DEAR MISS MANNERS: My family and I are traveling from our small town to New York City next month, and we need to know the polite and compassionate way to deal with panhandlers.
I am not averse to giving money, but we cannot give to every person that asks. Is there a polite way to decline?
GENTLE READER: Though panhandling by desperate people is almost always unwelcome, Miss Manners agrees with you that the act is not automatically an affront, nor does it justify rudeness. Nor, barring threat or intimidation, is it kind to ignore such a request.
"I am sorry" is the polite way to refuse, after which it would be best not to remain long enough to invite an argument.
This is a useful dodge to learn, wherever you may live. The same response works for solvent acquaintances, even those canny enough to disguise the request for personal funds with words like "charitable donation."