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Dear Miss Manners: During a three-week visit from my husband's disabled older brother, my husband did much for this person (as I did, too), with patience and forbearance, and never once did he hear a word of gratitude. It is a sad and bitter situation when one so dependent upon the care of others would be so ignorant of good manners and the importance of simple words like "please" or "thank you." Instead, it was "Fix my eggs" or "Cut my food" or "Get me water."
Dear Miss Manners: A female neighbor friend drove me across town, where we ate dinner at my male friend's home. Late in the evening, I got really tired and wanted to leave because I had to go to work the next day. She dilly-dallied around and, frankly, didn't want to leave because she was having a good time. I considered calling a cab but decided that would be rude. By the time we left, I was so tired I was numb. On another occasion, I went bar-hopping with my male friend in his car. At about 1 a.m., I told him I needed to go home because I had to go to work the next day. He kept saying, "in a while." Finally, I left the club by myself and walked all the way home.
Dear Miss Manners: I used to wonder why my cat never ate the mice she caught until it finally dawned on me: She was trying to recompense me for feeding her. I read that cats are inclined atavistically to form groups with this food-sharing etiquette. It seems like she's doing some feline duty, sharing her food when she's given the rare opportunity to be a provider (she's a housecat).
Dear Miss Manners: Should I consider it rude for my husband to finish my sentences for me? If I am relating an incident that happened to me during the day, he will invariably interrupt by assuming how I will finish my story. Sometimes he will be correct, other times not.
Dear Miss Manners: In the past, we were taught the proper form of addressing envelopes for mailing, but in recent years, the postal service has given us a different structure - for business mail, I realize, but it is my understanding that it is preferred on all correspondence to speed delivery. We are asked to use uppercase letters, remove punctuation, write the apartment number on the same line as the street address, and so forth.
Dear Miss Manners: Our 14-year-old son is very bright and fairly polite. Children that age think they have the world completely figured out, but Sam is certain that he understands everything better than anyone else. He frequently expounds at length in a manner which would be pretentious even from a world-renowned expert. Sam is like a 2-year-old with new words, using a vocabulary which is admirable, but often a little too fancy for what he is trying to communicate. How can we guide Sam into a more pleasant mode of communication without discouraging him from using others as a sounding board for his ideas? Gentle Reader: You don't mind if Miss Manners is charmed with Sam, do you? It will in no way interfere with her approval of your wise realization that he is an unfinished product in need of gentle guidance before he turns into a bore. It's just that she happens to be wild about that sort of child. So are the proud parents of such children. But unfortunately their delight usually takes the form of unquestioning admiration, which soon turns those curious and articulate children into perfect little pests. The way to make Sam's conversation bearable without dampening his enthusiasm is to treat it seriously - by questioning his information and opinions in the polite manner you might use during a discussion with an adult. "Really? Why do you think that?" "Funny, that's not the way I heard it. Where did you get your information?" "I don't quite follow - would you try explaining that again?" This shows a respectful interest in what he says while making him responsible for supporting and defending it. It also gets him used to the fact that conversation consists of give and take, not of lectures. Done properly, it shouldn't discourage him from talking - only from being glib. Dear Miss Manners: On my last day of work after quitting my job, several co-workers I was friendly with gave me cards with their phone numbers and urged me to call so we could go out some time. I understand that "Let's go out some time" often means "Let's not go out and say we did." However, these co-workers kept insisting. I was flattered. Two days after my last day of work, one of them called me and we had a pleasant conversation until I asked if she would like to have coffee the next day. She hesitated, agreed unenthusiastically and got off the phone so quickly I barely had a chance to say good-bye. She never called, we never met for coffee, and when I saw her a week later, she claimed to have lost my number and asked me to call her. I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and left a message on her answering machine the next day, but she never called back. Am I misunderstanding? When they insist on getting together and even call me, does this actually mean, "I want to talk to you on the phone, but I don't want to go on social outings with you"? Gentle Reader: The misleading thing about work-place friendships is that they almost never are. Like many a work-place romance, they tend to become emotionally inflated by daily proximity and shared experience. Miss Manners doesn't mean to suggest that your former co-workers didn't like you and genuinely want to keep in touch. Had you suggested coffee some months later, you would probably have been met with enthusiasm. But by popping up right away, you seem to be hanging on as a member of the work force even though you will no longer have the same interests and information. Yet it is too early for there to be any interesting catching up to do on their lives and yours. She suggests having your coffee with old friends or new colleagues for a while. Later on, your old colleagues will be delighted to catch you up on all you will have missed.
