DEAR MISS MANNERS: When, if ever, did someone decide it is appropriate to approach another person and ask for an item they own?
I know the dangers of smoking; everyone does. The gall of these people makes me want to give them one cigarette, just to shorten their life a little. Am I wrong resenting them, or can they just go on smoking without buying?
GENTLE READER: Asking for a cigarette and asking for your car are not morally equivalent -- unless the request is accompanied by the threat of force in case of noncompliance.
The difference is not only in the value of the requested item, but in the implication that it is incidental to a social interaction, such as huddling together in the cold, 15 feet from the building entrance. This means that “bumming a cigarette” as you run down the street would, indeed, be wrong.
But even allowable requests can be politely refused. What puzzles Miss Manners about your attitude is that you, too, must be a smoker, or you would not have a cigarette to bestow or withhold. Given the animosity that nonsmokers now routinely show to smokers, Miss Manners would have thought that some tolerance within the group would be a good investment.