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Miss Manners: Time to negotiate phone calls home

Fri., Dec. 3, 2010

DEAR MISS MANNERS – Besides using common sense, how often should adult children (in this case a son) call their mother? The son is 43 and lives in another state and the mother is 67 and lives alone.

GENTLE READER – It depends – are you the mother or the son?

Not that Miss Manners would ever have considered telling the mother that the rule was every day and the son that it was once a month. Such a trick never crossed her mind, even if that raises the question of how it got onto this page.

However, she would like to make the point that etiquette cannot declare a formula because individual circumstances differ so widely. Is the mother in any way helpless, so that she needs to be checked up on? Is one of them in the habit of nagging and the other hoping to avoid repetitive and futile advice? How convenient is it for either to talk at the time that is convenient for the other?

You know the circumstances; Miss Manners does not. She is afraid you must do your own negotiating.

DEAR MISS MANNERS – What is the difference between the expressions “excuse you” and “excuse me”? I was taught to use “excuse me” not “excuse you.” And I find it offensive when someone says “excuse you” to me, especially when I have done nothing to them. How should I respond in a nice way when someone says that to me?

GENTLE READER – “Excuse you” is inexcusable. Only the parents of very young children are permitted to prod the expression of manners by saying, “Now, what do we say, dear?” or “Didn’t you want to excuse yourself?”

Therefore Miss Manners considers it polite to overlook the rudeness of “excuse you,” as, indeed, should have been done when “excuse me” was not forthcoming. You can best do this by saying cheerfully, “Oh, that’s quite all right,” as if you thought the person was excusing himself.

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