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Expecting Trouble

By Judith Martin
Wednesday, April 6, 2005; Page C10

Dear Miss Manners:

My mother-in-law and sister-in-law are planning a two-week visit, timing it for right after the birth of my twins. I also have two older children, ages 4 and 6.

My mother-in-law tells me that she needs all her food to be salt-free and low-fat, and she wants "plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables." My sister-in-law says she is a vegetarian, and that she only eats low-fat. Our family eats all food groups and doesn't try to eat low-fat or low-salt. All the meals I make, and all the foods in our refrigerator and cabinets, and all my cookbooks and recipes, reflect this.

I follow Miss Manners' guidelines in all things, even when it means doing what I don't want to do. Obviously I don't want to cook vegetarian, salt-free and low-fat when I've never done it before, especially with newborn twins, especially for two full weeks. If this were one big family meal it wouldn't be an issue: I know that I could put out extra bowls of vegetables and extra baskets of bread, and leave out the salt and let people season their own. But I can't see feeding my sister-in-law nothing but corn and peas for two weeks -- she'll need vegetarian proteins, won't she?

And you will need rest, won't you? Did you think that Miss Manners would ignore that and insist upon rigidly applying rules of hospitality designed for ordinary visits?

You did not plan this visit, and it would not be rude of you to say that you cannot handle their staying with you at this time, suggesting another time or that they find accommodations nearby. Better yet, you could welcome them with the hearty exclamation, "I'm so glad you're coming! I can use all the help I can get! If you'll take care of the cooking, we'll get the supplies ahead of time if you give us a list."

Dear Miss Manners:

I attend a state college and often use the computer labs there. I cannot help but notice that many of the students keep the sound on their computers on. This is especially a distraction and annoyance when a "bling" effect happens every time they send or receive a message.

I do not know what possesses the school to purchase computers with speakers in the first place, but would I be wrong to ask these computer users to turn the sound on their machine off?

Not if you do it politely with a whispered, "I'm sorry, but would you mind . . .?"

Miss Manners doubts that you will meet any resistance. It is not as though the blings are part of the entertainment. Probably it is just one of those things that didn't occur to anyone -- the purchasers of the computers, the supervisors of the labs or the users. You could therefore save yourself trouble by mentioning it to someone in authority and asking for a general rule, rather than having to go around to individual users.

Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

© 2005, Judith Martin

© 2005 The Washington Post Company