Miss Manners

Published11/11/2007 12:08 AM

Q. As a full-time graduate student, my schedule lends itself to more flexibility than those of my four roommates, who are all working professionals. Consequently, I have been asked to take them to airports and train stations (for both work and personal reasons) at nearly all hours of the day and night.

Usually, I comply with their requests. One time I even took a roommate to the train station at 3 a.m.


I've noticed that when I ask for a favor, no one seems to help, for reasons having little to do with scheduling. In fact, I've become upset over their reluctance to help me out. However, I am beginning to think that my reasons for being irritated are more than a little self-centered. After all, transporting people to and from the airport is something I chose to do as their friend, and they made no promises of reciprocation.

Yet I also would like for them to help me when I need it. I guess, Miss Manners, I need you to set my attitude to rights, and to reinforce that my gift of help was just that -- a gift.

A. Usually, it is youngsters who, having been told to write letters of thanks to their grandmothers, argue that giving becomes impure if there is any expectation of a duty in return. You are generous to apply this idea to yourself.

Nevertheless, Miss Manners does not buy it.

Civilization is based on the idea of reciprocity. It can't always be exactly calculated or timed, and allowances are made for circumstances and individual ability. If children reciprocate the care their parents take of them, it is apt to be decades later.

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People with limited resources get full credit for reciprocating whether or not their hospitality and presents are as lavish as what they are given.

But a system by which some people always give and others never give back does not work. Whether you wish to continue doing favors for these ingrates is not for Miss Manners to say. But she can tell you that you are justified in resenting their attitude.

Q. Before another Thanksgiving comes and goes, please tell me how to use my gravy boats. I have two: one with my good china that has an attached dish/plate at the bottom and a spout; and the other with my everyday dishes that has a spout but no attached plate.

Am I to pour from the spout with each one? Or am I to use some sort of spoon? And if I use the spoon, then what? Do I put this spoon in the boat or on the attached dish. And what if the gravy boat is passed?

A. The chief idea here is not to spread the gravy around -- around the tablecloth, around your guests' laps, or around the laps of the guests sitting next to them.

So while a footed gravy boat with a spout does not require a gravy ladle or an underliner, Miss Manners recommends both for thick gravies and thick-fingered diners.

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