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

Family Visit Becomes One Big Project

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband’s aunt and uncle live in an area a short plane ride away from us that is considered a destination. She sometimes visits us, and is always asking us to visit her, so last year, we finally committed to a date and visited for a week.

She didn’t have any food, so we were required to go grocery shopping, which I didn’t mind. I also made sure to help cook, do the dishes, and clean up the dining area after each meal.

However, she requested that my husband help her with some labor-intensive jobs. She asked him to dig out a patio area that had fallen into disrepair, fix her washing machine, replace multiple steps on her outdoor stairs, and more.

Is there any polite way to say no to such activities when you’re visiting someone else’s home? It made him feel as though she only asked us to visit in order to get these tasks done.

Not that this matters much, but she and her husband are quite wealthy and could easily have hired someone to do some of this work. We find this to be a common issue with his family, although it had not yet happened with this specific aunt.

GENTLE READER: The polite way out is to claim incompetence.

Miss Manners assures you this is always possible, even if, for example, your husband’s day job is repairing washing machines. In that case, he will need to examine the unit, look behind it, scratch his head and pause to consider -- before explaining that this item is entirely outside of his experience, requires special parts, and will take more days than your visit.

Do not despair when the aunt later discovers that the person she finally has to hire disagrees. Your husband’s expression of pleasure at having been wrong will strengthen his claim to incompetence next time.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: For the third year in a row, my close friend has emailed me a list of gift ideas for her child. This list is also sent to various other friends and family, in plenty of time before the occasion.

I have never asked for gift ideas for her child. As I live very far away, I am unable to attend any of the child’s birthday parties. Nor am I able to afford a gift, as I have been looking for a job for more than a year now.

The receipt of such an email gives me the impression that I am expected to give this child a present, but I really can’t afford it and am embarrassed to say so. How should I respond? Should she even be sending such an email?

GENTLE READER: Sympathetic as she is to your employment situation, it does not alter Miss Manners’ opinion about your friend’s behavior or how to handle it. Sending a list of desired gifts is presumptuous and rude.

As you do not want to break off the friendship, ignoring the rudeness is the politest course -- and requires no defense on your part. If your friend is pushy enough to inquire, thank her for providing the list -- and leave it at that.

(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.)