DEAR MISS MANNERS: I attended a party and excused myself to use the bathroom, looking for some aspirin for a slight headache. I would have asked the host to help me, but he was busy entertaining his large number of guests and was unavailable.
As I opened the medicine cabinet, suddenly a large number of balls and beads came loudly thundering down, scaring the life out of me. Moments later, a roar of laughter came from outside the door. Obviously the medicine cabinet had been booby-trapped as a practical joke, with many of the partygoers in on it.
I was exceedingly embarrassed and exited the bathroom, only to be mocked for this for the rest of the evening by everyone attending the party. I apologized to my host (who was grinning) for snooping in the medicine cabinet, but wondered if the greater crime was my being made the butt of a joke.
GENTLE READER: Even among those who would dismiss etiquette as unimportant compared to such things as war and governance, there would be universal condemnation of potentates who conquered their neighbors’ countries with the comparatively bloodless solution of inviting the rightful rulers to dinner and murdering them.
Playing tricks on one’s guests is inexcusable, whatever the reason.
However, Miss Manners admits that rifling through the host’s cabinets is also problematic. The consequences may be learning something you would prefer not to have known, or discovering that the homeowner has a different labeling system for pills than your pharmacist. Better to wait for a lull in the conversation and ask your host for the aspirin.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Out of the blue, one of the women from my church offered to give me a small sum of money every month if I would quit smoking. She said she had been considering sponsoring a child overseas, but had realized she could do this as a more local, and therefore more satisfying, charity.
She knows how very little money I have, and went on to say that this idea had the advantages of my “earning” the assistance, of quitting being good for my health, and of my not coming to church smelling like cigarettes.
I was speechless, although not smoking certainly has much to recommend it, and I would be grateful for your expert assistance. What on Earth might I have said, beyond the involuntary reaction that nearly escaped my lips?
GENTLE READER: Your fellow churchgoer has accused you of poor judgment and smelling bad while comparing you to a starving orphan.
Miss Manners does not doubt that she meant well. But her behavior was insulting -- and offering you money was itself an insult in the context you describe.
However, as it is rude to return one insult with another, the only proper response is to say, “Thank you, but I do not accept charity,” and pointedly return your attention to the church service -- or anything else that will end the conversation.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, email@example.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)