DEAR MISS MANNERS: We are having an argument: One group thinks it’s acceptable etiquette to answer a call on your cellphone when perched on a toilet at home as long as you don’t flush or otherwise indicate where you are.
The other group thinks that’s gross, not to mention a good way to drop your phone into the bowl and drown it. If a call comes in, you should ignore it, finish what you are doing and return the call.
What does etiquette dictate in this situation?
GENTLE READER: Frankly, etiquette wants nothing to do with this situation. If it did, it would ask how it is possible to drop the telephone into something you are covering by sitting on it. But it does not, so please do not answer.
Miss Manners considers it a great advantage of etiquette that it does not notice individual behavior that does not affect other people. So, if one is shouting in a public bathroom or tying up facilities that others want to use, it would be rude. But as far as the callers are concerned, if they do not know, it does not count.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Do you have a suggestion about what to say when someone tells you they’ve recently gotten divorced?
I don’t mean intimate friends (because a) I would have already known it was happening, and b) I would know how they felt about it and thus what would be appropriate to say). I mean casual acquaintances or professional contacts.
“I’m sorry to hear that; it must have been a difficult time” seems neutral but still presumptuous and might invite unwanted conversation about the matter. All I can think of is, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know that,” which if nothing else is the simple truth.
Do you have any better suggestions? I have, at least, stopped asking people “and how is (spouse)?” until the person mentions them.
GENTLE READER: “I’m sorry” seemed neutral enough to Miss Manners, too, until someone replied, “If I’m happy and he’s happy, what are you so sorry about?” She has therefore switched to “I wish you all the best.”
DEAR MISS MANNERS: One of my best friends died in March of 2020. Her partner didn’t notify me until May of 2020, even though he had my phone number and email address. He was jealous of our friendship, so I guess that is why he didn’t notify me when it happened. I was so shocked and upset I didn’t ask him why.
I have had mental health problems since then, so I haven’t talked to my friend’s parents. Is it OK to contact her parents now, or is it too late?
GENTLE READER: Do you remember what was going on in March of 2020?
There is no expiration date for offering condolences, and surely your late friend’s parents will be glad to have them. But you are less tolerant of delays. It does not strike Miss Manners as insulting that someone mourning a partner, and at a time when everyone’s lives were being rattled by the spreading pandemic, should take a few weeks to deliver the news to everyone.
Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website missmanners.com.
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