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Visitors Should Be Allowed To Wash and Dry Clothes

Dear Miss Manners : My husband and I disagree on the subject of what constitutes a house guest overstepping the line when it comes to laundry. His family comes to visit us once a year — usually for one week — and he feels it’s OK for them to have unlimited laundry privileges.

They will want to do a load about every other day, and always right before leaving, which makes me feel taken advantage of. For the time span of their visit, I feel like one load is plenty — two would be the max if there was an unexpected problem. Please let us know what is appropriate.

Gentle Reader: You really dislike your in-laws, don’t you?

As Miss Manners understands it, they visit once a year for a week, so laundry every second day would be four times a year — at most. Apparently they do not ask you to do it, but only to use your washing machine.

These are your husband’s relatives, and he wants them to have access to the laundry facilities. Denying them that will only make you look petty and inhospitable, to him as well as to them.

Dear Miss Manners: I am a senior citizen who is quite often unseated on public transportation by someone younger and fitter than I am. Yesterday, after I had taken the last seat, I noticed that someone even older and less fit than I was being outraced by a man in his early 20s. I stood up and gave the loser of the race my seat.

So far, so good, as far as my behavior was concerned.

Now the evil part: I was really tempted to say to the young man who had won the race, “If you’re disabled, please keep your seat,” or “If you’re disabled, don’t get up. I’ll give her my seat.”

Later, as I sat there watching him in his oblivion, I wanted to whip out my camera and ask, “Do you mind if I take a picture of you sitting beneath the sign saying, ‘The law requires you to make seats available to seniors and persons with disabilities’?”

Once, when I was really tired and traveling with someone 10 years older than I am, I actually told a young couple, “Thanks for saving these seats for us. You can get up now.” (They did.)

What can I do to keep myself from behaving in a way that Miss Manners would not approve — or a way that will get me shot?

Gentle Reader: If you are shot, you may take comfort in knowing that the shooter was behaving worse than you. If, however, you decided that the behavior of others justifies your retaliating in kind, you would be no better.

Worse, Miss Manners would say, because you would be pretending to be correcting the very behavior you are practicing.

But you didn’t. You squelched your impulses to be rude and came up with a way of allowing the couple to vacate their seats without being embarrassed. Congratulations.

Dear Miss Manners: As the executive director of human resources for a hospital, I have employees coming to me with a variety of issues. The greatest challenges are those that are basically interpersonal conflicts.

Perhaps it is our nature, but people present the side of the story that they think will elicit the greatest sympathy from me, not only failing to report the whole story, but also exaggerating and even fabricating details.

I can find myself in awkward situations, trying to hold people accountable for things that they didn’t necessarily do, or feeling skepticism rise in me instead of listening wholeheartedly.

How can I politely inquire of people, “What are you not telling me?” Not that I can’t do my own investigation, but I wish people realized that I am not called to take sides in disputes.

Gentle Reader: It is indeed our nature, but fortunately you have asked Miss Manners how to get at the truth politely, not how to reform the tendency of human resources (or what used to be called “people”) to embellish their complaints.

The solution rests in your expressed desire to listen wholeheartedly. When Mason complains that Madison took his stapler and yelled at him, encourage him to tell his story and listen to what he says. Most people’s exaggerations are a casual play for sympathy, not a scripted or well-rehearsed attempt to deceive.

Three minutes in, Mason is more likely than not to confess that last week he took Madison’s mouse pad without asking, thus saving you the trouble of an extended investigation.

Dear Miss Manners: I frequently wear black tie for various events — I’m a choral singer where black tie is standard performance dress — and I also have a fairly large cuff link collection from my travels. When wearing black tie, must one wear the cuff links matching the shirt studs, or is one free to choose whatever cuff links one likes?

Gentle Reader: With many gentlemen taking horrid, unwarranted liberties with evening dress, Miss Manners hesitates to say, “Oh, go for it.” Why adult males believe it “creative” to dress as if they are attending the middle school prom, with their turtleneck shirts, pallbearers’ long black ties and gaudy cummerbunds, she cannot imagine.

But she is all the more happy to tell you that no, your cuff links need not match your shirt studs.

Dear Miss Manners: When interviewing for a job, is it considered bad manners to ask how much the job pays? Ironically, it is not bad manners for the employer to ask how much you have earned in your previous jobs.

Do you see a problem with this practice? Isn’t the real question how much are both parties willing to agree upon in the business relationship?

Gentle Reader: Your tone suggests a certain impatience with Miss Manners, who is forced to point out in her own defense that her only action, thus far, has been to read a letter addressed to her. Who says that it is bad manners to ask how much a job pays? Certainly not Miss Manners. Bans about discussing money in personal situations do not apply in the business world.

Dear Miss Manners: I joined Facebook when I had cancer, as a way of posting my current status. I was following others’ suggestions and did not like it for this use. I do, however, like it for other reasons. I can keep an eye on my daughter, as well as my nieces and nephews.

I can also reconnect with old friends and, as a nostalgic person, I enjoy this. I also enjoy the ability to share photographs of said friends. I befriend only people I have fond memories of, or whom I just liked.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean I actually want to resume an old friendship! As a mother of young kids who works part time and volunteers, I have a hard enough time finding time for my friends and myself as it is.

Now an old friend in a nearby town has befriended me. While I enjoyed her company in my 20s, the friendship ended when I realized how badly she was an alcoholic. Still, there were things I really enjoyed about her.

Now, 15 years later, she mentioned on Facebook that she would like to get together. I don’t know if alcohol is still a problem, but I just can’t extend myself that far, both in terms of where she lives and the potential for toxicity.

Can you think of a polite way to tell her (or others in similar situations) that I really enjoyed hearing from her and seeing her occasional posts, her family, etc., but that I don’t particularly want to reconnect with her in person? Am I kidding myself about the possibility of a polite way to convey such a message?

Gentle Reader: No, there is no polite way to tell someone that you want to know their personal business but don’t actually want to talk to them. This phenomenon used to be known as gossip, and in Miss Manners’ opinion, Facebook has ruined its fun for everyone.

When you want to avoid human contact, the usual social rules apply. Tell her that this is an extremely busy time for you, but that you hope to connect in the (unspecified) future. To make it more convincing, for goodness’ sake don’t post your social life on Facebook for a while.

Miss Manners is written by Judith Martin, her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. Email your questions from www.missmanners.com.