Dear Miss Manners: As a young, never married woman, I am writing for suggestions on how I might receive an introduction to a young single gentleman I have admired for some time. Because he plays on a local professional sports team and is considered to be quite a celebrity and one of the city's most eligible bachelors, he is besieged by women, young and old. I do not want to be one of them. I was raised by old-fashioned parents who taught me to behave with decorum.
Dear Miss Manners: My daughter, who is in college, e-mailed me to say that she'd had an enjoyable weekend visit at her roommate's home, except that her roommate's new sister-in-law involved them in a thank-you-note "party." She wanted them to help her write thank yous for her wedding gifts. Because my daughter was a guest, she went along with this "party," albeit reluctantly. I would hate to think that a gift I picked out for someone was answered by a bride like this one. Is this a new trend or just an aberration?
Dear Miss Manners: I am 13 years old. When I go into a restaurant, I am usually given a child's placemat. In other cases, people ask me if I am 10. I feel offended by this and view it as age discrimination. I clearly look 13 and thus should be treated likewise. How could I respectfully tell the waiter that I don't need a child's placemat or a child's meal?
Dear Miss Manners: I live in a town that has a theme park that is visited by tourists all the time. Thanks to the invention of the season pass, I enjoy going there frequently. When I am in line, alone and not engaged in conversation, I try not to pay attention to other people's conversations. But unintentionally, I constantly catch remarks such as: "Honey, I am positive we are in line for such and-such." (I know they are wrong.) "Mommy, I have to go to the bathroom really bad!" "OK, dear, I think it is this way." (If they go that way, they won't encounter a bathroom for a long time.) Is there a polite way to assist these persons without seeming to have been eavesdropping and without correcting them in front of their child, spouse, etc.? Gentle Reader: Miss Manners hesitates to mention that the charge of butting into someone else's business is nullified when the interference results in a direct and immediate rescue. The problem is that the society is filled with pests declaring that anything to do with their favorite grievances constitutes such an emergency - and therefore justifies their lecturing strangers on just about anything. Miss Manners is loathe to say anything that might encourage such busybodies.
Dear Miss Manners: When a couple who are both business associates and friends invited me over for dinner, the wife, who happens to be a spectacular cook, mentioned she would be making an item for the main course which she knows is a particular favorite of mine. I looked forward to it very much because this is something I certainly cannot afford when eating out, and very few people are able to prepare it properly. My wife, however, does not care for this dish - it's rather unusual and something of an acquired taste. When I learned that my wife would not be leaving town after all and would be able to accompany me to the dinner, I e-mailed my hostess, explained, and suggested a few side dishes (also specialties of the hostess) that would allow my wife to enjoy the meal as much as the rest of us.
Dear Miss Manners: About once a month, my wife and I go to a Chinese restaurant for dinner, often with another couple or two who like to order the larger Chinese dinner for four or six with several entrees that are shared. When I have tried to get one of my preferences included, (I really like beef with green peppers and the spicy Szechwan dishes, for example, but I don't like sweet and sour stuff, and I don't want anything that includes broccoli or those tiny shrimp) it's greeted with, "No, that's too spicy." So I opt out of ordering some of this and some of that to share with the group and instead order my own dish. This has come in for more than its share of discussion, usually involving my character and upbringing. My helpmate of more than 50 years will launch into the "Well, he's an only child and not used to sharing" speech, ad infinitum.
