Miss Manners

DEAR MISS MANNERS: How would one go about staying polite when leaving an unpleasant situation, such as involuntarily receiving something unwanted or bad news?

If I am pulled over for having a tail light out and receive a ticket, I don't want to say "Thank you" or "Have a nice day" -- because really, who wants a ticket? -- but I'd still want to be respectful and polite.

GENTLE READER: How about "I'm very sorry, officer, and I assure you it won't happen again"? Miss Manners promises you that this is more effective than "Why aren't you out catching real criminals?"

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Not long ago, a committee was appointed to investigate claims of racism and racial discrimination in our community.

After reading a newspaper article describing the rather polarizing language the committee used to present its mission to the public, I felt led to respond with a letter to the editor decrying that language and also pointing out a local instance of institutional racism overlooked by the committee.

You may imagine my surprise at reading an open reply on the same editorial page from a member of the committee summoning me to a meeting of the committee to defend my remarks.

Given that my telephone number is published and my email and snail mail addresses are common knowledge, I felt this was a highly unusual way to send me such a targeted invitation, which I find necessary to decline due to a conflict with my evening work hours.

Am I stuck in a time warp where I have missed a tectonic shift in the etiquette of issuing invitations? I trust not.

GENTLE READER: Were you too busy at work to look up how to correspond directly with this committee or its members?

The etiquette rule that eludes you is to respond in kind. You send an email invitation, you get an email response. You send an engraved card by post, you should get a response by post. Miss Manners noticed that your challenge was made in the newspaper, where the committee had stated its mission. So you are the one who made the dispute public.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I volunteer with my local hospice, where I'm assigned one patient/family at a time who I visit weekly in the home, sometimes for many months. These relationships become very special and dear to all of us.

Many times the family will want to give me a gift at the holidays or at the end of the assignment. I explain that it's against policy to take gifts, and try to encourage them to consider donating to the hospice.

Sometimes they insist, and, for one spouse, my polite refusal was adding to his grief. A couple times I've been given $100 gift cards, which I turned over to the volunteer coordinator so they could be given to patients/families in need. I sent thank-you notes to the families, but did not mention that I had given away the cards.

Is this the right thing to do? Is there anything I can say to refuse these gifts and still show my thanks for their allowing me to be part of such a difficult, yet precious, time?

GENTLE READER: You are doing it. And you strike Miss Manners as the kind of person we would all want at our bedsides when dying.

(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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