DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I have pet rats. They are trained domestic rats that bear little resemblance to the kind that live in subways.
The rats live in a cage, but I will sometimes take one out and put it on my shoulder while I do whatever needs to be done in the house (as is recommended by rat-care experts). If the doorbell rings when I am not expecting anyone, and I happen to have a rat on my shoulder, is it all right for me to answer the door with the rat still on my shoulder, or must I take the time to put that rat back in its cage and secure the cage, running the risk that during that time the person at the door will assume I’m not home and leave?
The rats never jump off my shoulder and do not bite, so there is no risk that any harm will come to the person on the other side of the door. But I do know that some people have an irrational dislike of rodents, so I don’t know if that possibility is something I need to accommodate.
GENTLE READER: Surprise! They surprise you, and you surprise them.
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This is not a principle that Miss Manners would apply to anyone who keeps a pet hyena or an ill-behaved rat. You do have a duty to protect others from danger, as well as from unwanted attentions from animals, dangerous or not.
In addition, it is thoughtful to extend this to allow for the possibility of the mere sight of your pet being upsetting. But that applies to people who enter your house by invitation or appointment. Those who lack the courtesy to call ahead cannot reasonably expect you to anticipate and cater to a mere prejudice.
Giving back unpleasing gifts
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’ve noticed that sometimes a gift is unwanted by a friend or family member, and instead of just giving it away they return it to me. They always make a point of noting that they need to be honest about not planning on using the gift and so are choosing to return it to me. I do feel hurt that what I chose for someone was incorrect.
I, on the other hand, never would do this to anyone. I’ve received many gifts that were not to my taste, but I just say thank you and either keep or donate them. It’s the thought that counts, right? Is it more important to be honest or to not hurt anyone’s feelings?
GENTLE READER: It is appalling how often these mean the same thing. Miss Manners has noticed that when someone declares an intention to be honest, nastiness is bound to follow.
Two things seemed to have escaped such people: Dishonesty is not the only alternative to honesty. There is also the highly underrated virtue of shutting up.
When someone prefaces a statement with the declaration of being honest, the implication is that honesty does not characterize that person’s other statements.
All that needs to be said about a present that does not please is a hearty thanks. To return it is an insult, as well as an additional burden on the giver to dispose of it.
Judith Martin writes the Miss Manners column with help from her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, MissManners.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.
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