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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Miss Manners: Steer clear of hot topics, especially at work

By Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin Andrews McMeel Syndication

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I live in a liberal college town in a more conservative state. So there’s a large mix, and I suppose you could call the overall atmosphere “moderate.” It’s hard to know where people stand on an issue unless they’re wearing a T-shirt or have a bumper sticker that announces it.

As I work in customer service, I interact with a lot of people, both as customers (obviously) and as new employees. One new employee, in her late teens or early 20s, saw a customer wearing a shirt with a religious message. She said something to me about it, seeming to think I would agree with her, though I said nothing. As we helped the customer, I told her that I liked her shirt. Later, the new girl seemed a bit irked with me and lectured me that she was agnostic – explaining what that was, even though I already knew. I explained that I tend to adopt a “live and let live” attitude about other religions.

Should she have made the comment she did to me, not knowing what I believe? Am I wrong for thinking that certain topics, such as politics and religion, should be off-limits when one is unaware of another’s affiliations? I know that social media has made it easier for people to be more vocal about what they believe while hiding behind a screen, but I feel it is inappropriate to bring up the subjects unless one knows how those they are conversing with stand.

GENTLE READER: The old rule about not discussing politics and religion seemed so antiquated until recent years, didn’t it?

Miss Manners is hereby resurrecting it and recommending that you ask your employees to observe it – and that you adhere to it yourself, despite the admitted temptation offered by those whose clothing tries to provoke such conversations.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I live in a very small one-bedroom apartment. We rarely entertain because of our space limitations. However, we have a dear friend who lives several hours away and comes to visit us a few times a year, generally for a day or two.

His last visit occurred during the week, while I worked. I often work from home, and my desk is in the living room, where he slept. The evening he arrived, we informed him that we did have to work the next day, and that I would be up early.

When I got up, he was still asleep, and did not rise until almost noon! That meant I had to work in the dark (the blinds above where he was sleeping were closed) with only my computer screen for light for about four hours. I even had to turn on my phone’s flashlight to read some paper notes. A few times he stirred, even at one point saying hello, but then went back to sleep.

Normally, I would gather my things and go to a local coffee shop to avoid the situation, but I had recently had surgery and would not have been able to haul everything I needed without violating my post-surgery weightlifting restrictions.

When do the needs of the host outweigh the comfort of the guest? Would there have been a point at which I could have finally turned on a light or made a phone call, surely waking him up, when it would not have been rude to do so? Or do a guest’s comfort and ability to sleep come first?

GENTLE READER: That point would have been the first time your guest stirred and said hello. Or at the start of your workday.

Having been duly warned that you needed to work the next day, your guest should have taken pains to wake up early. Since he did not, Miss Manners finds you within your jurisdiction to announce, at the slightest stirring (or not), “Oh, are you up? Sorry, I am afraid that I have to turn on the light and get some work done. I hope it will not disturb you.”

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website,; to her email,; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.