> My nephew is getting married at a destination wedding in the south of France that will require a week’s stay. For a variety of reasons, including financial, I can’t attend. Do I politely decline with an explanation or simply decline?
J.G. / Salem
Simply decline. Your nephew will certainly infer your reasons, probably correctly. That it’s going to be a wedding with a small number of guests is to be expected, and surely it is intended to be that way.
Although it may seem the polite thing to do, your default should be to not give an explanation when declining an invitation to large events that will go on with or without you. That’s because:
1) Reasons can be argued with. And some people will — often the very people whose events you most want to avoid, coincidentally enough.
2) Reasons will be argued with (inside the inviter’s mind). Even if the other person wouldn’t dream of trying to strong-arm you into attending her child’s bar mitzvah, she won’t be able to keep from mentally evaluating your excuse relative to her invitation. You could hurt someone’s feelings and not realize it.
3) Sooner or later, you’ll have an event that you simply don’t want to attend or a reason for not attending that you don’t want to disclose. (Even if you live a pristine and upstanding life, there are always colonoscopies to be had.) If you’ve been giving friends and family excuses for your absences all along, it will look suspicious when you don’t.
> I work in a historic public building with marble floors, walls, and ceilings. Some people who work on our floor whistle in the halls. Not quietly, and mostly off-key. These people are very nice, and I and my colleagues do not want to hurt their feelings. We have talked about this many times and do not know how to handle it without giving offense. Should we talk to the chief of staff?
A.L. / Concord, New Hampshire
The next time one of you happens to cross paths with one of the Merry Whistlers (and if they’re that loud, an “accidental meeting’’ can be arranged quite easily), say something. Something blunt and cheerful. Something like “You probably don’t even realize this, but whistling really, really carries in this building.’’ Say it with a friendly grin. Then notice the sound of your own voice and drop to a stage whisper: “Everything really carries in these halls. So if you’re going to plot an overthrow, do it outside.’’ Habits can be hard to break. If someone does it again unthinkingly, stick your head out and whistle once, short and sharp, to get his attention.
You and your colleagues have discussed whistling so much that you have conjured a problem where none exists. The whistling isn’t some potentially embarrassing biological manifestation requiring great tact and kindness to address. (Oh, all right, perhaps it is, but I’m sure the whistlers think they sound fine, and, anyway, your objection is primarily to the volume, not the quality.) Nor are you accusing the whistlers of malice or stupidity — only of a harmless, fully human, and wholly annoying foible. So first calm down, and then pipe up.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.