Miss Manners: An Acceptable Time for An Indignant Slap?

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Dear Miss Manners: At the end of a boozy company party at a fancy hotel, my wife and I found ourselves tending a co-worker who had overdosed on martinis. While my wife went to summon a janitor, another co-worker asked her (in the politest terms a drunk can muster) to spend the night with him.

Although I was in earshot, I pretended to ignore it. My wife is upset that I didn’t “defend her honor” by punching him out. What do the rules of manners dictate?

Gentle Reader: Well, not adding violence to an already volatile mix. And for many reasons, it is an especially bad idea to hit a drunk.

However, Miss Manners might have forgiven your wife if she had delivered a smart slap when the indecent proposition was made (however politely). That is the traditional response of ladies to cads.

What you might have done was to take hold of the offender to steer him away from your wife, and say insistently, “I think we’d better get you home. You can apologize to Miranda when you feel better.”

Dear Miss Manners: I was at a buffet where mashed potatoes were served. The potatoes were stuck to the serving spoon, and would not come off. I just put the spoon back down, without taking any potatoes.

Was that all right to do? What is the proper etiquette for this situation?

Gentle Reader: At a buffet table, it is fortunately not necessary to take everything that is offered. Miss Manners would think you should take advantage of that to spare yourself having to eat gummy potatoes.

Dear Miss Manners: A professor in our department took leave in order to give birth. When we heard the happy news that a baby girl had been born, I commented, “I wonder if she plans to bring her in?” It is always exciting to see a new baby.

One of our colleagues replied, “She already HAS brought her in,” clearly meaning that the lady had come into the office while still pregnant.

This colleague is known to be the only fundamentalist Christian in the building. I’m not sure if he was trying to be funny or to make a political statement. I was stunned into silence. Is there anything one could possibly say to something like this?

Gentle Reader: Etiquette does not go looking for infractions. This would be true even if she did not already have her hands full with the infractions that find her.

The proper response is therefore to treat the comment as well-intended, even if you suspect it meant more.

If Miss Manners did not object to infants at work, she would have lightly told your co-worker that it is more fun to interact with a baby who can grab one’s finger and gurgle.

Dear Miss Manners: My husband and I have been very happily married for 11 years. It is a second marriage for both of us, and I had nothing to do with my husband’s divorce, which occurred after his children were out of college and which was completely the choice of his ex-wife. In fact, I didn’t meet my husband until four years after his divorce.

My stepson and his wife have made it clear to me, despite my best efforts to create a warm relationship with them, that they want nothing to do with me. I have no such problems with my husband’s other son, or with my husband’s parents or extended family. I am a warm person with many friends, and have always been baffled by this rebuff, but have learned to accept it and try my best to be friendly when we do see them. Happily, they live in a distant state, so such occasions are infrequent.

And yes, on one occasion (a few years ago), I did try to ask gently if I had done something wrong and if I could somehow make amends, but it only made matters worse with my daughter-in-law.

Their ongoing rudeness includes postings on Facebook about long visits to our home where I am never mentioned, never included in any pictures, and to the uninformed reader, totally nonexistent.

This couple has never sent me a birthday card; on my last birthday, they sent a text to my husband several days afterward, saying, “Tell your wife happy birthday for us.”

I always remember their birthdays and Christmas with generous gifts. In other words, I have never stopped trying, if only for my husband’s sake and that of peace in the family.

The icing on the cake came today with a sympathy card mailed only to my husband, referencing only his grief, with regard to the death of a beloved pet that we have shared for the term of our marriage. They are aware that I loved this dog like a child.

I feel that I should respond to this somehow, but I can hear my mother’s voice saying, “Do not dignify their poor behavior with a response.” What would you suggest? I am at a total loss, and my husband does not get involved in any way in this matter, as he doesn’t wish to alienate his son and daughter-in-law.

Gentle Reader: While Miss Manners is inclined to agree with your mother, she will permit you one more attempt at addressing the issue head-on.

Letters often work better than conversations, as they give the recipient time to reflect before answering. It might say something like, “You were so kind to acknowledge my birthday last year, and our grief over Scruffy’s death. I would dearly love to hear from you directly, or least begin to rectify our distant relationship. Your family means the world to me and after all of these years, it seems a shame that we do not have the close relationship that we all enjoy with the rest of the family.”

Approaching it without blame and only subtextual shaming is always an effective mix when it comes to family.

Dear Miss Manners: I am currently 25 weeks pregnant with my first child. My husband and I are absolutely thrilled, and have made a decision not to find out the gender of our baby.

Since I have started showing in the last few weeks, I have noticed how people think they have free rein to make comments on my body and appearance, simply because I am pregnant.

I know most of these comments are innocent and mean no harm. But I’ve heard everything from “You’re blossoming!” (not so bad) to “I’ve been looking at your backside to see if your bottom is wobbling.”

Most of these comments allude to these people trying to guess the gender of our baby.

I even had two women look me up and down and then make their assessment out loud: “Your legs don’t look any bigger, so it must be a girl!”

The most confusing part is that almost every comment that I’ve received has come from a mother. Shouldn’t these women know better than to judge pregnant women’s bodies? Not only is it rude and something they probably wouldn’t say to someone who isn’t pregnant, but it really makes an impact when you’re already self-conscious about the way your changing body looks.

Is there a way to stave off these comments nicely? Most of these people are family or co-workers and I don’t want to cause problems with a snarky comeback.

Gentle Reader: Snark is all in the delivery. Miss Manners asks you to remove it from your voice when you give these people the satisfaction of what they really want from you: a request for advice.

“Really? Did you find that the size of your legs were a credible predictor of your baby’s gender?”

Dear Miss Manners: I prefer the window seat on a plane. On a recent flight, when a fairly large gentleman sat down next to me in the middle seat, I squashed myself as close to the window as I could in order to try and give him space. He spoke to me and, as I turned to face him with a smile, I was hit by a cloud of his extremely bad breath.

I responded to his question and quickly turned my face back towards the window to find clear air. I am afraid he must have seen me as terribly rude for not facing him as he was talking, and continuing to turn my head away, but his breath was so horrid I was indeed feeling nauseous due to the smell. I did not want to embarrass myself by losing my in-flight pretzels.

What to do in this situation? I was already squashed as close as I could be to the window to accommodate his size, so I had no room to maneuver.

Other than offer him my tin of mints and implore him to take a handful, what can I do in this unfortunate situation in the future?

Gentle Reader: Bury your head in a book. But Miss Manners does not think the mints idea a bad one, if it is phrased politely. “This plane air is so stale that I find myself in need of a freshener. May I offer you one?”

Conversely, she suggests never refusing such an offer. One never knows.

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.