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Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Put New Stationery to Good Use

DEAR MISS MANNERS: If I receive stationery as a gift, is it best to write the thank-you note on that stationery?

GENTLE READER: Etiquette may not, strictly, require it, but it is certainly best, as it avoids any implied criticism that you would have preferred something different.

Miss Manners realizes that not all gifts are given by someone in a charitable frame of mind: Gentle Readers have informed her of stationery being given as a way to signal a dissatisfaction with prior thank-you notes (or the lack thereof). But she also chooses not to look for trouble.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I work at a coffee shop/cafe that gets very busy during lunch. One day, while I was working the main register with a long line of customers, some kind folks completed their lunch order, paid, then left $10 in cash and asked me to apply it to the order of the man behind them in line.

I figured he was a friend of theirs and didn’t question them further. When the man came to the register, he just asked if he could please have some water; I pointed him to our water station. He went off and I realized he was whom the couple had left money for, presumably charitably.

I couldn’t shout him down, so I tried to attach a note to the bill for a co-worker to take to the couple. However, it was the middle of the lunch rush and I wasn’t able to leave the register.

Later, when things quieted down, the couple came back. I immediately handed them their money, apologized, and started to explain. They told me, somewhat resentfully, that they wanted to give the man money but wanted to spare him the embarrassment of receiving it. They “thought I could explain to him he had credit to use.”

I felt bad about the whole interaction -- I wish the man had gotten to benefit from that $10 -- but also annoyed! It seems like these people were avoiding their own embarrassment, not his, but that it was his loss. I’ve helped plenty of customers buy food for other people, including local homeless folks, and there are many gracious ways to do so. Am I just bitter here, or am I justified?

GENTLE READER: Like etiquette itself, the server-customer relationship depends upon reasonable restraint on both sides. Such restraint includes being clear -- not leaving you to guess what you were being asked to do or how to do it. And it requires staying reasonably close to the task at hand: The service you were advertising was coffee and perhaps a doughnut, not social work.

Your customers failed on both counts. There are, indeed, better ways to accomplish what they wanted, and there are certainly ones that do not put the work on you. Miss Manners wishes that employers exercised equal restraint by not looking at every transaction as an opportunity to sell the next product (except by demonstrating exceptional service).

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