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Miss Manners: Be Direct When Planning a Friend’s Visit


Friday, June 08, 2018

Dear Miss Manners: I work from home and live in a city known for vacations. I have a friend who visits every year so that we may attend a yearly sporting event on a particular weekend.

This year, she arrived a few days before the event, and gave no indication of when she planned on leaving. She stayed for a full week after the event (she does not work). This disrupted my work schedule, as she had nothing to do. She tried to be quiet, but sat next to me reading as I tried to work.

Is there a delicate way to inform her that, next year, I would like her visit to be of less duration? I do not want to offend her, as she is an old friend, but an unlimited visit is difficult.

Gentle Reader: Judging from the number of Gentle Readers who are stuck like this, it does not seem to be widely known that it is hosts, not guests, who determine the limits of a visit.

This is best made clear at the time of the invitation: “I’m so glad that you can come for the game weekend. Come Friday, and I hope you can stay until Monday morning.”

Miss Manners knows that it is harder when the guest is already planted there, but it is not impossible: “It’s been wonderful having you here, and I hate to see our little holiday come to an end. But it’s high time I got back to my routine, as I’m sure you must want to get back to yours.”

Dear Miss Manners: I just went to the doctor for an X-ray. As I returned my paperwork to the receptionist, I was stunned to find a glass jar labeled “Tips,” much like one might find in a coffee shop.

Miss Manners, what in the world is this? Is this normal now?

Gentle Reader: Only if you do not make the common mistake of believing that whatever is normal is acceptable. Your doctor can tell you about all kinds of normal human functions that are best not flaunted. Better yet, your lawyer can tell you about normal human impulses that are best stifled.

Greed is normal, Miss Manners acknowledges. But this manifestation of it is unprofessional.

Dear Miss Manners: If a married man is sick in the hospital and an old female friend from high school, whom he hasn’t seen in 40 years and was never romantically involved with, but who has recently gotten back in touch with him via social media, finds out about the hospitalization and sends him a “get well soon” package consisting of a teddy bear with three balloons attached, would that be considered inappropriate?

Gentle Reader: The gentleman is 43 years old, Miss Manners gathers.

And while she is at it, she is guessing that you are the patient’s wife and do not care for this show of attention. It is beyond her powers to imagine why you should object to his receiving good wishes, even in childish form, from an old friend. She cannot help you by declaring this improper.

Dear Miss Manners: My 4-year-old grandson’s parents and I request that he address adults with respect, using “Mr.” or “Ms.” For example, he addresses the door-persons in my building as “Ms. Alicia” and “Mr. Daniel.”

When he addresses one of my senior citizen neighbors as “Ms. Edna,” she tells him she is “just Edna, not Ms. Edna.” How can we continue to teach him respect while respecting her wishes as well?

Gentle Reader: Child-rearing would be a lot easier if it were only a matter of issuing inflexible rules. “Always be completely honest” sounds like a good one, until Auntie Lauren asks your toddler if he loves her and would like a kiss.

So you must also deal with conflicting virtues, such as kindness and respect. Miss Manners considers your problem an opportunity to point out that sometimes respecting what the other person wants is more important than following the general rule. When that “sometimes” is legitimate and when not also is an important lesson, but one that might be saved for when your grandson is older.

Dear Miss Manners: When eating in restaurants, I frequently use the one knife provided to cut up unruly bits of lettuce and overly large slices of cucumber, etc., in my salad. When finished, I leave this knife on the salad plate to go away.

Nearly always, the server takes the used knife and puts it back at my place, or tells me to keep my knife.

Am I improper to use a knife for my salad, or is the server improper to put soiled silverware back on the table? May I ask for a new knife for the main course?

Gentle Reader: The temptation, for Miss Manners, would be to use the knife to go after the person in the kitchen who is responsible for putting the salad together. As she has never seen a proper salad knife offered in a restaurant, however pretentious, she expects any salad ingredients that cannot be easily cut with the side of the fork to be served in bite-sized pieces.

If not, the diner is entitled to eat as best as possible, which may include using whatever knife is at hand. Unless the restaurant provides knife-rests (Miss Manners is beginning to think she should open a silver shop), soiled implements should not be returned to the table. There is no need to be hesitant about asking politely for a fresh knife.

Dear Miss Manners: Is it appropriate to Have a Go Fund Me page to pay for your honeymoon?

Gentle Reader: No.

Dear Miss Manners: Circumstances have placed me in social circles with a couple I have known many years. The wife was my true love from high school. She chose another to wed, and I have always held my tongue and in no way have interfered, or revealed the private hurt the loss of her affection once caused me.

We sometimes meet at group dinners and parties. Whenever I am alone with her husband, my old rival, he rubs it in that she shares a marriage bed with him and not me. He expresses this crudely, in ways that would outrage his wife and all of our mutual friends.

What should I do? If I reveal his vulgarities, he would deny them. If I did something like record them, everyone would think me ugly-minded. He’s been doing this a long time now. What is the polite thing for me to do?

Gentle Reader: Avoid being alone in his company. If you cannot and he continues, excuse yourself saying, “Forgive me. I am sure that our respective wives would highly disapprove of this conversation. You will understand if I take my leave and spare them.” This gives you credit for threatening him, without actually doing so.

Dear Miss Manners: After a fishing trip, we invited over some friends who live about an hour away to enjoy our catch. They replied that they’d love to, and reminded us they have two dogs now.

Before we replied, they wrote again: “We hope you can put up with us and our two weird dogs for the day, and overnight if we drink too much.”

When they had just one dog, we invited them in the summer when we spent the day outside. I stated the invitation was meant only for them and we were not prepared to include two dogs at this time — considering it will be rainy, my husband is allergic and our home was recently remodeled, including new hardwood floors. These are not lap dogs, more medium-sized (40 pounds).

They were then unable to come and were sad to hear we didn’t welcome their “well-behaved girls.” They said their house was open if we wanted to come there. Any better way I should have handled this?

Gentle Reader: “I’m afraid that our house is ill-equipped for your dogs, but we would love to have just the two of you” is likely what you thought you said.

But anyone reading your letter, including Miss Manners, clearly inferred that your hardwood floors were more important to you than their dogs.

This is clearly not what they wanted to hear. Since your friends seemed to have remained in good standing by asking you to come to their house instead, however, Miss Manners advises you to take them up on their offer graciously.

Dear Miss Manners: I do coursework on the weekends at the public library in my town. They have several sets of large and small tables.

Because I need to spread out lots of papers, books, notepads and my laptop, I sit at a large four-person table, which also has a built-in electrical plug for my laptop. These tables have hard wooden chairs with high backs. The smaller two-person tables have no plugs, but wider seats with padded cushions and low backs.

I have disc degeneration and a herniated disc, so sitting still for long periods of time and not being able to stretch take a toll on my back for the four to six hours I am at the library. I have started to swap out the chairs, always putting them back. For what it is worth, tables are not at a premium and there are plenty to go around.

I now feel guilty not only for being a single person at a large table for four, but for also swapping the seats. This hasn’t inconvenienced anyone as far as I can tell, and I do have a genuine disability, but I feel I may be rude to take up so much space and swap chairs to make myself comfortable, even if no one has complained.

Gentle Reader: As with public transportation and any other unreserved, unpaid seating, the solution is to offer to move if someone asks. Miss Manners suggests that you do not invite complaint when none is being issued.

Miss Manners is written by Judith Martin, her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. You are invited to email your etiquette questions from www.missmanners.com, if you promise to use the black or blue-black ink you’ll save by writing those thank you, condolence and congratulations letters you owe.