All she needed to say

Situation

My wife and I were enjoying our motel’s breakfast buffet the morning after this year’s Keene (N.H.) Pumpkin Festival, which we had attended with three other couples. As one of our friends, carrying a plate of food, passed behind my place at the table on her way to her seat, I began to move my chair in. But I stopped when she responded softly, “I have room.”

Question

Had our roles been reversed, I imagined myself reacting to her gesture any number of ways (and probably with an overly concerned tone): “Oh, that’s okay, I can get by.” “You don’t have to move, I’m good.” “Thank you, but there’s enough room for me.” Could I have said it any more efficiently than she?

Lesson

“Put statements in positive form. Do not explain too much. Be clear.” — Three rules from The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. Her three words “I have room,” without involving me directly, said all I needed to know.

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