DEAR MISS MANNERS: A while back, I needed a bed for emergency housing for a long-term houseguest. A friend of mine offered to let me borrow an extra box spring and mattress. (I offered to pay her for the rental, but she refused.)
The guest came for three months of medical care and then went home. The mattress was in the same condition as when it arrived in my home.
When I called my friend to make arrangements to return her bed so that I could have my living room back, her response was, “That’s OK. You can just hang on to them.”
This went on for six months. I would call her and thank her for the borrow, again, offer her money and explain that I wanted my living room back. She would insist that she was fine with the current arrangement.
So, the last call I made, I asked her to pick a time and date for me to deliver her mattress in the next 30 days, stating that if I didn’t get a time to return her property, I’d get her a donation receipt from a charity.
She hung up on me. Two hours later, she appeared at my door to take her mattress back, didn’t say a word, wouldn’t allow me to help her with carrying it, and hasn’t spoken to me since. While I am still grateful that she came through with the help I needed, was it wrong for me demand the use of my living room?
GENTLE READER: We are all aware that one good deed deserves another and that two wrongs do not make a right. But nowhere, in the algebra of cliches, does one good deed cancel out a bad one.
If your friend needed a temporary home for her mattress, she need only have asked -- and it might have been difficult for you to refuse. But she did not, leaving you little choice but to do what you did. Miss Manners awards you extra credit for being polite throughout, and for remaining grateful for the original favor in spite of the subsequent behavior.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I enjoy cooking and have a reputation for being a good cook. Often guests ask for the recipe of a dish they just had.
I have no interest in keeping my recipes secret, but the truth is, I rarely follow recipes, so I have nothing to give them. I can try to re-create a dish and write down the ingredients and techniques, but this is very time-consuming. I’m happy to do that, but only if the person is sincere in wanting to prepare the dish.
How can I tell? To say, “It’s going to take me a long time to write down a recipe, so are you really sure you plan on making this?” seems rude.
GENTLE READER: It does. Miss Manners prefers a friendly demonstration of the difficulty delivered in a slightly ditzy way: “You know, I improvise my recipes. I couldn’t for the life of me tell you how much oregano is in there.”
Those who persist can be presumed to be serious -- assuming your attempt to parry the request has not planted doubts about what they just consumed.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)