all the help I can get! If you'll take care of the cooking, we'll get the supplies ahead of time if you give us a list."