DEAR MISS MANNERS: At the hardware store a few weeks ago, I was balancing a 60-pound bag of mortar mix, easing it off a shelf on its way to my cart. Then a strange gentleman came barreling towards me with his hands outstretched.
“I’ve got it!” I said.
He kept coming, yelling, “Let me help!”
“Back off!” I said sharply. “Back off!! BACK OFF!!!”
We reached a standoff after he had basically chased me backwards several feet away from my cart, along with my 60-pound bag of mortar mix, now in my arms. He finally turned around, saying he was sorry and that he was just trying to help.
Virtually the same thing happened last week at another hardware store, where a bag of mulch was at issue.
When encountering a woman carrying a heavy item, some gentlemen seem to believe that it is helpful to interfere with her progress, and even to remove things forcibly from her hands, either without asking or after having had their help declined.
It is obvious to me that this endangers the woman’s balance, shows a disregard for her desires, and these days, risks the transmission of coronavirus. Can you comment, please, on the etiquette of offering help with heavy items?
GENTLE READER: An offer can be politely refused, and such refusal must be politely accepted, Miss Manners agrees -- and so instructs overzealous gentlemen. Once we have reached the stage of yelling or grabbing on either side, the activity can no longer be considered an offer -- or polite.
How, then, to make the overly insistent gentleman stop before he sends the mortar flying or infects the customers? An escalating refusal can work if the emotion being escalated is concern, discomfort or even fear, rather than anger.
You want other shoppers to worry about you, not that the gentleman is about to be slugged with a 60-pound bag of mortar. The gratification of the latter impulse would wear off when you had to deal with the subsequent cleanup, hospital bills and general apologizing.