DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a neighbor who is recently divorced. She relies on my husband to help her out a lot with fixing things in her house, lifting objects, etc. She also takes lengthy vacations, during which we water her plants daily, collect her mail, and sign for and keep her packages.
Three times now, I have asked her to reciprocate for much shorter amounts of times and she has said no!
She explains that she is in a phase of her life in which she needs to be selfish and she does not want to take on anything that would prohibit her from being "free" to up and leave at any moment.
While I can respect that, I am now a bit reluctant to continue these services for her. She just called to give me a "heads-up" that she'll be gone "most of the summer." What can I say to her when she calls and officially asks me to look after her things for over a month? I've decided I really don't want to if she is not willing to reciprocate. Is there a subtle way to convey this?
GENTLE READER: What a charming idea that is -- to declare oneself in a selfish period, sustained by depending on the unselfishness of others. The only part Miss Manners doesn't understand is how this would work if the idea were to spread.
You might test it by saying how intrigued you and your husband are with her notion, and explaining that you have decided to give it a try.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a child of the computer age and often send e-cards on various occasions. Last Wednesday, a fellow chorus member invited me over for dinner with a few friends of his. I enjoyed the evening and wanted to send him a thank-you note. I chose to use an e-card.
Yesterday I saw him again at a concert, but he seemed rather cold to me. As we have not had contact since and I got the confirmation that he had read my e-card, I think he disliked my thank-you note.
Are e-cards inappropriate, in your opinion? What role may new technologies play in societal life, and when should I trust paper and pen?
GENTLE READER: Was the meal canned? If not, why should the response be?
What you sent was doubly minimal. It was e-mail, which is the easiest form of written communication, and it was not even put in your own words. Did you imagine that this would delight your friend, as he waited for the card to finish downloading so that he could get back the use of his computer?
Miss Manners suspects that your thought was rather that you could discharge your obligation easily. You have not. Even if the food was canned, the host spent time and attention on you. E-mail is a wonderful convenience for casual messages and memos, but you still owe your host a letter of thanks.