Dear Miss Manners: My husband and I have pet rats. They are trained domestic rats that bear
little resemblance to the types that live in subways.
The rats live in a cage, but I 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 have a rat on my shoulder, is it all right for me to
answer the door, or must I put the rat back in its cage, running the risk that the person at the
door will leave?
The rats never jump off my shoulder and do not bite, so there is no risk of harm 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; you surprise them.
This is not a principle that Miss Manners would apply to anyone who keeps a pet hyena. You do
have a duty to protect others from danger as well as unwanted attention from animals, dangerous or
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 expect you to anticipate and cater to a mere prejudice.
Dear Miss Manners:
I’ve noticed that sometimes, when a gift is unwanted by friends or family members, they return
it to me.
They always make a point of noting they need to be honest about not using the gift and are
choosing to return it to me. I do feel hurt that what I chose for someone was incorrect.
I, on the other hand, would never do this to anyone. I’ve received many gifts not to my taste,
but I just say “Thank you” and either keep or donate them. Is it more important to be honest or not
to 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 follows.
Dishonesty is not the only alternative to honesty. There is also the highly underrated virtue of
All that must be said about a gift that does not please is “Thank you.” To return it is
Dear Miss Manners:
Three weeks ago, a high-school classmate, Sue, informed me that a third classmate, Kelly, was
throwing a party for our class as well as for a few classes preceding and following ours. Kelly
asked Sue to help get the word out. Anyway, I eagerly accepted the invitation from Sue to Kelly’s
A few days later, I had second thoughts and called Sue and said I really didn’t want to go. She
asked why, and I told her, honestly, that none of my close friends from those days was going and I
didn’t feel like making small talk with classmates I essentially never see.
She informed me she had already told Kelly that I was coming and that Kelly was excited. I asked
Sue to please tell Kelly I said hello, and she said she would.
I am concerned that I hurt Kelly’s feelings?
Gentle Reader: Is everyone in this situation still in high school?
Miss Manners is certain that your letter indicates not, but all parties are acting as if they
Yes, it is rude to decline an invitation saying that you do not feel like making small talk.
(Miss Manners hates to inform you that that is the very definition of a party.)
You could set an example of maturity by talking to them both directly.
Write to Miss Manners — who sometimes responds with help from daughter Jacobina Martin or son
Nicholas Ivor Martin — at www. missmanners.com.