Miss Manners

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Etiquette-wise, is it acceptable to use someone else’s trash bin? I have a neighbor who often, when passing by, throws away an empty water bottle, or a snack wrapper, inside my trash can. I guess trash is trash and it makes no difference whose bin it is, especially since the type of garbage in question is “innocuous” (nothing like dog’s waste or similar), and it surely would be worse if the neighbor littered instead of using a bin.

But still, every time this happens, I can’t help but feel irritated. What is Miss Manners’ take?

GENTLE READER: The courts have generally concluded that people’s interest -- both legal and philosophical -- in their own trash is limited, as evidenced by the fact that they threw it out. Miss Manners is inclined to agree, and to extend the ruling to the contents generally. So long as the neighbor is not causing the bin to overflow, to smell, or to draw attention in some other way, innocuous contributions would best be ignored in the interest of neighborliness.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I find it mockingly insulting when a girl that you previously dated, and asked to an informal dinner, asks what the dress code is.

It puts pressure on the situation to make it more formal than it is, and what if I said formal (as in, I am trying to date her again) -- would she take it the wrong way and get insulted? Or what if she IS interested and I say casual, and she gets insulted that it is not a date?

Either way, I argued that for an informal occasion, the question should not even have been asked.

GENTLE READER: It seems just possible that you have concerns beyond the level of formality of the dinner, but Miss Manners will answer the question you have posed. Assuming that you told the lady that the dinner was to be informal, why would she ask again? She may have a nefarious purpose, as you suspect, or she may simply not have heard you the first time.

You might also consider that the definitions of formal and informal (not to mention the ubiquitous but fuzzy meaning of “casual”) vary enormously depending on the context and even individual interpretation. Is it too much of a stretch for you to consider that your friend is merely trying to figure out what would be appropriate for her to wear?

Whether or not communication was a problem the first time you dated, if you truly intend to begin fresh, the wisest course -- and the most civil -- is to understand text before delving into subtext. Assume her question was an honest one, and answer it.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it rude to leave a wedding before the cake is cut, if it is 11:30 p.m. and the cake has not yet been cut (and it does not appear imminent)?

GENTLE READER: Contrary to the wedding industry’s opinion, cake-cutting is not part of the marriage ceremony. Miss Manners permits weary guests, who have presumably already put in hours of attendance, to take their leave.

(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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