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Miss Manners: ’Tis the Season To Be Generous

Dear Miss Manners: I am in a quandary about giving a Christmas present to my cleaning lady. I had to cut her hours back from every other week to once a month.

At Christmas I always gave her a small present and a check for one week’s work. What do I give her now — the same amount as before? I don’t want to lose her, as I really like her.

Gentle Reader: In what sense do you like her? Before social media perverted that word, it implied a certain fondness that, when applied to actual living beings, indicated a modicum of empathy.

In that case, you might consider that however much financial problems of yours may have led you to cut back her hours, her financial problems must be worse.

Or perhaps you mean only that you like the way she cleans your house.

In either case, Miss Manners recommends generosity. This is a rare opportunity to use a selfish motivation to do a selfless act.

Dear Miss Manners: My daughter thinks I need to attend her future relatives’ family Christmas party. I do not feel I belong there, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t want to go. I am not marrying them; she is marrying into the family.

After trying to explain this to her, her response was, “I would like you to do this for me.” I said I still feel the same.

Gentle Reader: Like it or not, marriage does join two families. If there are children, you will have blood relatives in common.

However, Miss Manners gathers that you take a rather cool view of family claims. Your own daughter’s plea that you do this for her sake seems to have moved you no more than her wish to include you in her new life. Ultimately, this will probably be sadder for you than for her.

Dear Miss Manners: What is the polite way to ask the person sitting next to you at a bar to stop flicking her hair in your direction while you’re eating?

Gentle Reader: “I’m afraid that my food is getting in your hair’s way. Perhaps I should move it.”

Dear Miss Manners: My husband and I often host an open house during the Christmas season. While it is certainly not my intention to collect gifts, that is what happens.

The first year I was stunned. The second year, nervous. The third year, I worried about how to handle these well-intentioned, but certainly not necessary, gifts. The worst part is that guests often don’t put a tag on the gift, so I don’t know whom to thank.

Is there a “catch-all” phrase that can express my thanks to people for attending our open house and also providing a gift (if they have done so), without suggesting to those who did not bring a gift that they are deficient?

Gentle Reader: Hosts do not normally write letters to thank their guests simply for showing up; it is guests who are supposed to write to thank their hosts. The reversal is chiefly popular with brides who want to shame guests, whom they consider to be their debtors.

So no, you do not want to do that. Even mentioning the problem in general terms would be interpreted as declaring to all that good guests gave presents.

No one would suffer more from the inability to write a letter of thanks than Miss Manners. She can only hope that the donors will reveal themselves, and she advises you in the future to assign someone to leap at any deposited present to mark down the name of the giver.

Dear Miss Manners: My daughter just turned 3, and for the past year the recurring question I get from strangers is, “Is she potty trained?” or even worse.

This is not a rare occurrence. I get it everywhere, from restaurants while I am actively eating, to stores, to the post office. My other girlfriends assure me they also get this question often and they are equally annoyed.

I do not wish to raise a child thinking it is acceptable to talk about her bathroom activities over meals or with strangers.

Last night, after repeated questioning from a waitress, my daughter announced that she had “gone poop in the potty!” earlier that day. The waitress immediately told the other staff, who passed this information around the restaurant in loud voices. My daughter then told them about an accident she had because she was playing and did not make it to the bathroom on time.

I told her it was not an appropriate dinner topic, but the people ignored me and kept discussing it. How do I make a child behave when the adults have no idea how to behave?

I also do not want to answer people who ask what type of undergarments she wears. I have tried looking horrified, but people seem to feel it is an appropriate subject. Since she has been getting these comments, she has actually regressed in her potty training, and strangers comment on that as well.

Can you please come up with a polite way to point out to people that some subjects are not appropriate for general public discussion? I am on the verge of telling people she is just wearing normal underwear. How about you?

Gentle Reader: Thank you just the same, but Miss Manners also would prefer not to comment on her undergarments.

While you can’t reprimand the adults, you can certainly advocate on your child’s behalf. “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to embarrass my daughter by talking about her bathroom habits. I’m sure you understand.”

This has the added benefit of modeling for your daughter what her own reaction should be ... and that “I pooped on the potty!” is not, and never will be, a conversation starter.

D ear Miss Manners: When walking my dog, I am constantly being stopped by people who tell me he is just darling, cute, beautiful, etc. As my dog is unable to reply, what should my response be? I don’t feel it is appropriate to say thank you, as I had nothing to do with it.

Gentle Reader: “Thank you” is the correct answer. Miss Manners offers you the choice between training your dog to say it or saying it on his behalf.