Miss Manners: Birdbrained comments on the empty nest

July 16, 2013

Dear Miss Manners:

My husband recently passed away and my youngest child will be going off to college in the fall. What do I say to all the people (and there are many) who tell me, “Pretty soon you’ll be all alone?”

Would it be rude to say, “Thank you for reminding me,” or must I lie and say I’m looking forward to the empty nest, so as not to hurt their feelings?

Well, their feelings are not especially delicate, are they?

Still, Miss Manners does not care for either of the responses you suggest. The first is not only rude, but pathetic, and the second is insulting to your child. Many parents do crow about their children leaving, whether defensively or genuinely, but it speaks badly of their family bonds.

She offers you a better choice. If you can bring it off with a somewhat derisive laugh, you could say: “Why, I’m not being abandoned, you know. My child is just going to college. We’re both very excited about that.”

Or you could just say coldly: “How kind of you to worry about me. Fortunately, I do have friends.”

Dear Miss Manners:

How do I politely tell parents that when my 13-year-old daughter invites their girls for a sleepover, it’s not an invitation to let the parents spend a night on the town, then retrieve their children very late that night?

Often a parent will reply to our overnight invite by telling us they’ll come by to get their girl at 10 or 11 p.m. This means I’m unable to close up my house, get into my pajamas, relax and get to bed — because I’m waiting for these parents to show up at the door.

Their responses are always couched very politely: “We would love for Lucy to come over! But we need to retrieve her at 10 because she has an early morning appointment.” I can’t really say, “Sorry, this was a sleepover invite, not a baby-sitting job.” Advice?

Just some judicious editing to the remark you admit you cannot make. Miss Manners’s version is: “Oh, dear, I’m so sorry — and Lily will be so sorry that Lucy can’t be here for the sleepover. I’m sure she’ll want to invite her another time, when Lucy can stay overnight.”

Dear Miss Manners:

What is an appropriate delay between the time one arrives at a friend’s home and asking for their WiFi password?

It is considered polite to say hello first.

If you are a houseguest, you may ask during orientation — right after you have been told where the coffee is in case you get up early, and how many times you need to jiggle the handle on the toilet to get it to work.

But if you are there for a meal or other short visit, Miss Manners wonders why you need to know. Oh — you are expecting an emergency? Then why are you gadding about, instead of preparing for it?

Dear Miss Manners:

What should you do with the seeds of the watermelon while you’re eating it? Spit them on your plate?

Watermelon spitting contests are properly held outdoors, not at a dining table. There the seed should be quietly slipped into the cupped hand and then unobtrusively transferred to the plate.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays on www.washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com.

, by Judith Martin

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