Miss Manners: How do I avoid the trap of ‘Are you busy?’

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I don’t understand when someone asks, “Are you busy tomorrow?” or “What are you doing Friday?” If you say “no” or “nothing,” it’s like you’re automatically free to do them a favor. I find this very rude.

If I want to ask for something, I always say, “Are you busy tomorrow? Because I need a ride to the doctor” or whatever.

How do I counter the assumption that since I’m not busy, I want to do something for them? Sometimes I just want to do nothing.

How can I politely tell someone I don’t want to watch their kids or go shopping with them?

GENTLE READER: Your complaint is valid, but for consistency, Miss Manners suggests you revise your own script when you are doing the asking. Opening with “Are you busy tomorrow because ... " is what we are trying to stamp out, even if your construction gives the recipient a few seconds to think up a prior commitment.

The answer, when you are asked about your own schedule, is “Why?” -- which Miss Manners instructs you to deliver with a winning smile, not a suspicious sulk.

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DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I were invited to my best friend’s house to have dinner with her and her cousin. We had only been there a short time when the cousin began berating a church for allowing gay marriage.


I waited for my friend to say something, but she did not. I said, “We disagree about this subject, so let’s not discuss religion or politics.” I began a conversation about other topics, but the cousin continued to make comments about undocumented people, open borders, school lunches, etc.

The cousin then asked me about my daughter’s recent engagement. I said she was with a very nice man originally from Syria. She said that he must be in a terrorist cell. I, of course, said, “Absolutely not.”

My friend said nothing. I was in her home and couldn’t say what I really wanted to say. We finished our meal quickly and left.

A few days later, I asked my friend why she did not stop the cousin from insulting my family. She denied hearing the insults and gave the excuse that she had had too much wine. My friend was seated beside me and had to have heard the remarks.

My friend said she was sorry, but I am still upset that she didn’t defend me. My feelings are deeply hurt and my friendship with her has changed. Should I just get over it?

GENTLE READER: Not being entirely clear what steps are involved in getting over it, Miss Manners takes you to be asking if you should accept your friend’s apology, and whether you are right to let it affect the friendship.

The former will depend on how sincere you judge the apology to be, and the latter on how likely she is to place you in a similarly outrageous position in the future.

Miss Manners | Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Miss Manners, written by Judith Martin and her two perfect children, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Marin, has chronicled the continuous rise and fall of American manners since 1978. Send your questions to