Dear Miss Manners: Since the advent of hands-free devices for cellphones, it seems that many people feel the need to multitask or entertain themselves while they accomplish a boring task.
However, cellphones amplify background noise. While driving, one finds oneself subjected to the sounds of running water, whirling blenders, clanging dishes, talking GPS and other sounds. I don't know how one can be a defensive driver while talking on the phone to someone who cannot see the traffic situation. Not only do these noises make the conversation unpleasant, I find it rude.
It comes as a relief to Miss Manners to discover that the boring task you refer to is driving, and not the call itself (and as a surprise that your friends have running water and blenders in their cars).
Etiquette objects to overt demonstrations that you are not listening, but cares less whether you are actually paying attention. This allows for driving or looking at your computer (preferably not both at the same time), so long as your computer does not play an audible fanfare when you win at Solitaire.
Dear Miss Manners: My husband and I are childless. We have four adult nieces to whom we've given birthday, Christmas and graduation gifts over the years. Sometimes thank-you notes arrived, and other times they did not.
Three months ago, we gave them each $5,000 to assist in paying their student loans. We received two thank-you notes, but no acknowledgment from the others.
We've decided we are not going to continue giving gifts to adults who do not offer any gratitude.
If they offer a "thank you" when we next see them, what is the proper response? My inclination is to say, "We actually expected to hear from you at the time we sent the gift," and, if it makes them uncomfortable, it should. My husband says we should just say nothing and stick with our plan to stop future gifts for them, so we don't cause an issue in front of other members of the family.
Although she agrees that presents should be answered by thank-you letters — and such major ones by major thanks — Miss Manners prohibits public punishment of transgressors.
Withholding future presents is sufficient. A Gentle Reader does not answer one rudeness with another, and insulting someone in the act of rectifying an acknowledged mistake — by thanking you in person — is not merely ungracious, it is risky. What will you do if your niece reacts in horror, protesting that she did mail a thank-you letter at the time?
Dear Miss Manners: I have been widowed for three years, and I have been wondering for some time: When are the brothers and sisters of my deceased spouse no longer my in-laws? Is it at the time of my spouse's death, at the time I remarry, or is there no change, and they will always be my in-laws?
Two out of three. Technically, Miss Manners supposes that the marriage ended with the death of your spouse, and in-laws are only in-laws as a side effect of marriage. But unless you are desperate to downsize your family, common practice recognizes such relationships as continuing in perpetuity. This requires more tact after you remarry — although presumably your new spouse would be a person of integrity and sympathy — and even more for those whose marriages end not in death, but in divorce.
New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, missmanners.com. You can also follow her @RealMissManners.
2020, by Judith Martin