DEAR MISS MANNERS: We live in a fairly affluent neighborhood in a woodsy suburb of a major city. At least a couple times per year, trees fall during storms, causing a power outage, some of which last an extended period of time.
Like a few other residents of this neighborhood, we purchased a backup generator, which automatically supplies power when there is an outage.
A neighbor with whom we are cordial but do not socialize began appearing at our door during these outages and requesting to use our refrigerator, our bathroom to apply makeup for a night out on the town, and other such requests. The last time she brought an extension cord and suggested that we let her run it to her house.
We feel a bit like the Little Red Hen -- we've taken the initiative to prepare for these outages, yet this woman just wants to rely on us. While I dislike the invasion of our privacy (she is a virtual stranger), I can think of no polite way of turning down these seemingly harmless requests. How does one turn away a neighbor who appears with soon-to-spoil meat without causing an unpleasant riff?
GENTLE READER: By becoming slightly less reliable. But only slightly, as you do not want to turn away even an irresponsible neighbor in genuine need.
You could take in the meat, for example, but apologize that you can't tie up the bathroom. No explanation needed -- there are, after all, unmentionable reasons that you might need it in a hurry. And you might remark that you are glad to be able to save the meat this time, because you often stock up on groceries and would not always have room.
Miss Manners gathers that you shot down the extension-cord suggestion, and hopes that you take all opportunities to warn that you cannot overload your system, and to say, in a friendly way, "The power is so unreliable around here that many of us feel it is essential for every house to have its own generator."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I ran into a friend I had not seen in some time, who, over the course of the conversation informed me that her grandfather died a few months previously.
As it so happens, I had been informed of that fact at the time, and sent her a condolence note.
Answering, "Yes, I know; I sent a condolence note" is obviously out of the question, since it implicitly contains an accusation to the bereaved. On the other hand, I do not wish to be thought a cad (if an unaccused one) for being thought to have failed to live up to a relatively important social obligation.
What, then, might be the appropriate response?
GENTLE READER: You realize, of course, that "I know" is not a proper first response to the mention of a death. You start with "I'm so sorry" and then say or ask a few words about the deceased.
At that point, you can throw in "Did you get my letter?" provided you add, "I know you must have had tons of mail," so that you don't seem to accuse her of not replying. Which, apparently, she didn't.