DEAR MISS MANNERS: I find that I am sometimes asked for small favors by complete strangers, and while it might cost me little to comply, sometimes what I perceive as their expectation that I will makes me uncomfortable, and, indeed, less likely to help.
At the corner store today, a lovely young lady in line behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked if she could go on ahead of me, as she had only one item. I merely told her, "I have three" and turned back away.
Her audibly exasperated reaction made me want to ask you, was this an unreasonable or rude response on my part? She gave me no reason to believe there was a reason for her request -- some emergency, perhaps -- other than her desire not to wait in line.
GENTLE READER: It is possible that this lovely young lady was out to take outrageous advantage of you, as everybody these days seems to believe everyone else is.
It is also possible that she did have an urgent reason to rush. How much of a supplication would you require her to make in order to obtain what you admit is a small favor that would cost you little?
Miss Manners acknowledges that courtesy did not require you to yield as long as you treated the request politely. She just wishes that our society was not bristling with so much hostility and suspicion as to consider it an affront when someone asks for what you admitted to be a small favor that would have cost you little.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Whenever my in-laws visit -- which is not very often -- they like try to discipline my children when my husband and I are right there and are often already in the midst of handling any "bad behavior" during their attempts.
I can understand, maybe, if we were allowing our children to do dangerous things or annoy them or be impolite, but that is not the situation. We always handle things with our children as they happen and have a good grip on what is going on.
They just seem to like to add to whatever we are saying and often end up yelling at our kids or talking sternly to them when we are already doing so. They have even resorted to popping the children.
I am hoping you can help me come up with a very nice, respectful way of saying that they should just enjoy their visit with my children and leave the disciplining to us.
GENTLE READER: These people don't understand the concept of grandparenthood, do they? The whole idea is to have a jolly time playing with them and then, when they get all hepped up and out of control, to say, "Well, it's time for my nap" and hand them over to their parents.
Instead, it is these grandparents who seem out of control. Yelling and "popping"? Uh-oh.
Miss Manners suggests that you gently enlighten them. The way to put it is: "We want the children to enjoy your visits, but they've become frightened of you. They know that if they misbehave, they'll be in trouble with us, so you can afford to be the good guys."