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Dear Miss Manners: I work for a very large U.S.-based corporation where I was involved in a discussion involving plans for a luncheon. An individual involved with the planning had selected one of the most expensive restaurants in the city. I politely objected. I suggested that given the unfortunate economic situation we are experiencing in our country, it was inappropriate to have such a “lavish” event hosted by such a well-known corporation.
Dear Miss Manners: I have been very fortunate to have been given a lovely, very full set of family silver, which I would like to put to good use. After some research, I have identified all the different pieces, and I seem to have a dozen pickle forks but no oyster forks. Miss Manners, forgive my ignorance, what does one use a pickle fork to eat? Do people actually only eat pickles with them? Was there a time when people ate more pickles than they do now?
Dear Miss Manners: As a left handed person, I am offended by your reply that in the act of marrying, a woman stands on the man’s left side during the ceremony so she can take his right arm after they are married. Isn’t it time that this practice change? Starting with you? Gentle Reader: This is not the worst case of bigotry and discrimination of which Miss Manners has ever heard. Before you take to the streets in protest, you might consider that standing next to someone, and even offering or taking an arm, does not require use of the hand.
Dear Miss Manners: I employ five people in a small manufacturing setting. I encourage my employees to be friendly and have no problem with them talking during work or listening to the radio with their ear buds. During the course of the day, I have occasional questions regarding the work flow or job completion. I will walk into the manufacturing area, and if I determine that the conversation is of a personal nature, I will politely stop the conversation and ask the business question at hand.
Dear Miss Manners: As the managing partner of a law firm, I receive a steady stream of (mostly) unsolicited letters from attorneys seeking a position at the firm. I say “mostly,” because occasionally we advertise for an attorney with specific qualifications, e.g., expertise in water law. Yet, even when the advertisement is very specific, I receive dozens of letters and résumés from attorneys who do not meet the specified qualifications. Clearly, these people are simply taking a shot in the dark and hoping for the best. Do good manners and etiquette require me to respond to all these letters?
Dear Miss Manners: I was changing my baby’s diaper in a public restroom the other day. The changing table had no privacy whatsoever, and anyone walking in or out of the restroom had full view of what was going on. While most people seemed to avert their eyes, there was one woman who, while waiting for her children to wash their hands, kept looking over at my daughter while her diaper was off, and it made me very uncomfortable and upset. I don’t feel that staring at anyone, no matter how old, in that position is right.
Dear Miss Manners: I just read about the tradition of requiring morning attire (until now translated as tails, pearl or black vest and striped pants) of all Justice Department employees appearing before the Supreme Court at oral argument. Given all the precedent-setting possibilities implicit in this scenario, what would you recommend the new female Solicitor General do? Law is one of the few areas of life left that people take tradition and symbols seriously, and I thought you might be able to add an interesting – and much needed – perspective grounded in a real appreciation of etiquette.
Dear Miss Manners: My husband and I serve on the Board of Directors of a nonprofit YMCA Camp, which was founded decades ago by my husband’s father and bears his name. It is dear to our family and does wonderful things for children, including providing “camperships” for children not able to afford camp tuition on their own. This year, our board sent out personalized letters to friends and family members soliciting donations to the Camp’s Annual Fund Campaign. My letter made it abundantly clear that no amount was too small to make a difference to this camp, which is struggling to survive in a difficult economic time.
Dear Miss Manners: When did the tradition of having others pin money to your shirt on your birthday come about? How did this originate? Is it some modern take on an old tradition? It just seems like a tasteless excuse to beg for money to me. Am I wrong?
Dear Miss Manners: Several of my co-workers were recently laid off. Some of them are finishing up a few things for a week or two before they leave, and others left the same day. What do you say to an acquaintance who was just laid off? It’s a painful time for them, and I want to say “I’m sorry” or “Are there things I can do to help?” but I don’t want to come across as pitying them, or as saying “Ha-ha – I’m still here, and you’re not, sucks to be you!”
Dear Miss Manners: A group with whom I was hiking in Peru passed close to a woman and a boy working the land on a picturesque hillside. Each of my fellow tourists photographed them as they walked by. The people at work did not visibly react. In the towns, one sees local country people who come in their traditional clothing, with their animals, solely to make money posing for photographs, which is perhaps why the farmer photographs made me uncomfortable. It seemed to me that the people should have been offered payment for their participation, or at least asked permission.
