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Miss Manners: Choose to Be the No-Drama Parents at the Wedding


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Dear Miss Manners: My son has a 3-year-old daughter with his fiancee. His fiancee’s mother and father have been divorced for about 12 years and are on very unfriendly terms.

Because the bride doesn’t want her mother to make a scene on her special day, the bride and my son have chosen to marry with only their daughter, the minister and a witness present.

I love my future daughter-in-law very much. But as the mother of the bridegroom, I am very sad that I will not get to see my only son get married. I feel that the bride’s parents could surely get along for an hour for the sake of their daughter’s happiness.

The couple plan to have a luncheon following the ceremony with immediate family only. The bride’s mother has remarried and will be coming with her current husband and her son. There will be a separate luncheon and shower for the bride’s father’s side of the family.

I understand this will be the bride’s day, but my husband and I feel we are being penalized because of issues between her mother and father. I am really sad. I do not want to add drama to the situation and don’t want to cause any hard feelings between anyone, but I am feeling hurt.

Gentle Reader: That it is “the bride’s day,” with the understanding that therefore she can do whatever she wants, is an expression that Miss Manners loathes. No one should have a day off from being considerate of others, and especially not on a family occasion.

But this poor bride, caught between warring forces, is not asking for self-glorification. She only wants a dignified and peaceful ceremony. And no doubt she knows better than you that her parents could not “surely” get along for an hour.

Presumably, you are included in the luncheon afterward, perhaps even both luncheons. What you can do is what the other parents apparently cannot: Enjoy the occasion without tainting it with any hurt feelings of your own.

Dear Miss Manners: My neighbor asked my daughter to look after their two dogs for a week while they were on vacation. They gave her a very demanding schedule to follow, which she happily complied with. They said they would pay her, but specific amounts were not discussed.

They have been back from vacation for a couple of weeks now and stopped by a few days ago to see how things went. However, they have still not paid her.

How would you suggest she handle this situation? My daughter feels like she has been taken advantage of.

Gentle Reader: As she will continue to be, if she does not learn proper business procedures.

Miss Manners understands that your daughter feels that it would be unseemly for her to ask for payment from the neighbors, with whom you have a sort of social relationship. But once they hired her, a business relationship was established. Then it is not just proper, but expected that she will present a bill for her services, which can be softened with a note about how she was happy to help them. Please encourage her to do so.

Dear Miss Manners: I have gathered from reading your column that one should not ask personal questions of strangers, nor make comments (even positive ones) regarding their appearance. I have also gathered that the response of the approached person should be civil, but not revealing.

How, if at all, is this rule altered when the approaching person is an adult and the approached is a young child?

My nearly 3-year-old child is approached several times on any given outing, with comments about her (fairly ordinary) clothing and questions about her age, name and favorite color. What we have been doing, so far, is to have me answer the questions (more specifically than I prefer, because I don’t know how to word a vague reply) and thank strangers for their compliments while she remains silent.

I would like to teach her an all-purpose sentence that is polite, but discourages further, unwanted conversation. What I believe she would like to convey is, “I appreciate your interest, but my mother and I would prefer to continue our shopping (or conversation, or walk) undisturbed.” Of course, I know that wording is not correct, so I turn to Miss Manners for something better.

Gentle Reader: If you can get your 3-year-old to recite the sentence you propose, Miss Manners suspects you will have no further problems: You will have plenty of time to make a discreet escape while the now-perplexed questioner wonders at her precocious politeness.

Failing that, let your daughter answer the first question naturally, then politely interrupt and apologize, explaining to child and stranger alike that it is time to go.

Dear Miss Manners: What is the most proper method of apologizing to a company that complained — not to me, or to my team leader, but to the company owner — that I was unprofessionally emotional while trying to finalize a ridiculously challenging deal? (My first ever, by the way.)

Had they brought their concerns to me, or even just to my team leader, my apology would be sincere, but now it is tainted with resentment. In most cases, I would prefer to do it in person, or even in a written note, but in this case would an email be sufficient?

Gentle Reader: There are many ways to undercut the apology you are delivering. Using a less formal method of communication — email — may be less objectionable than a teenager’s delivering it in a sarcastic tone or an adult’s use of a non-apology (“I’m sorry you were offended”).

But whence all this resentment? Miss Manners could not help but notice that you never denied the charge. You excused it, and you object that the complainant jumped too many levels in reporting it. Neither entitles you to respond emotionally.

And given the original offense, Miss Manners would have thought you might wish to plant some doubt with your employer about your propensity to misbehave. A handwritten note will do this more effectively than email, and without the danger that your temper may ruin an in-person apology.

Dear Miss Manners: Is it appropriate to call another woman’s husband a pet name and leave voicemail messages that start off as “Hi, honey”?

Gentle Reader: Curious as Miss Manners is as to your own part in the aforementioned drama — wife, husband or other woman — she is unsure of the identity of the caller, which affects her answer.

The husband’s mother gets a pass, with perhaps some room for a droll, longtime family friend. Other ladies will need either an innocuous pet name or a good explanation.

Dear Miss Manners: I am normally addressed by my last name, or some variation on “Doctor,” and my correspondence has only my initials. Few people call me by my first name or simply my first initial.

I have been engaged in polite correspondence with a business acquaintance, which is blossoming into a friendship. I know that some initial information contained my name, but all follow-up communiques have been via email and did not contain my first name.

