DEAR MISS MANNERS: I teach at a small college where, before COVID, I would regularly meet prospective students and their parents in my office on campus.

Occasionally these parents are prominent in politics, and given the deep rifts in our political culture these days, I wonder how I should treat a parent whose positions are abhorrent to me.

I would welcome the student just as I would welcome anyone, and I would greet the parent distantly but politely, since while on campus I try to be nonpolitical.

But if that parent were to extend a hand, can I — and should I — refuse to take it, perhaps with a polite “I can’t shake your hand”?

GENTLE READER: If it would make you feel virtuous to do so — and provided you do not state the reason, but rather allow it to be thought that there is some physical reason making it difficult for you to shake hands.

In other words, as long as you do not intrude your politics into the situation, embarrassing, if not infuriating, your student as well as the parents.

You are free to oppose these people and their views in the political arena. But to insult them personally is to set a standard of incivility and to compromise your commitment, as a professor, to settling differences through debate and not insults.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I grew up being told that one should always ask “What can I bring?” when invited for dinner. If the answer is “just yourself” (the most polite response, I was told), always bring something anyway, such as a nice bottle of wine.

When I host dinners, I never expect anyone to bring anything. (Between you and me, I prefer if they don’t, as I’ve got the meal planned. Although, if they do, I thank them.) But I have one friend who invites me to dinner, then responds to my “What can I bring?” with a detailed, lengthy shopping list: Bring this specific wine, bread from this certain bakery, this exact salad (with a linked recipe), etc.

That seems fine if it’s a potluck dinner, but is it really OK to ask someone to bring $70 of liquor and groceries, and send them on a scavenger hunt, when inviting them over?

What’s the best answer to “What can I bring”?

GENTLE READER: How about not asking the question? With all due respect to your upbringing, Miss Manners believes that it is time to stop this much-abused practice.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: A friend of many years has returned several birthday or “just because” gifts I have given her.

She returns the items a few months after she receives them, telling me she has no use for them or she doesn’t care for the color. I put a lot of thought into these presents and I live on a fixed income. I feel shamed when she does this and don’t say anything back.

Please tell me what, if anything, to say to her. I have stopped giving her gifts after the last one she returned.

GENTLE READER: But you have already solved the problem. Miss Manners agrees that people who do not appreciate getting presents should not be subjected to receiving them.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, [email protected]; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.


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