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Response to "Carpooling courtesy"

Posted by Robin Abrahams  April 27, 2012 05:39 PM

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I choose Monday questions for many qualities. Sometimes they are questions that are out of my area of personal expertise, like questions about the finer points of child-raising or condo-association-belonging. Sometimes the question is too long for the column. Sometimes it's one that I've answered versions of before, and am curious to see if my readers have other solutions than I've come up with. And sometimes I'll put up a question because I don't understand it, and I think, "Maybe it's me, maybe my readers will see what the problem is."

Apparently, this week, it wasn't me. The LW was bothered that people to whom s/he occasionally gives rides will bring coffee without offering any. This is the part that really confused me: "There is never an apology or offer to provide coffee for me. This seems to me to be selfish and rude. I wouldn't mind if it was a bottle of water, but coffee?" 

Doesn't it seem ruder not to give a driver a bottle of water? I'm not a bottled-water person, but if I were, and someone were picking me up for a concert, I'd definitely bring a bottle for them too. Because everyone takes their water the same way

There was general agreement that the LW, or any ride-giver, is well within rights to 1) forbid food or drink in their car, and 2) request gas money. Many people also made the point that if the LW was becoming so irritated, it might be time to stop giving rides for a while. As shiplesp wrote: 

Honestly, if someone taking you up on an offer of help leaves you feeling ill used, then stop offering. Helping people with an open heart can be the source of much joy. Carrying around a ledger book to be sure things are balanced just sucks the life out of the experience. 

Agreed. I tend to assume as matter of sanity that people are already doing me all sorts of kindnesses and favors I don't even realize. So if I do an acquaintance or friend a solid, I'm happy to be thanked, but I feel that any kindnesses I can do in this world are but a pathetic payback to that which I've already been the recipient. If a given person causes that feeling to dissipate into a vague sense of annoyance and "hey, wait a minute here ...", the favor train gets cut off. 

The coffee thing remained somewhat of a mystery. The vast majority of commenters stood up for the notion that portable potables need not be shared, unless you are actually in a coffee shop with a person, or in your home, or some such. But in general, we live in a society in which caffeinated beverages are both ubiquitous and customizable enough that it can be assumed everyone is responsible for and capable of acquiring what they like for themselves. Some folks disagree, like olderandwisermom

I'm guessing this might be a generational issue. Let's take the car out of the mix to eliminate the fear of spills and the aroma in a very enclosed space. What if the LW had invited a co-worker to her office in order to teach her how to use unfamiliar software, as a favor to the co-worker. She (the LW) might not expect the guest to show up with a beverage in hand without saying "I'm going to stop on my way for coffee; can I bring you something?" It's a matter of courtesy not to eat or drink in front of someone without offering to share, especially when you are in the other's space. I think that many younger people see their to-go cups and bottles as personal accessories, not as food-type things to be shared. I don't think most of them would pull out a tin of Altoids or a pack of gum without offering some to people in the immediate vicinity. 

I suspect that whether or not people find personal-coffee-bringing rude has to do with age, but also with context (work v. social) and temperament. If a friend were picking me up at noon to go to an art exhibit, I'd suggest we get coffee before we go. If she were picking me up at 7am for a work-related event, I'd no more think to provide her with coffee than an ICU patient would think to offer a frazzled pastoral counselor a hit off his oxygen tube.
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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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