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It’s Nice to Know You

At a cocktail party several weeks back, I was introduced to a young man and his wife. They’re new to town, so I offered him a handshake. But then, I realized that the young man can’t use his right arm. I was embarrassed, and I said so. The man said not to worry, but my wife says I made my gaffe even worse by saying something. Did I?Anonymous, Franklin

After a year and a half of elbow bumps, it’s nice that you remember how to offer a handshake. For good or ill, surprisingly enough, apologies are sometimes uncalled for. Your intentions were good in this case, so there’s no reason to feel uneasy about them. You certainly can’t take them back, and there’s no reason to try. You don’t include what you said when you tried to make up for your screw-up, if it was one. Maybe you fumbled. The fellow doesn’t seem to have any problem with the apology and certainly not with your offer of a handshake. You’re probably not the first person to make this mistake. The guy understood. You said what you said. You meant well, and that was enough. Nobody hurt anybody. But when you meet your new friend again, don’t bring up the incident; just be sure to offer him your left hand.

The Card Game

My mother has recently moved to a retirement home. It’s a nice place, and a number of her friends already live there. On her birthday, oodles of cards showed up in her mailbox, the vast majority of them from people she doesn’t know. I told her I figure there must be a system at the home that lets people know when a birthday happens. She says she doesn’t know how to say thank you to people she’s never met and she’s not going to “play the game.” It doesn’t seem like a big deal to me, but I don’t know what to say. I don’t know if I should.Anonymous, Hillwood

This may be a game, and your mother seems to not be much of a team player just now. Yes, it’s obviously a system — a ploy, maybe even a scheme — that offers people a chance to get to know one another. They send one another something written or at least something they write names on. That’s a pretty admirable moment for anybody, senior or not. No, you can’t tell your mother what to do or what to say. The birthday cards started pouring in pretty quickly after her move-in day, and she may have a lot of thanking to do. She’s likely to meet her well-wishers in the dining room, so she can start thanking them then, should she choose to do so. If not, she can opt out. Her thinking about the system may well change when she sees the birthday list on the bulletin board or on her computer screen. It’s not that much trouble to play this game. A birthday card is easier to send than a loaf of banana bread.