Did I just steal a newspaper?

David in Fort Collins, Colorado writes:

“I am often in Starbucks or other coffee shops that a community bin of newspapers. Is it okay to take the newspaper section with you to continue reading or is this a theft from the community bin? Note: I consider this a theft, a minor but nonetheless meaningful infraction akin to the tragedy of the commons. My coffee drinking mate thinks differently. Discuss.”

Brendan Francis Newnam: This is a good question. I have the same dilemma.

Rico Gagliano: Thief. I say get the stocks ready.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Really?

Rico Gagliano: You cannot take a newspaper. It’s just a newspaper.

Brendan Francis Newnam: It’s a public newspaper.

Rico Gagliano: It’s a public newspaper. Exactly. Not a private newspaper. It’s a public newspaper.

Brendan Francis Newnam: It’s like a bowl of mints: you don’t take the mint till your breath is clean and put it back. You take the newspaper and…

Rico Gagliano: But you don’t take the bowl of mints with you so that nobody has good breath.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You take a couple so you take the art section on the subway.

Daniel Post Senning: And leave behind…

Brendan Francis Newnam: Business section for boring business people.

Lizzie Post: Now what if you bring it back later? I do that at the doctor’s office or the dentist’s office. If it’s a really good article I bring it back the next week or something.

Rico Gagliano: That’s true. Although it’s not quite as…the point of the newspaper is that it’s the news.

Lizzie Post: When it says 2011 it’s okay.

Rico Gagliano: I imagine your car just full of old newspapers you intend to redistribute to doctor’s offices around Vermont. But I sense that you guys are split on this. It sounds like Lizzie…

Lizzie Post: We are. I steal them. I don’t get that annoyed at other people doing that kind of stuff so I won’t begrudge them taking an article and wanting to finish it.

Daniel Post Senning: How about this? One quick comment on this: is it okay to do the crossword puzzle and then leave it?

Lizzie Post: How good is it?

Brendan Francis Newnam: See that’s what I’d take. If I found a finished crossword I would take it and carry it on the train as if I finished it.

Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning are co-authors of the 18th edition of the Emily Post Manners Manual, run the Emily Post Institute in Vermont and are the great great grandchildren of Emily Post herself.