DEAR MISS MANNERS: Many years ago, I learned the usefulness of carrying an extra handkerchief to weddings and funerals. I now do so all the time, to help anyone caught unprepared.
It happens more often than you might expect. Sad movies, of course; cold season; the occasional allergy attack; and once, at my health club, a bloody nose. Once, a dinner companion with a cold brought tissues, but soon used her last.
I make the offer unobtrusively -- ”Would this help?” -- and recipients have seemed grateful, but my wife says I am creating an awkward situation when I offer a handkerchief to a lady. She says the recipient then must wonder if she is meant to keep it, return the damp handkerchief immediately or a washed and ironed one later -- and if so, how and where.
I never thought it was so complicated. On the rare occasion that I have been asked, I have simply said, “No, it’s a gift.” My wife thinks I should carry tissues instead, but that seems rather impersonal and less thoughtful.
GENTLE READER: Tissues are indeed less personal and less thoughtful. The argument that a handkerchief is more complicated does not impress Miss Manners, given your artful solution of this modern Gordian knot. If you find you are handing out great supplies of handkerchiefs, you could also say, “Keep it as long as you need it,” which should be taken as a direction to return it laundered.
Either way, she would have thought the problem equally applicable to male and female recipients of your courtesy.