Miss Manners: Drop-in guests should show some consideration

February 28, 2013

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am old enough to recall when guests came first. Drop-ins might have been unexpected, but never unwanted or unwelcome. The family made accommodations as if they had been invited — even if guests got most of the meal or the children of the household ate peanut butter sandwiches.

Nowadays the family’s schedule comes first, and drop-ins might not even be invited in for a brief chat and coffee. Calling first does not mean they will be welcome either.

Is this a sign of the rudeness that is so pervasive in society?

GENTLE READER: At first, Miss Manners thought you must have meant to write that you recalled when guests “called” first. It seemed unlikely that you would be old enough to predate the telephone, the invention that made asking-before-appearing possible.

Certainly, people should show great consideration for their guests. But guests are also obliged to show consideration. Popping up unexpectedly and eating the children’s dinner does not meet that standard.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: For meetings, I periodically place a to-go order with a local restaurant for 10 to 20 people. The owner of the restaurant asked for a tip.

Is this standard practice? I have not tipped for carry-out unless delivered.

GENTLE READER: It is not the custom to insult the owner of a business by offering him a tip. Unfortunately, Miss Manners understands that it has indeed become a frequent practice of owners to request being insulted.

As with other requests for handouts, one need not comply. If you feel an explanation is necessary, you could say, “Of course I tip employees, who make so little, but aren’t you the owner?”

DEAR MISS MANNERS: The other day I ran into an acquaintance, the mother of one of my daughter’s former classmates. We exchanged pleasantries and I asked what was new with her daughter. She then went on for several minutes, telling me about her daughter’s difficult mental health problems.

I tried to respond positively and supportively, saying something about, “How difficult, but I’m glad she’s doing so much better.” Then she asked me about my daughter, who is doing extremely well.

Miss Manners, how should one respond in this situation? Do I downplay my daughter’s success and happiness? Am I expected to share some unpleasant aspect of my daughter’s life so as not to sound as if I am bragging, or make this woman feel worse about her own situation? Or do I just state the facts — where my daughter lives, what she does, marital status — without editorial comments, as I wish she had, without burdening me with the tale of her daughter’s unhappy circumstances.

GENTLE READER: You say you would not have whined, but Miss Manners hopes that you also would not have bragged even if the other mother had done so. So yes, just give whatever straightforward news of your daughter that you would have given anyway.

The important thing to remember is that the daughters are not rivals but presumably friends, or at least acquaintances who would show some concern about each other. Therefore, it is not just your own sympathy you should convey, but the statement that you know that your daughter, too, will be concerned to hear of her former classmate’s troubles and will wish her well.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

, by Judith Martin

Distributed by Universal Uclick for UFS

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