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Miss Conduct

Good etiquette to a ‘T’

The right (and wrong) way to give up a seat on the MBTA. Plus, splitting a hotel tab with a drunk guest.

Lucy Truman

I am a healthy 18-year-old girl, and I often offer my seat to elderly or disabled people on my bus commute. This morning there were three older men standing near me, two of whom were engrossed in conversation. Should I have offered the seat to the one who looked the oldest? Should I have offered it generally? I’m embarrassed to say that I spent the whole ride thinking about the proper protocol, and by the time I realized that I should just do something, I was already at Alewife. If this happens again, what should I do?

E.E. / Lexington

When there are more people who need seats around you than there are seats underneath you, announce, “Would anyone like to sit down? I’m getting off shortly” and step aside, then let the gaggle do the Alphonse-et-Gaston routine until someone takes the seat (preferably before Alewife). You don’t have to play referee, and you shouldn’t try. Nobody wants to be informed that they just won the MBTA’s Most Decrepit, and many folks have disabilities, injuries, or illnesses that aren’t visible. And often other able-bodied folks will follow your good example and there will be enough seats for all.

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I wholeheartedly applaud your good commuter etiquette, E.E., and can guarantee that your letter kindled a cheerful glow in the hearts of many readers. However, may I suggest that you be somewhat stringent in your assessments of who is old enough to deserve your seat. At your age, everyone older than 60 looks the same. You can save your invitations for those who are elderly or who have mobility devices or seem to be in discomfort.

But don’t worry that you have to be a diagnostician on the level of Gregory House in order to avoid giving offense. If anyone should ever respond rudely to your offer of a seat, reply “The offer was not an insult” and sit back down. Deliver the line well, and your fellow commuters will applaud. Being offered a seat is always a courtesy, and wounded vanity is no excuse for meanness.

I shared a room with a family friend at a wedding. She drank quite a bit and threw up all over the place. I wound up sleeping on the floor of another friend’s room. With the help of a hotel employee and a towel over my mouth, I was able to retrieve most of my things the next morning, though anything in the bathroom I had to leave behind. When I brought up reimbursing her for my half of the room, she said, “Pay me what you think is fair.” What should I do?

Anonymous / Newton

Don’t pay anything. You didn’t get use of the room. Your drunken roommate ought to have acknowledged that herself, but sometimes when people do us wrong, they don’t know how to make it right, and it is on us to tell them. Be cheerful but firm about it, and make it clear that this settles the matter. (It sounds as if this is someone you are not especially close to, so no heart-to-heart about how her irresponsible behavior affected you. You’re concerned about your checking account and your toiletries, not your wounded feelings.) Something like “Given how everything panned out, I couldn’t sleep in the room, so let’s consider my share of it comped. As far as anything else is concerned, what happened in Vegas stays in Vegas. We good?” Then let it go. I’m sure Ms. AbFab is quite eager never to think of the occasion again.

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

NEED ADVICE ON NAVIGATING CITY LIFE WITH GRACE? Write to Miss Conduct at missconduct@globe.com. And get advice live during a Boston.com chat with Robin Abrahams this Wednesday, January 22 from noon to 1 p.m.

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