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ETIQUETTE ISN'T BIG PROBLEM FOR BANK ROBBERS

Although this question is purely hypothetical, I have been troubled about it for years.

If a lady or gentleman were a bank robber, should he or she use conventions of etiquette such as "please" and "thank you" in plying his or her trade?I hope no one will need this information, but for the sake of curiosity, I must ask.

GENTLE READER - All right, all right, Miss Manners believes you. She thinks. The fact that she gripped her hand over the clasp of her pocketbook when you approached is purely coincidental.

If your question is whether politeness would help a bank robber advance in his or her profession, the answer is probably no (although it may well be of assistance to a jewel thief, embezzler or anyone else whose doings are made easier by charm and trust). As far as conveying deference is concerned, there is just not that much difference between "Stick 'em up" and "Stick 'em up, please."

But the more interesting question, which is the one Miss Manners hopes you are asking, is whether a person who has no morals should also do without manners, for the sake of some kind of pseudo-honorable consistency.

Because astute people have noticed that a person can have manners without having morals, they condemn manners for being misleading. It is also, of course, possible to have morals without manners. We have quite a few people like that nowadays, who go around rudely making other people feel terrible for not measuring up to their standards, in everything from body weight to philosophical commitments.

Obviously it is better to have both morals and manners. Miss Manners does not deny that morality is the more serious virtue, but wishes to point out that the two are related. The chief premise of manners is a readiness to temper one's selfish wishes for the communal good, which is not a bad place to start building morality. In fact, family etiquette - "Don't hit the baby, who has feelings just like yours" - is usually the first lesson in morality.

So the worst case is to have neither manners nor morals.

A bank robber who follows the forms of consideration toward others may, sooner or later, come to understand that robbing banks is a violation of that principle.

DEAR MISS MANNERS - As a result of a major storm, many homes in my town were damaged, flooded or destroyed, including one belonging to an acquaintance of mine. She contacted me for advice (I'm a general contractor) and, in the course of conversation, asked if I would allow her to use my guest room while her house was being repaired. (I am not doing the work.)

This was over seven weeks ago. Her house had only 6 inches of water. The repairs could have been completed and the house made livable in less than one week.

But my guest is taking this opportunity to do major renovations and is not planning to return home until it is complete - after 11 weeks.

When I assumed that her stay would be two weeks or less, I did not request payment for rent or utilities. In the ensuing weeks, she offered once to contribute to the heating bill, and I politely declined.

She has made herself at home in every way - behavior I would expect from a guest, but not from a storm victim who has overstayed her welcome. She has been part of my home entertaining, has used my laundry supplies and some food staples, and has generally invaded my lifestyle.

Miss Manners, I am a generous person and happy to share my good fortune. Under the circumstances, I feel uncomfortable withdrawing my hospitality or asking for a contribution to the household expenses. I will probably suffer in silence, but I feel abused and used.

My "guest" is financially well off and has been given a generous insurance settlement for the storm damage. She has a very good job and is probably more comfortable financially than I am. We are both single and live alone. Before this, we were casual friends who saw each other socially two or three times a year.

What are my responsibilities as host, and hers as guest?

GENTLE READER - Hers is to go home or to a hotel. But as she shows no inclination to do either, yours is to get your house back.

Do this by saying: "I was glad to be of service to you and I enjoyed having you, but I'm afraid I can't keep you here any longer. Please make some other arrangements by Sunday, at the latest." You need not - and should not - offer any excuse. An act of generosity does not get wiped off the slate if it does not continue forever.

Miss Manners does not want you suffering in silence. She only wants you, as a building contractor, to remember how much damage can be caused by unmet deadlines.

Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper. The quill shortage prevents Miss Manners from answering questions except through this column.