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The Boston Globe

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Miss Conduct

If it quacks like a doc

Putting off a friend’s offer of alternative therapy politely. Plus, history’s worst tipping story.

Lucy Truman

I have a friend who is a practitioner of an “alternative therapy” that I consider rank quackery. I’ve never said so to her — she probably doesn’t share my view that hot toddies are great cold remedies, but to each her own, right? But how do I respond politely to her offer to “treat” me? She’s not inclined to take a simple “Thanks, but no” for an answer. I don’t want to be hurtful, and I do appreciate her kindness, but I’m really not interested.

E.G./ Boston

Try what psychologists call a “placebic excuse”: a tautological sentence that sounds reasonable on the surface. (The classic version of this is “Can I use the copier ahead of you? I need to make some copies.” Believe it or not, this works, while merely asking people if you can cut the copier line does not. Note that there is not much else one can do with a copier but make copies.) Your version might sound something like “I’m on a path with my [lupus/misaligned chakras/IBS] and I don’t want to wander off that.” “On a path” is a deeply meaningful phrase to the kinds of people who believe in alternative medicine.

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If she continues to push, tell her that you have different opinions about health and you would prefer not to discuss your areas of disagreement. But don’t tie yourself in knots trying to avoid offense. People who won’t take a simple “no” for an answer — or a simple “yes,” for that matter — have only themselves to blame when they eventually hear something they’d rather not.

An acquaintance asked me to lunch, his treat. We ate at a restaurant that I frequent often, and I left a generous tip because the service was great and my “friend” was a total jerk to the waiter. When Mr. Congeniality saw the size of the tip, which the cheap [expletive] thought was too much, apparently, he actually walked back to the table and picked up and pocketed half of it! What would you do? I was gobsmacked and speechless. I haven’t seen him or returned his calls since.

P.B. / Windsor

The first thing you ought to do, which you probably have, is to return to the restaurant and give the server the rest of tip, along with an apology for your lunch date’s behavior. You’re a regular at this joint, I take it, and you mustn’t let your former friend alienate you from a place where you enjoy that comfortable status.

What you should have done when your friend pocketed the tip was to say, “Did you just take the tip I left on that table?” in your outside voice. One of the most effective ways to stop bad behavior in its tracks is simply to name it: “Did you just call me ‘Sugarlips’?” “Is this your backpack on the priority seat?” Your “friend” would huff and puff defensively. You then would say, authoritatively, “Put it back.” Once you have named the offending behavior, you state a preferred alternative with equal brevity and clarity: “My name is Allison.” “I’m disabled and need this seat.” All eyes would be on your friend as he shamefacedly returned the tip. Wouldn’t you have been the hero! Of course, had I been in the situation, I probably would have stood there gobsmacked and speechless myself. The vast majority of people would, so don’t beat yourself up over it.

And you have my blessing to either cut Mr. Congeniality off with no explanation or to give him a piece of your mind. Start 2014 without him!

 Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.

NEED ADVICE ON NAVIGATING A FRIENDSHIP IN THE NEW YEAR? Write to Miss Conduct at missconduct@globe.com. And read her blog at boston.com/missconduct.

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