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

Balancing Multiple (Theoretical) Job Offers

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’ll be receiving my degree soon. Since I am in a competitive field, I am applying to a lot of jobs. Naturally, some jobs are less desirable than others. I don’t want to lose any job offers I may receive, but I don’t want to accept a position if a better one comes along.

What is the proper way to postpone accepting a job offer so that it still remains a viable option, while allowing time for other potential offers? How long can I reasonably expect an offer to stay on the table?

GENTLE READER: This is a question of business etiquette, which, at least in this case, means your behavior should be businesslike: efficient, practical and honest.

You can reasonably expect a few days’ grace -- more, if your would-be employer already knows that it will require complex considerations such as negotiating with a spouse or moving to another city. Just as with salary negotiations, you are free to ask for what you want or need -- and the employer is free to reject the request or make a counter-offer.

There is no harm in explicitly saying that you are weighing it against other offers. Miss Manners warns strongly against untruths or going back on your word, but she promises not to inquire if those other offers have actually been made.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was sitting in a government office’s waiting room and a child sneezed several times without covering her mouth. Her parents did not remind her to sneeze into a tissue or her sleeve.

I was frozen between not wanting to be rude by chastising strangers, and fearing that I might catch a disease, so I said nothing.

I cannot always avoid public places. With influenza, colds and now coronavirus menacing us, what polite thing can I say to remind people how not to spread their germs?

GENTLE READER: Recent events have reminded us all of the damage that can be inflicted by infectious diseases. One can usually protect oneself in the situation you describe by moving out of range.

But your question is: At what point do we all become public health officials, who are not only allowed, but required, to override the etiquette dictate against correcting other people’s behavior?

In the situation you describe, it is possible for you, as a private citizen, to satisfy the requirements of both safety and etiquette: Say “Poor dear” and tell the parents that you would be happy to give little Norah a tissue.

Someone will no doubt correct Miss Manners, that public health is not to be trifled with by pausing to consider something as trivial as manners. She reminds that reader that etiquette is never more important than in trying times. And demanding that the family remove the sneezing child seems to her to violate another thing health professionals are telling us: Panic makes things worse.

(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.)