On two separate occasions, this person has accidentally emailed and addressed me by the wrong first name. The first was on a condolence note and that did not seem like the time to offer a correction. The second time was recently and on more routine correspondence via email.

I do not wish to give offense, but I would not like to leave the person mistaken in my name. Should I simply add to my next reply the ending of “Sincerely yours, (Correct Name)” and hope the recipient notices? Or in replying to the email, where there will be the previously written text, I could insert a phrase like “Oops, it’s actually (Correct Name).”

Gentle Reader: In the days when people distinguished their co-workers from their friends, one way of signaling the occasional transition from one category to the other was by inviting the person to address you by your first name. Miss Manners recommends reviving the tradition in your case.

If you were to say how much you have enjoyed getting to know your acquaintance better and that you look forward to a long friendship, you could insert a request that they call you by your first name. Since such requests are, today, unusual — and, in this case, after the fact — your new friend may pause long enough to learn your real name.

Dear Miss Manners: My daughter has a lot of cats and more than one litter box. One is kept in the spare room, which is where she expects me to sleep if I visit. She thinks I am overreacting to not want to sleep in that room. Is she inconsiderate or am I wrong?

Gentle Reader: Unless the occupant is a federal prisoner, it seems reasonable to Miss Manners not to have to share quarters with another occupant’s night soil. If your daughter will not honor your request, then perhaps you can claim a recently developed reaction to ordure (a synonym for bodily waste, but it sounds authentic, doesn’t it?) and ask if she can at least temporarily put it in the bathroom instead.

Dear Miss Manners: My husband and I, in the past, have been invited to our neighbor’s home for drinks. I always ask if there is anything I can bring, and they always reply with “BYOB.”

What is such an invitation about, if they are going to have us over for drinks and then tell us to BYOB? I find it rude — and we have been invited again for drinks, with the same reply that we bring our own beverages. It will just be them and my husband and me.

Gentle Reader: Forgive Miss Manners for demanding the obvious, but if you do not like the answer, why do you keep asking the question?

She has all but given up on imploring guests to reciprocate invitations by responding in kind, rather than by furnishing the supplies. So while it is certainly odd to ask guests to bring their own drinks to a drinks party, your hosts may well be exhausted from thinking of other things for you to do, and have chosen this as the most obvious solution to a persistent question.

Dear Miss Manners: What would be an appropriate response to a relative who often points out that we have more money than she does?

She bases her belief on the fact that we travel and states that she can’t afford to take “expensive” trips. (If she were to skip the shopping trips to NYC and ocean cruises, she could afford that river cruise.)

We had a tag sale and she remarked that we should just give items away, because “it’s not like you need the money.” I do not discuss my finances with her, so she is just making assumptions.

Gentle Reader: As are you. The critical difference being that your relative is making these assumptions directly to you — instead of in a public forum for all to see.

To be clear, Miss Manners does not at all condone your relative’s rude behavior; she is just pointing out the irony. Make a deal with her that you will not judge the way she spends her money, if she does not criticize yours. And then — at least in public forums — stick to it.

Dear Miss Manners: I will be having surgery soon to alleviate the embarrassing problem of bowel incontinence. I found a great doctor and have family support, but need to know what to say to nosy acquaintances who inquire about the reason for my hospital stay.

“None of your darn business” or “You don’t want to know” are my favorite responses, but neither seems appropriate. Suggestions?

Gentle Reader: “It’s just a standard procedure, but you are so kind to ask.” Repeat as necessary, resisting the urge to elaborate.

Dear Miss Manners: While I am certain that Miss Manners has never experienced this herself, what would you suggest for someone who unintentionally says something to a friend that obviously upsets or hurts them deeply?

I know a quick apology is necessary, but what if that is not enough? If the hurt goes beyond a simple apology, how does one attempt to make it right? I fear that I may have permanently hurt a friend that I care for deeply, and I am not sure what to do now.

Gentle Reader: Write a letter. Make it heartfelt and offer no excuses. Tell your friend how much the friendship matters to you. And mean it.

The novelty of writing something by hand and mailing it will give the matter the formality and gravity it deserves. And while you are correct in thinking that Miss Manners has rarely needed to write such a letter herself, the same reasoning has offered her a far better rate of response than email for her social invitations. That and her imposing presence.

Dear Miss Manners: I work at an apartment complex, and I have a tenant who doesn’t seem to bathe or even use deodorant. Therefore he reeks something super fierce when he comes into our office.

He comes into the office building once a month to pay his rent, and the door to my office is right by the front door to the building. He hands me his check and is in and out in 10 seconds, but his stench will travel all the way to the other side of the building.

After he leaves, I have to Lysol the air in the whole building a few times to get rid of the smell, and hope that it goes away before a prospect walks in. The same happens if he comes in to pick up a package, except then, he is in the office much longer than 10 seconds.

To my great surprise, I haven’t had any complaints from his neighbors about his foul odor, but I’m getting to the point where I really want to tell him he needs to shower or something before he enters our office. I just don’t know how to say it politely. Could you offer any suggestions?

Gentle Reader: Get a mailbox system. There is no polite way to tell this gentleman that he should bathe, especially since you seem to be the only one affected by it. Miss Manners suggests that you either create a drop-off for the rent checks and mailed packages or a private, enclosed office for yourself.

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.