Dear Miss Manners: My spouse is an employee for the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. As someone who works for the organization, he feels that he is morally bound to notify every smoker we meet that smoking is dangerous to one’s health. It doesn’t matter how well he knows the individuals, or the nature of the situation. My perspective is that at this point in time, all smokers are well aware of the dangers of smoking and that pointing out such dangers to them is rude and annoying. Does a 52-year-old, well-educated and informed smoker really need to be reminded of the dangers of smoking while at a cocktail party?
A stranger is stalking wedding guest lists: The Guest Once Removed. This is not someone whom the bridal couple or their families thought to invite or who is likely to have any emotional attachment to the occasion. Pressure from those on the regular guest list who regard a wedding as being a sort of prom that would be no fun without a date has created the expectation that single guests are entitled to bring their own guests.
Dear Carolyn: My boyfriend once accused me of being passive-aggressive, and now I’m paranoid. Granted, I don’t find it easy to express anger directly but mostly that’s because I feel it’s unwarranted. For example, I don’t feel justified in getting mad and yelling when my boyfriend is tired on a Friday night and would rather stay in by himself. Likewise, if he fails to call, I’d rather be uncommunicative back (sending curt e-mails). Isn’t that expressing my annoyance? Or am I being immature? I’d like to think I’d call him on bigger problems. My parents had major communication problems (no yelling, but a failure to talk about or deal with their problems), which led to infidelity and divorce. I don’t want to be the same way. – Potential Passive-Aggressive
Dear Miss Manners: My financial situation has changed recently, and not for the better. I am in a quandary about how to deal with invitations to events that I cannot afford. These aren’t invitations to extravagant balls, but invitations to meet for meals at moderately priced restaurants I used to frequent with them, or attend movies and concerts at venues that used to be in my price range.
Dear Miss Manners: Some of the lectures and panel discussions I have attended recently have been large enough to need microphones to ask the speaker questions. I understand the process of lining up and waiting to ask my question, but what do I do afterward, when I am listening to the answer? Do I stay at the microphone until the answer is completed; wait near the microphone so the next person can prepare; or do I return to my seat?
Dear Miss Manners: At a condo association meeting consisting of about 60 people, there was a head table with six people, facing about six rows of tables, about 5 feet away. In the front row were two ladies – not sitting next to each other – doing their needlework. Is it proper to do needlework while at an event such as this? I noticed that the speakers were distracted (and so was I) by their movements. Between reading the directions and rearranging their work, one couldn’t help but turn their way to see what was going on. I say it is rude.
Dear Miss Manners: Because my job is to embrace cultural differences, I try to keep an open mind – especially when it comes to food. However, I had a host who was preparing a food I know very well (it was not exactly a specialty of the region I was touring) and asked if I like it, which I most certainly do not. Because she was already well into her preparations, I didn’t want her to feel obligated to make me something different, so I panicked and said that I didn’t know it, and only took a small portion at dinner, reacting neutrally to it. For the rest of the week, she continued to serve me this food.
Dear Miss Manners: We are a very noticeable family, as our children are black and my husband and I are white. As such, we draw an inordinate amount of attention. While this was manageable when the girls were infants and couldn’t really understand what was being said, now that they are getting older and are acquiring language, we are trying our best to learn how to field some of the questions that we get. While we are very happy with how we formed our family through adoption and are always happy to discuss our experience, preferably out of the girls’ earshot, what leaves us stammering are questions such as “Where’d you get them?” “How much did they cost?” “Are they real siblings?” “Is their family dead?” “What’d they die of, AIDS?” “Couldn’t you have your own children?”
Dear Miss Manners: My family received in the mail a pre-printed postcard announcement of the impending birth of the first child of a cousin. We live in the same city and see them several times a year. While pleased about their expected first child, I find the announcement of a baby through a pre-printed postcard to be rude, impersonal and tacky. They couldn’t take five minutes to pick up the phone and tell us? My husband’s view is “at least they told us,” and he thinks I’m making too big a deal out of the postcard announcement.