My husband and I like to explore different neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Each one has a unique flavor, an individual look – and even a type of person that frequents the area. It makes a great “date afternoon” – and the price is right. Unless we spend too long inside some of those funky boutiques we pass…

The other day we walked in to a little jewelry store. The owner, noticing my husband’s yarmulke, began to speak in Hebrew. He was Israeli – and friendly – and the sales pitch began. He was creating a relationship with us and it was very hard to resist. I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he was in fact happy to have some fellow Jews walk into the store (and we are such a charming couple!) but he also wanted to sell me some earrings. And he kept showing me pair after pair after pair…I felt guilty not buying anything and we barely escaped with our bank balance intact. What is the best way to handle such a situation? It’s hard to be friendly but firm.

A variation on this theme occurred when I was at a local mall picking up some Chanukah presents. A vendor from a small kiosk approached me claiming he only wanted to ask me some questions about the holiday. Ever the Jewish educator, I eagerly responded to his queries. But as soon as the questions ended, he began to describe his product to me. I tried to extricate myself politely but when that didn’t work, I finally just walked away, with the vendor yelling after me.

Was I rude? Friendly but firm did not seem to work.

And speaking of extricating myself politely, it’s a particular challenge with telemarketers and phone solicitations from charitable organizations. I know they are trying to make a living and I applaud them for it. I know it’s a tough way to earn an income and I respect them even more. But how do you communicate no? I feel like I’m negotiating for a carpet in a Middle Eastern shuk. How about $36? $18 $10? How about I just send you an envelope and you pay when you’re ready? How about…?

I really, really don’t want to hang up the phone on another human being. I know they are only following a script. But how do I communicate a definitive no without being rude? Without feeling guilty?

Don't be pressured into spending money, but act with caring and concern.

Financial transactions skew relationships and it’s hard to get it right. For many years, a close friend of mine was a travel agent (now there’s an almost passé term). She was always upset when her friends didn’t book their trips through her. But she was also upset when they did – and came to her with all their complaints and requests for refunds. Or how about the story I heard the other day from another friend who is a real estate agent? After months of negotiating the sale of a home to some friends, they went behind her back and approached the seller directly, robbing my friend of her commission and such direly needed income.

I’m searching for a magic answer to these dilemmas. Is there a “just right” way to walk away? A “one size fits all” method of getting off the phone?

Or is it like everything else? It depends on the situation. We need to be guided by our good sense and good values. We can’t allow ourselves to be pressured to spend money we don’t want to or don’t have – even for a charitable organization – yet we still need to be friendly and courteous to the person on the other end.

It’s not that easy being polite under some of these circumstances. Sometimes we lose our temper. Sometimes we erupt in frustration. But if we exercise self-control, if we act with caring and concern, then we have made a Kiddush Hashem; we have sanctified the Almighty’s name.

We don’t have to engage in heroic acts to make a difference in the world. We just have to behave with common decency – which is much less easy than it sounds. And because it’s difficult, it’s the true test of character and the true test of a people. This is a small but significant way to be a light unto the nations.