Q: I attended a house party held in the home of an antiques dealer whose home was filled with magnificent furniture. In the distant past, a friend of mine and I talked often about how one must be taught to sit properly in any chair.
Well, as you would imagine, an oversized guest at this party sat indelicately on a small, expensive antique chair and broke one of the legs. The hostess was in another room. I heard and saw the crack because I was nearby. The chair was definitely seriously damaged.
Moments later, I left with another guest who gave me a ride home. I never told the hostess. Was I wrong? And, if I was supposed to tell the hostess, just how could I do that without embarrassing the awkward guest?
A: The hostess was going to find out whether you told her or not and was probably going to make her own assumptions about the culprit.
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Miss Manners fears that the only reason to have told her would be to recuse yourself from blame. The guest who broke it should have confessed and offered to repair the damage. Perhaps he or she did; you left shortly after the crack. But not much good could come from your turning that person in.
Q: I teach in a large high school, and two of my fellow teachers have now suffered the tragic loss of a family member. In one case, the father of my colleague did not have life insurance, and the cost of undertaking services fell on his shoulders. The staff took up a collection to which I was happy to contribute.
Then another teacher lost an unborn child very late in the pregnancy. Of course, my heart went out to this family. Again, we took up a collection to buy gift cards for things the family may need.
That family was deeply saddened, but in no financial crisis. In my day, we might collect for flowers or a tree that the family could plant in memory. If we were close to a family suffering a loss, we would take over a meal, so the gift cards may substitute for that meal.
We all were upset by the loss, but is a monetary gift appropriate? I am uncomfortable with this to the point that I don’t want my personal losses shared in fear that any loss might be met with a financial gift. No amount of money can replace a loved one.
A: No, but people often don’t know what to say or do when tragedy strikes, and the first colleague’s financial situation gave the staff a specific purpose for their donations. Unfortunately, that set a precedent.
You could lead a movement away from automatic public solicitations, regardless of financial circumstances, by initiating a gift of food or flowers the next time tragedy strikes.
Miss Manners sincerely hopes that no one believes a financial reward is payment for grief, even if wayward lawyers would often have you believe so.
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.