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Dear Miss Manners: My daughter is on a soccer team that practices every day after school, and she has only one other teammate whom she attends high school with. Before the school year started, her mother called and asked if we would take her to practice every day. I couldn't say no, but I managed to ask if her daughter could bring a snack to our house.

Ever since the beginning of school, this child has not brought a snack to my home to eat. Instead, she goes through our refrigerator and eats our food without asking. She seems to have made herself right at home. The worst part is that my daughter is not particularly fond of this young lady -- she and her parents are very opinionated.

I would gladly feed her every day, but money is quite tight, and it has already put a major strain on our budget. Would you please inform me on the polite way of telling her to bring her own snack?

Although this young lady is moving in the summer, a soon-to-be freshman will be arriving at my daughter's school next year. How do we avoid the same predicament?

Gentle Reader: Suppose the visitor did bring her own snack. Suppose she brought bags of groceries. Would that console you for having forced your daughter to spend every day after school with someone she doesn't particularly like?

Miss Manners knows that you feel you are the one who was forced into this, and what's more, you feel that it is your laudable desire to be polite and helpful that did it. But Miss Manners refuses to take the responsibility.

Of course, you could have said no -- at the beginning, or later, when you realized that the arrangement was more of a burden than you had expected. It is a wonderful thing to be helpful to others, and perhaps you could have suggested dropping the girl off at the library to do her homework until her parents could pick her up.

Politeness does not require people to surrender their autonomy whenever asked -- only that they decline politely.

The foolproof way to do this is to avoid supplying an excuse, which is likely to be transparent or insulting. Just say: "I'm terribly sorry, but we find we can't take your daughter to practice anymore. We've enjoyed having her."

The snacks, however costly, are a side issue. The predicament Miss Manners worries about is that your daughter probably feels like asking another family to take her in.

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