Q. What do you do about a neighbor who, at least once a week, borrows some food item she needs urgently, but never pays back? After awhile, the cost adds up. I want to help her out, but am starting to resent these requests.


A. Since she is forgetting her manners about promptly returning anything she borrows, you have two possible approaches. If you are good friends, say “Hey, Ophelia, you have asked for almost a dozen eggs in the past month. When are you replacing them?” Ideally, she will be embarrassed to realize this and will bring you a dozen eggs immediately and replace anything she borrows in the future. If she doesn’t, or if you are uncomfortable reminding her, then it is neither rude nor incorrect to respond to future requests with, “Sorry, Ophelia, I do have some eggs but I need them myself.” When she hears enough “no’s,” she will, hopefully, stop asking.


Q. My friend insists that asparagus is a finger food. I don’t agree. Who is right?


A. Technically, you both are correct. Asparagus, unadorned by sauce or butter, when served with other foods you might pick up with your hands, is considered a finger food. Asparagus, when served with foods you eat with a fork, would be cut with a knife and eaten with a fork, as would asparagus served with a sauce or butter.


Q.  I am a widow and have started dating, but I have no idea about who pays on a date these days. If my date invites me do I assume he is treating or do I insist on paying my half, or what?


A. There is no longer an expectation that a man pays for everything, but figuring out how to chip in gracefully can be tricky. The most comfortable way to deal with this is to ask. “I’d love to see that show with you, and the 21st is clear for me. What do I owe you for my ticket?” If you have had a meal in a restaurant, don’t grab for the bill but rather take out your wallet and ask, “What’s my share?” If your date insists that he is paying, thank him, and if you enjoy his company, then you issue the next invitation and state that it is your treat so that is clear that you don’t expect him to bear the cost of all your outings together.


Q. My four-year-old daughter is really shy and grabs my legs and presses her face against them when we are meeting or greeting someone. Is this rude, and what can I do or say?


A. It is not rude, and you shouldn’t try to force her to say hello or insist that she shake hands or answer a question about how old she is (the usual question people ask). Instead, say, “Elliana is very shy, so please forgive her reticence. It is very nice to meet you (or see you again)” and leave it at that.


Wondering what’s the polite way to handle a situation? Please email your question to Catherine Michaels in care of [email protected]