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

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Although I am not an artist of any kind, several of my friends and acquaintances are locally known professionals, and others are hobbyists who turn out beautiful work. I am occasionally invited to their openings, and I am never sure what to say to the artist on her big night.

Since I’m not knowledgeable, I can’t make comments like, “The brushstrokes on that camellia are out of this world,” at least not convincingly.

Ideas? Or should I stick to generalities?

Also, I was struck by how much one person’s paintings reminded me of the works of a group of world-renowned Canadian painters. Would it be OK to say something like, “Your take on the rocks and cliffs reminds me so very much of Tom Thompson,” or is that insulting?

GENTLE READER: It is not hard to please artists -- or any other creative people -- with compliments. Any enthusiastic generality will do. And while you are not there as an art critic, Miss Manners has a kind remark even if you really hate the work: “You must be so proud.”

As for comparisons, she suggests asking whether the other artist might have been an influence, which is slightly more respectable than suggesting that there might be some poor imitating going on.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have three elderly lady neighbors in my apartment complex. We’ve gotten closer since COVID, and for many months, we had socially distant drinks on the porch every afternoon.

I have been chafing under the expectation that I will be on the porch with them every day. Further, I don’t feel like I can leave or come back during the assigned time without having to explain myself. They send texts to invite me back to the porch. They keep tabs on me, to the extent that one calls me to see if I’m out when my car is not in its customary spot.

How do I get them to back off? I have told them that I won’t be down as much, and I haven’t joined them lately. I know they mean well and are bored, but the attention is intense. I feel trapped and guilty.

GENTLE READER: But they know where you live.

That does not mean that they need to know what you are up to. Being issued an invitation, or many of them, does not require you to accept. Think of it as a standing invitation (with too many reminders), which you need accept only when you feel like doing so. That they are able to meet often does not mean that you are.

The best excuse is no excuse, accompanied by an expression of regret: “I’m sorry, I can’t this time.” To attend and then leave, it is, “I’m sorry, I have to go now.” Should they dare to ask why, the response should be, “Because I have things I must do.”

And you needn’t answer the telephone when they call to check. An occasional, “Sorry, I don’t pick up when I’m busy” should be enough to discourage 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.)