Advice Columns

Showing good will requires deft touch


EAR MISS MANNERS: I have at many times read in the paper about people buying meals, etc., for others as a gesture of kindness. I have found myself in situations where I would like to show similar good will, but have been hesitant to do so for fear of insulting the intended recipient. Two examples come to mind: I was shopping at the local supermarket and observed an older gentleman with two little girls (undoubtedly his granddaughters), and they seemed to be shopping very selectively as if they did not have a great deal of money to buy everything they wanted. I wanted to give him $20 and tell him to buy his girls something good for dinner, but was unable to approach him because I didn't want to insult him.
Another time I was flying home, and there was a young man in military uniform sitting across the aisle from me. When the flight attendant came around offering food for purchase, could I have told her, “I'll take a snack box, and I’d also like to buy that gentleman whatever he wants”? Please advise how I might delicately offer a gesture of good will in the future. GENTLE READER:

Which kind of good will do you want to offer?

One type is paying for someone for whom the cost might be difficult. Another is doing so to offer thanks. And a third is to start a flirtation.

In the case of the grandfather, you don’t really know that money was a problem. He may be teaching the girls to shop carefully and setting a limit, as any sensible adult would do.

In any case, how would he have explained a handout from you to them without embarrassment? The only polite way to have done this would have been to slip the money to the cashier, and, when he discovered his bill was already paid, to say, “You’re such an adorable family, I wanted to treat you.”

As for your fellow passenger, you could have asked if you could buy him a snack as a gesture of appreciation for his service. Miss Manners notes that you should then have been prepared for his interpreting it as flirtation.

No card for grandma DEAR MISS MANNERS: Mother’s Day has come and gone, and once again, our eldest daughter wouldn’t send her grandmother a card.
The fact that she didn’t send me one, either, is irrelevant. She claims that my mother is not her mother, so she doesn't have to send her a card. I say that my mother is in my daughter’s line of mothers, so she should be acknowledged. Since my mother won't be with us many more years, how should I deal with this daughter’s lack of understanding before next year? The truth is that this daughter is so much like my mother that it’s scary. Maybe that’s the problem. GENTLE READER:

Or maybe the problem is your trying to force this issue. Surely your real object is to foster a bond between your mother and your daughter, and a once-a-year card would hardly do that.

Miss Manners hopes that you can force yourself to use a pleasantly intriguing and even somewhat complimentary tone when you tell your daughter that she and her grandmother are much alike. Rather than explaining how, you should say, “You really ought to get to know her. I think you and she would understand each other very well.”

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