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Some things should be done in private

Fri., March 25, 2011

DEAR MISS MANNERS – We had my husband’s brother to our home for a meal, and when his brother finished his salad, he quickly lifted the bowl up to his mouth to drink the remaining salad dressing.

I was grossed out. I told my husband after that I was not at all pleased. He said just about everyone does it, but usually when no one else is around.

How do you tell someone that this action was distasteful to you? I hope he never does it in a restaurant.

GENTLE READER – What was in the salad dressing?

Never mind. What should have contained more vinegar was your response to your husband. You might suggest to him a few other activities that just about everyone does when no one else is around (although Miss Manners seriously doubts that drinking salad dressing is one of them).

Are these actions acceptable – or some of them even legal – when done in front of others? And were there not others present at the incident in question?

It may be easier to triumph over your husband than to reform a guest. If your brother-in-law attempts it again, you could say, “Wait, I’ll get you a teacup for that.”

DEAR MISS MANNERS – New technology brings new challenges. Does one have a reasonable expectation of privacy while communicating online with a family member?

A young relative and I video chatted when I was recovering from a cold. Had it not been my beloved niece calling, I would not have answered a video call in that condition.

At some point during the conversation, I realized that my niece was snapping pictures of me using her computer’s camera and was posting them on Facebook. I asked her not to do that, partly because I felt ill and it showed.

She seemed genuinely perplexed as to why I would object, so I tried to explain that she took the pictures without my knowledge during a private conversation and that the “gotcha” pictures she posted on her page were potentially viewable by my own friends and colleagues.

It was not a family or social event where I would expect to be in pictures; it was a personal conversation. Besides, I take special care to monitor my online presence, since it is a vital tool in today’s business and social worlds.

In my opinion, notification and permission are required. Just as one should inform a caller that she is on speakerphone and others are in the room – or that the conversation is being recorded – one should know when a conversation might include an unwanted photo session. I realize that by mutual agreement, this may not be necessary amongst her young friends.

My example involves a casual call with a dear family member, and I certainly don’t wish to dampen her familial enthusiasm. However, there must be a way to use technology respectfully and responsibly.

On the other hand, perhaps I need to get with it and be prepared for my close-up at all times?

GENTLE READER – It is not just technology that changes, Miss Manners observes. We now have a generation to whom the concept of privacy is bewildering. So, to a great extent, is the distinction between presenting oneself in public, as opposed to just slopping around.

You will have to explain these concepts to your young relative, not only for your protection, but for hers. One by one, this generation is making the painful discovery that not everyone, in the wide world to which they expose themselves, finds them endearing.

If you would like a copy of Miss Manners’ newsletter “On Cellular Phone Courtesy,” please send a self-addressed, stamped No. 10 envelope and $2 (per newsletter) to Newsletter, PO Box 167, Wickliffe, OH 44092-0167.


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