DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was sent a photo of a very pregnant niece who was due in two days. The photo was shot over her head. I asked her mother if her daughter was having twins.
My sister said I was rude. I thought I was asking an honest question. Who is right?
GENTLE READER: Questions about pregnancy — both if and how much — are never a good idea. The penalty and embarrassment for guessing wrong, Miss Manners finds, is just too great a risk. It was still impolite of your sister/niece’s mother (?) to point it out, but if she saved you from saying it directly to your niece/sister’s daughter (?), then she was not wrong about the sentiment.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’m a student, and have been for an agonizingly long time. Most of my friends are better off than I am, but have nearly always generously insisted on paying for me when we go out, waving it off as being “no trouble.” They rarely want to do the things I suggest that are free or inexpensive.
While I have made up my mind to no longer go out unless I can pay for myself, something has happened that both increased my resolve and caused me to wonder about my obligations.
A few months ago, a friend of mine asked me to watch her dog and residence for her while she went out of town for a week. I’ve done this before for her and others, and she did offer to pay. I begged off this time because I had just returned home from a month of doing just that for two other families, but also because the last two times I have been to her house, all the guest linens were in want of a wash and her housekeeping in general is lacking (although I kept that to myself).
I’ve come to find out that she is very upset with me, thinking that because of the many times she has paid for me in the past, I owe her this sort of thing, and that I should probably be offering to do it for free. Moreover, she feels that because I am so often strapped for cash, I should be grabbing every job I can.
I have always thanked my friends, in person and with notes, for their generosity. I budget each year for birthday and Christmas gifts for them, and try to squeeze in an extra gift when I can, even if only homemade ones.
When I can pay for myself, I do. I have occasionally been fortunate enough to treat them to a movie and did so happily. I order from the lower or lower-middle of the menu.
In short, I try to reciprocate. I don’t believe that I am obligated to be her dog sitter whenever she needs one, but maybe I am wrong. Should I be doing more?
GENTLE READER: Exactly how agonizingly long have you been a student? Never mind.
Miss Manners agrees that your friends’ generosity — however frequent — hardly counts if it comes with demands attached. And certainly does not constitute you being an on-call dog sitter, house watcher, future au pair or indentured servant. She commends you for ceasing to accept such questionable charity.