Life Advice



Umbrella Usurper's Actions Utterly Unfair

Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin on

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I came out of work in a heavy rainstorm. As I walked to my car, a man who works at the same place, but whom I barely know, came up behind me, put his hand on my umbrella and pulled it toward him. At that point it was half on me and half on him.

I wanted to tell him off or pull it away from him, but since he works near me, all I said was that I was getting soaked. He ignored me and did not take his hand off the umbrella. We walked all the way to the cars and I was pretty much drenched.

Miss Manners, am I obligated to let someone share my umbrella? If not, what should I have done or said?

GENTLE READER: Under normal circumstances, it is a kind gesture to share one's umbrella with acquaintances who would otherwise be drenched. The general rule is that the taller person holds it, giving coverage priority to the owner.

However, Miss Manners is afraid that what this man did was not only presumptuous, but also somewhat menacing. Startling people by taking even partial possession of their belongings is normally considered illegal, and at the very least, it is certainly not civil.

Not wanting to reward this man, but feeling the need to emphasize the point, Miss Manners suggests that you bring him a present: his own cheap umbrella. The accompanying message could be, So that we don't both get soaked next time, perhaps you would like to keep this at work. She would understand if you chose to leave this as a note, however, rather than say it in person.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My ex-husband's niece just got married a few weeks back, and I sent her a wedding present. Nothing large, but with sincere congratulations for the couple's future happiness.

My ex and I get along well -- we were married a long time and parted on good terms -- but it seems his family doesn't feel the same way. The gift was returned and there was a credit back on my card.


This isn't the first instance of his family being less than friendly. It is becoming a problem for me, and limiting any chance of having future events for our two children that are not filled with tension -- which is what I don't want to happen. How do I handle this?

GENTLE READER: Write the niece a letter saying that you are sorry that the present did not agree with her, but that it was sent with the best intentions. You further hope that the family -- and her cousins -- will be able to get along well at the next gathering.

Miss Manners finds it just as likely that the bride was offended at the present not coming from her registry as its being from you. That is rude and not much comfort, but at least it is less personal.


(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website,; to her email,; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)






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