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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Miss Manners: Relative’s bathroom habits leave much to be desired

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

DEAR MISS MANNERS: When is it OK to ask someone to wash their hands after using the bathroom, because you could clearly hear that they did not?

I have been operating under the assumption that if I am in someone else’s home, I have no right to ask them to do something differently. Is it only OK in my own home? Or if they are in the midst of preparing a meal we are both going to eat?

What if you ask them to go back and wash their hands and they say they already did, even though you know they didn’t?

This is all happening with a male relative whose home I occasionally visit. Last time I was there, he also went to the bathroom with the door open.

I’m constantly telling myself, “It’s his house, you can’t ask him to change.” It is starting to wear me down and I don’t know what to do. I know I have the option of just not going to his house, but I enjoy spending time with him.

GENTLE READER: Doctors have a saying about what color the world would be if certain common, but unhygienic, substances had discernible colors. We are all faced with unhygienic conditions much more frequently than we care to know.

Those who are faint of heart should not read about backstage in the restaurant business. The question, then, is what to do for those whose sensitivity to such conditions cannot be answered by etiquette’s first rule in these cases – namely, “out of sight, out of mind.”

The location – your home or your relative’s – is unfortunately irrelevant: It is impolite to correct another person’s manners. The closeness of the relationship does matter, as a spouse or sibling can say things in private that are barred to an acquaintance. Miss Manners therefore recommends seeking out such a third party to whom you can, with apologies, share your discomfort, in the name of the offender’s health as well as in the hope that he or she will intervene without naming you.



DEAR MISS MANNERS: After the death of one of their grandparents, my relatives, for the second time, have opted to use the postage that would have been spent on thank-you notes to make a donation to a group of cloistered nuns. One of the relatives in question is a member of the convent.

Is this something new, for people to donate to a cause or charity to which the giver would not choose to give?

GENTLE READER: It may be, which does not mean Miss Manners condones the behavior. Were the subject-matter not so serious, she would express amusement that the relative chose a cause that directly benefited herself; that the cause in question is supposed to be dedicated to doing charity for others; that the amount saved on postage must be insignificant – and that, lacking a note explaining the action, no one is ever likely to know why their condolences were so rudely ignored.

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.

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