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

When Is It OK to ‘Bum a Cigarette’?

DEAR MISS MANNERS: When, if ever, did someone decide it is appropriate to approach another person and ask for an item they own?

I know the dangers of smoking; everyone does. The gall of these people makes me want to give them one cigarette, just to shorten their life a little. Am I wrong resenting them, or can they just go on smoking without buying?

GENTLE READER: Asking for a cigarette and asking for your car are not morally equivalent -- unless the request is accompanied by the threat of force in case of noncompliance.

The difference is not only in the value of the requested item, but in the implication that it is incidental to a social interaction, such as huddling together in the cold, 15 feet from the building entrance. This means that “bumming a cigarette” as you run down the street would, indeed, be wrong.

But even allowable requests can be politely refused. What puzzles Miss Manners about your attitude is that you, too, must be a smoker, or you would not have a cigarette to bestow or withhold. Given the animosity that nonsmokers now routinely show to smokers, Miss Manners would have thought that some tolerance within the group would be a good investment.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My son is about to become a bar mitzvah, so I sat with him to start the process of writing thank-you notes. He’s only received a few gifts so far, but I imagine he will get many, many more (we are anticipating just under 100 guests).

The one note that he managed to finish took a REALLY long time and had to be redone twice. His handwriting is not stellar, so he has to write very slowly to make it legible. How I wish, at times like this, that they still stressed penmanship in schools and didn’t rely so strongly on computers!

He said, “Wow, wish I could type these. Mom, why can’t I just type them?” Thus my question: How strong a breach of etiquette would it be for him to type the notes and then hand-sign them? I was always taught that a handwritten thank-you note is the ONLY way to go about these things, but in this case it will take forever!

Should I just lay down the mom-whammy and make him write them all, or is a typed note an acceptable option?

GENTLE READER: Gratitude should expand (or contract) with the guest list: Your son’s debt to thank each individual guest is independent of how many stamps you will need to purchase -- or how much time it will take him to pen the notes.

Handwritten letters of thanks are a way of reciprocating the effort that guests took. So, yes, Miss Manners would advise your son to get to work. It is a valuable lesson for a young adult. The letters will get easier and shorter with practice.

(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.)