Miss Manners: Yet another reason not to discuss business at the table

November 25, 2013

DEAR MISS MANNERS: How does one socialize politely with one’s in-laws when they are involved in activities that I find immoral and are, at times, illegal?

I try to steer the conversation away from the illicit activities by asking questions about my husband’s childhood, inquiring after their health, asking to hear about the latest antics of their pets, etc. Invariably, the talk turns toward my father-in-law’s “business.” He was serving a jail term related to this work when I met my husband and has now shifted his business offshore.

Even if the work is not illegal in that country (and I have my doubts), it is still illegal in the United States. It is immoral in that he is taking advantage of a highly vulnerable group of people by endangering their health in order to make money.

He appears to believe in his work, saying that the federal government “misunderstands” him.

Should I take the viewpoint that this man is mentally ill, simply respond with a noncommittal “I see,” and continue to change the subject? Mention gently that since his work has caused my husband so much pain, I’d rather not discuss it?

My mother-in-law talks about how they’ll spend the anticipated windfall; my sister-in-law’s family may relocate so that she can go into her father’s business, while my husband and I know that it’s all based on fraud.

Please rest assured that I have discussed this matter with an attorney friend, and intervened anonymously when it appeared that the law was about to be broken (and the business was disrupted for a time). Yet the question regarding polite dinner conversation remains unresolved.

GENTLE READER: Tell your in-laws that because you are concerned for their welfare, it might be best if they do not discuss business while you or your husband is present, because there is no legal privilege that would protect them from any statements you might have to give if questioned by law enforcement.

In the silence that follows, Miss Manners suggests you tell them the latest antics of your own pets.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I don’t know what to do. We gather for holiday meals with extended family. Some members spend their time texting under the table and not making any effort to interact with anyone around them. I don’t want to cause a family feud. I think it is important to speak to those around you and to be engaged in the event. These are young adults.

What happened to bringing topics to the table and being prepared to share? By the way, not all of the young adults do this, just some. It is extremely uncomfortable to be sitting next to someone who is actively ignoring you.

GENTLE READER: Nor should you. Remember the children’s table? You could set one up for those who do not intend to participate in adult society.

Better yet, Miss Manners recommends passing a nicely decorated Thanksgiving basket before dinner, in which to collect all electronic devices. It would be a good deed for people who would otherwise be having Thanksgiving dinner with those whom your guests are texting.

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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