A dedicated young teacher has been regaling her young students for months with the details of her upcoming wedding. When they clamor to know when it will be, she explains that she doesn't know the exact date, because her fiance's divorce isn't yet final. But she wants them to know that whenever it is, they will all be invited and may get to meet her new stepdaughter, just their age, who she is hoping will agree to be the flower girl. In an article celebrating his wife's professional success, a proud husband reminisces about their courtship: "The minute I saw her, I knew she was the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.... Late in the evening I walked right up to her and said, 'You don't know me, but some day, you're going to marry me.' "I had heard about this brilliant student from my then-wife and her colleagues, but I had expected somebody drab and humorless and was totally unprepared for this dazzling creature. And I was determined not to let her get away.
Dear Miss Manners: Seventeen months ago our granddaughter was born. Initially, my son wasn't sure he was the father, but blood tests proved that he was. Even when he wasn't sure of his paternity, he accepted (at 18 years old) that the child was probably his and jumped into the role of father. He now lives with his girlfriend and baby and works to support them, going to college part-time. My husband and I help them out as much as we can and rejoice in our granddaughter. Our sadness is that our son's paternal grandparents (the only ones still living) have completely rejected his baby and his girlfriend. In their words, "We do not presently accept that she is our great-granddaughter."
Dear Miss Manners: Two years ago, my father's wife of seventeen years left her family, including her almost 16-year-old son, in order to rediscover her inner self. As it happens, that included having an affair with someone she met a few weeks before gaining the strength required to end her marriage. While her decision was somewhat surprising to our family and to all of our family friends, it was devastating to my father. The divorce was final six months ago. Although I was never particularly close to my stepmother, we were both part of a family that was interesting, active, and (I thought) vital. Now, after witnessing the revealed inner self that was apparently hidden from us over the years, I have concluded that, at best, I have neutral feelings toward this woman; at worst, I don't like her at all.
Is Miss Manners going to have to redesign the ceremonial form that much of the world now regards as an immutable standard for weddings? As a devotee and defender of tradition, she is not eager for such a task. Ceremonies are supposed to connect people to the eternal progression of human events, not feature the trends of the moment; they are supposed to reflect the bridal couple's heritage, not individual taste. There is far too much fooling around with our rituals as it is. Miss Manners is always trying to stamp out those bursts of sappy creativity with which amateurs try to improve upon time-honored procedures. Why can't they just get married the way their parents did?
Dear Miss Manners: A friend who knows I am an early riser phoned me to chat at 6:40 a.m. I must admit to being less than receptive to social conversation at this hour. I always thought social calls were properly made between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. Care to comment?
Dear Miss Manners: Why do computer programmers include such rude error messages in their software? Rather than addressing the computer user as someone worthy of respect, the programmer subjects him or her to a startling beep, accompanied by a curt and often unintelligible "error message," followed by dead silence. Suppose the user enters a number when one should enter a letter. There is the startling beep, and a message like "Error 56989: YOUR DATA INVALID," and then one has to click OK in response to this sharp, unfeeling announcement.
Goodness knows Miss Manners has no desire to jump into the national furor about adultery. Such an unseemly mess. She thinks it best to turn away her eyes and discreetly pretend that she does not hear the nation going on about how who did what to whom should determine who can do what now. But as she blushes and looks away, she is going to leave a thought that the debaters will take or ignore at their discretion (if any) but that is strangely missing from the debate.
Dear Miss Manners: I am a woman with very hairy legs, and I am very proud of it. My concern is that I get such looks of disgust from other women when they see my legs. I have had this concern for at least 30 years. I would like to know, why do women shave their legs, and how and where did this silly convention start? Women have hair on other parts of the body (face, arms) that they do not shave. Why don't they shave these parts? Recently, I read that electrolysis was "a professional answer to your personal problem" because our self-esteem and self-image are greatly affected by our appearance, and removing unwanted facial and body hair can be an important aspect of feeling well-groomed.