Q: I recently bought a beautiful new 42-inch plasma TV. My next-door neighbor saw it being delivered, which he took as a license to engage me in conversation about it. Now he has suggested we should get together and watch a game one of these weekends. What? I’ve never socialized with this guy before. How can I explain that I didn’t intend to turn my apartment into the building’s new rec room?
—UNWILLING PLASMA DONOR, TRIBECA
A: Your neighbor’s being a putz—so treat him like one. Sometimes the best way to deal with people who make you feel uncomfortable is to make them feel uncomfortable right back. Next time you run into this guy, if he brings up his desire to glom on to your glorious new plasmatic lifestyle, try a little teasing: “You know, I don’t remember you ever wanting to hang out with me when I was just another loser with a cathode-ray tube.” Then evade: This Saturday? Not sure what you’re doing yet. Sunday? MoMA QNS with a friend. If he keeps pressing, keep dodging. Your home is your castle; you’re entitled to surround it with a moat of good old-fashioned New York stand-offishness.
Q: Why the hell do people think it’s okay to conduct fund-raising activities at work? And what’s the best way to decline a co-worker’s request to sponsor her for a cancer run or whatever? I was recently hit up by someone who doesn’t even work in my department. I felt blindsided—and steamrolled by her perky enthusiasm—so I caved and told her to put me down for $20. Which I now resent. What’s the polite office equivalent of “I gave at the office?”
—FEELING UNCHARITABLE, CHELSEA
A: Not to be too Rudy circa 1997, but it’s illegal to panhandle in the subways, and it should be illegal to panhandle at work, too—even if it’s for a good cause. (Aren’t they all good causes?) The trick to gracefully declining a co-worker’s request for cash is to convey that not only are you not a cheap bastard but you’re almost too generous. You’re sorry, but you’ve got so many friends doing great fund-raisers that you’ve had to set up a budget so you won’t spend the rent money supporting them. And you went a little overboard this month. You’re all tapped out! Are we encouraging you to lie? No—we’re encouraging you to give to causes of your own choosing, in situations where you are not a captive audience, so that you have a legitimate excuse to fend off unsolicited solicitations at work. Can you use this excuse even if you didn’t, in fact, recently make a donation to another charity? Absolutely, you cheap, lying bastard.
Q: Has it become socially acceptable to ask how much someone’s apartment cost? I’m looking for a place, and every time I see someone’s apartment for the first time, I am overcome by the urge to educate myself. Can I?
—COMPARISON SHOPPER, COBBLE HILL, BROOKLYN
A: More often than not, people prefer not to discuss what they paid for an apartment, because they are (a) embarrassed by how little money they have, (b) embarrassed by how much money they have, or (c) embarrassed by how much they shelled out for so little space. So, yes, it is still rude to ask. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t. Learning the cost of spaces you are actually in (as opposed to viewing on the Web) is the best way to know the market. That said, do not ask your boss, your touchy friend’s friend, or dates, and don’t bother to ask unless the apartment was a recent acquisition. But if you are at an acquaintance’s new place, and she seems mellow, and you’re feeling bold, go ahead and try, “I know this is terribly gauche, but I’m looking for an apartment and I love yours and I wondered if you might tell me how much you got it for.” She might give you an answer. She might politely decline. Or she might lie. So much for your education.
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