Miss Manners: Feel free to tour your waiting room

November 11, 2013

DEAR MISS MANNERS: If I’m asked to wait in an office setting, or while waiting in someone’s home, is it rude of me to get up and look at paintings on the wall or book spines on a bookshelf (not touching or opening the books) in the room where I was instructed to wait?

GENTLE READER: If you have had the opportunity to take the public tour of the receiving rooms of a king or visited an elected official, you may have discerned a pattern in the decoration.

There is a definite bias toward displays that flatter the owner. Whether the state treasury could spring for Berninis and Michelangelos, or had to settle for maps showing territorial boundaries of dubious legality, it was the owner’s fondest hope that his guests, subjects or clients would look around.

Miss Manners has no objection, even if the means of modern hosts limit displays to the books they have read, the schools they have attended or the celebrities with whom they have been photographed. She would, however, refrain from pointing out that the Tintoretto is a fake.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: And so it begins: the politics of who comes to Thanksgiving dinner.

One won’t come unless her dog can come too. One will not come if so-and-so comes. One will not come unless another apologizes for XYZ that was said a few years ago.

Then there is the one who has now become vegan and will not come if any animals are on the menu. And one who has finally gotten sober but will not come unless there is no liquor whatsoever.

Last year, my husband went more than 30 miles to fetch my mother and invalid brother. When they saw that my husband’s adult daughter, whom few folks care to be around, was with him, they decided to not attend.

The dishes they were to bring stayed with them, too. My nephew, who had been estranged for several years, was going to be there, yet decided that avoiding my stepdaughter outweighed this significant event. Before my husband got home, they were on the phone trying to get others not to come either.

Another couple stayed away since they were not going to be “allowed” to exhibit bodily functions at my home, much less at the dinner table.

Yes, I expect good behavior. I set a beautiful table. Not one dish on it is other than made from old family recipes and completely from scratch.

Last year I made nice to all; I put on a hostess face and served a lovely, generous meal. The table conversation was pleasant. I did not speak poorly of anyone, nor did I allow anyone else to do so.

This year I am extending invitations, and who wants to come may come. I am not begging, nor am I asking, anyone else to meet the terms of another. If they come, they come. What else can I do?

GENTLE READER: You can do no more than to invite your relatives, leave it up to them whether or not they will attend, and maintain a pleasant atmosphere. And give thanks that disgruntled people, especially those who wish to exhibit bodily functions — Miss Manners does not want that explained — will be absent.

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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