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Urban Etiquette

Ellen Vanstone answers your questions about the annoying behaviours, poor manners and impatient encounters that dot the days of a city dweller.

Urban Etiquette: How do I politely tell a coworker I'd rather walk than ride in his filthy car?

No matter how tactfully or euphemistically you try to put it, there’ll be no getting around the implication you're calling their ride a revolting four-wheeled pigsty, writes Ellen Vanstone.

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Dear Ellen,

I work with a very nice guy who regularly offers me a ride to the subway station when we leave work together. It’s definitely convenient, but here’s the problem: His car is filthy dirty, full of garbage, dog hair, sticky surfaces, and there is a strong odour that lingers on my clothes afterward. How do I politely tell him I'd rather walk?

D.X.

Dear D.X.,

If the filthy car belonged to a close friend or relative, I’d say honesty was the best policy. If someone’s car is so disgusting it’s affecting their work relationships, you’d be honour-bound to point it out to them, and you could soften the blow by offering to help them clean it.

With a work colleague, it’s trickier. Of course, you always want to be respectfully truthful with everyone in your life. But when someone you only know at the office kindly offers you a lift, there’s always the possibility they might take offence if you decline because their car is too… er… um… disorganized?

You see the problem. No matter how tactfully or euphemistically you try to put it, there’ll be no getting around the implication you're calling their ride a revolting four-wheeled pigsty.

Obviously someone with your good manners will want to avoid giving such offence. There’s also a practical consideration: you don’t want to ruin your work relationship with this guy by insulting his auto-hygiene.

Thus, if brutal honesty is out of the question, a polite fib is acceptable — as long as you can make your fabricated excuse impenetrably convincing. If he finds out you lied to avoid riding with him, it’s far worse than insulting him with the harsh truth at the outset.

So, if you say you’re allergic to the dog hair, don’t have pictures of your own dog all over your desk or on social media. If you say you need the exercise of walking, don’t let him catch you hopping on the bus or taking a cab to the subway station. If you tell him you get carsick, make sure you throw up, or at least look a little green, if he catches you riding in someone else’s car.

If you can’t convincingly follow through on these or other white-lie scenarios, the only polite option left is to hold your nose and accept the ride.

Need advice? Email Ellen: askellen@metronews.ca

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