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

Don’t Read Too Much Into Text-Message Banter

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was surprised by my daughter-in-law’s method of declining an invitation to a family function.

I had sent a text explaining that two of the previously invited relatives would not be there due to illness, but that we had plenty of food to consume. I received a text from my daughter-in-law stating that my granddaughter was “still stuffy, and I would rather stay home where it is warm and comfy and put less mileage on my car.”

The daughter-in-law has developed a car infatuation, and I was hurt by the idea that she would put the car over family, as well as the implication that my house is not “warm and comfy.” I think I should also explain that I jump in the car and drive that distance to babysit my wonderful granddaughter at least once a week.

Am I being too sensitive, or was the text unnecessarily rude? We have always had a good relationship.

GENTLE READER: Texting is so wonderfully efficient because it strips away both formality and context, sometimes to a ludicrous degree.

Suggesting your daughter-in-law come over because someone has to eat all that roast beef, for example, might not have been the most gracious invitation of all time. Or it might have been understood as lighthearted, in-family banter.

Whichever is the case, Miss Manners would assume that your daughter-in-law was answering in kind, and perhaps should not be taken entirely literally. A more important question is: At what point was the refusal made? Refusing an invitation is not rude, but canceling after having accepted is.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: When I held a two-day yard sale, one gentleman bought several things the first day and told me that he would be back the next day to negotiate the price of an additional item. He did not say what time he would return.

I gave him my business card, but he did not contact me. About two hours into the sale the next day, another gentleman made an offer on the object, which I accepted.

An hour after that, the first gentleman returned and was upset that it was no longer available. He still purchased a couple more things, and I threw in a few small items for free.

Was I wrong not to hold the object until the first gentleman returned? What are the rules of etiquette for such situations?

GENTLE READER: Those who are untroubled by ambiguity may reasonably assert that as the first gentleman did not explicitly ask you to hold the item, there was no obligation for you to do so. (His assertion that he would return to negotiate was not a promise to buy; said negotiation might not have been consummated by a sale.)

Miss Manners understands that there was confusion all around. Your solution -- selling to the second buyer, but also apologizing to, and partially compensating, the first buyer -- is both defensible and polite. You could, alternatively, have explained the situation to the second person and taken his information as a hedge against gentleman No. 1’s non-reappearance.

(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.)