Miss Manners

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My faith is central to who I am and my life. Those who know me know this about me, as does my new neighbor, who is aware that I am careful about what I bring into my home.

When she went on a trip, she was kind enough to bring a souvenir back for me. It was quite thoughtful and I was touched. The gift was a small item that came wrapped with a magnet statuette of a local deity attached to the packaging. I thanked her immediately and told her I would enjoy using the item, deliberately omitting the fact that I would not be able to keep the magnet portion of the gift.

To my chagrin, she responded by saying that she hoped that it wasn’t a problem with the magnet statuette, and that everything in this place she had visited seemed to reference deities of one sort or another.

I responded that I loved the item, but that I would not be able to keep the statuette, at which point she offered to keep it in her apartment.

How could I have handled this better? Is there a way to graciously refuse a gift? For me, it is not an option to possess items linked with other faith traditions. Nor is there an option to lie.

GENTLE READER: Your reaction -- to express gratitude for the gift, and avoid an explanation that was both unnecessary and might be taken as criticism or ingratitude -- was not lying; it was compassion and good neighborliness.

That your neighbor did not know to quit when she was ahead is no reason to abandon your approach. In fact, Miss Manners wonders if the donor only realized the problem with the magnet as she was speaking.

A simple, repeated assurance of your gratitude might have stopped further, awkward attempts to smooth over a dawning fear that instead of doing something kind she might have inadvertently offended you. Not all train wrecks can be avoided, but there is no reason to contribute to the derailment.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: A very close relative is dying and plans to leave each of my children a five-figure dollar inheritance. At this point, I have not told any of the children. Should I tell them and urge them to write a thank-you note to the relative before she passes away, or should I just wait? I thanked her, of course, when she told me of her intentions.

GENTLE READER: Your desire to issue a thank-you note before it is too late is laudable, but expressing gratitude for future gifts is tricky -- particularly when doing so may imply ambivalence about the necessary prerequisite.

You were right to thank your relative yourself, and while Miss Manners does not object to your telling your children about the inheritance if you wish, she urges you to encourage them to continue the love and attention they devote to the relative -- punctuated by the reality that the time in which to do so is limited.

(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, dearmissmanners@gmail.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)

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