Dear Miss Manners:
During a business trip, I was invited to the home of a colleague for dinner. To my delight, his wife was a lovely woman who greeted me warmly in flawless English with just a hint of her native Italy accenting a couple of words. Before I could relate the fact that I speak Italian fluently, my hosts engaged in a private conversation completely in Italian!
The substance of the conversation made it impossible for me to confess that I had understood every word -- including some that remarked on my overall attractiveness despite a bottom that could be somewhat smaller -- without risking extreme embarrassment and shame to my otherwise gracious hosts. Yet I felt more than just a twinge of guilt that I did not let on that I understood what they assumed was their private language.
I was hoping that as time passes, and their memories of that evening fade, I could then share that I know the language so that if I ever do visit again they'll know not to risk such behavior -- but without a clear memory of whether they had behaved inappropriately in my previous visit. Please tell me what I should have done under the circumstances.
You must really have liked those comments about your attractiveness. Here you are, bless you, worrying about delicacy toward people who had committed three acts of rudeness toward you when you had scarcely walked in the door.
Holding any private conversation in front of a guest is rude, and when it involves sizing up his, ah, never mind, while he is standing there, it is even ruder. It is also rude to assume that it is safe to do so because you could not possibly speak a non-uncommon foreign language.
Miss Manners would have advised making the point on the spot by saying politely, in Italian, "It is good to know that I have your approval." She would hope that they would then have had the sense to laugh through their well-deserved embarrassment, apologize profusely and then quickly change the conversation to complimenting your Italian.
Dear Miss Manners:
I have hosted several parties where my adult male friends have not only left the toilet seat up after using the bathroom, but have left urine on the toilet as well as on the floor in front of the toilet. The women are disgusted with the inconsideration. I am planning another gathering soon. Would it be rude for me to place a small note in the bathroom asking my male guests to clean up after themselves and to put the seat back down?
When you feel you have to beg your guests to observe the ordinary rules of decent and sanitary behavior, you should be editing your guest list instead of making signs. Scofflaws are not suddenly riveted into politeness by signs.
When you feel you have to beg them to observe this particular nicety, Miss Manners suggests you also edit your menu, perhaps to offer more food and less drink.
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.
(c) 2004, Judith Martin