March 27, 2009 in Features

Miss Manners: Look – don’t stare – at naked baby

Judith Martin
 

Dear Miss Manners: I was changing my baby’s diaper in a public restroom the other day. The changing table had no privacy whatsoever, and anyone walking in or out of the restroom had full view of what was going on.

While most people seemed to avert their eyes, there was one woman who, while waiting for her children to wash their hands, kept looking over at my daughter while her diaper was off, and it made me very uncomfortable and upset. I don’t feel that staring at anyone, no matter how old, in that position is right.

What would be an appropriate way to say, “Would you please stop staring at my half-naked daughter, it’s quite rude”?

Gentle reader: “Would you like to help?”

Dear Miss Manners: My wife is a voracious reader, almost to the point of it being a compulsion. This is not a problem most of the time, but she insists on reading at the table. Breakfast, lunch or dinner finds her with a magazine or newspaper next to her place setting, and she sometimes does not even look away to get another bite of food.

I have told her in the past that I think this is very rude behavior, and her response was that we don’t talk at the table anyway.

I admit that I am not a great talker at any time; my family did not converse a great deal at the table, as hers always has. But having a person glued to the printed page does not foster communication. She will look up briefly to respond when I do have something to say but goes immediately back to her reading.

I wonder if there is something I could say to lessen this behavior without facing a stony silence and the feeling that it is I who has been rude. Or am I being overly sensitive to this?

Gentle reader: Not sensitive enough. You have picked up on the etiquette problem, which is that it is rude to read at the table when dining with another person, but not on the marital problem, which is that you and your wife apparently have nothing to say to each other.

The two are related. Breaking bread together is the most basic of human rituals, precisely because it provides participants an opportunity to bond. That many families have abandoned the nightly ritual of dinner together is tragic.

But you might as well have abandoned it, for all the good it is doing either of you. Stony silence would be markedly unpleasant, but blank silence is no fun, either.

Yes, it is rude to read at the table. But Miss Manners is afraid that a general agreement to talk will not break the impasse. Rather, you will have to initiate conversation by thinking up topics that will interest and engage your wife – surely you at least once knew what they were – and speaking with enthusiasm to give her a pleasant alternative.

E-mail to Miss Manners at MissManners@unitedmedia .com.


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