DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I went to a window showroom where I was offended that the “window expert” was chewing gum the entire time of her presentation. She appeared too casual, not professional, and very annoying. Secondly, she made several unnecessary, negative references to our president, indicating that he was responsible for the low number of the glass for which one can get a tax credit.

She said, “He lived in Hawaii. What does he know about cold weather?”

We ended up going to a different window dealer since it was this person who would have come to our house to measure, etc., and I honestly could not stand another interview with the gum-chewing and her political views.

Is there anything I could have done that would be within the bounds of good taste?

GENTLE READER: It must have been hard to resist pointing out that the president’s home is in Chicago, where they do have a bit of cold weather now and then.

But why react at all? You wanted to escape from this person, not converse with her.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Can I properly invite people to a restaurant for a surprise party and expect them to pay their way?

GENTLE READER: This has certainly become a popular way to surprise people. They think they have been invited out to dinner, and — surprise! — they are given a bill.

This does not make it proper, but it does make Miss Manners feel that she should warn people to be careful when accepting what sounds like hospitality.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband has two grown children from his first marriage; I do not have any. Whenever we are in a social setting, talking with people we don’t know well or are just meeting, they ask, “Do you guys have kids?”

I know the proper answer is “no.” My husband always has to throw in, “Well, I have a son and daughter from my first marriage.”

I see this as inappropriate for several reasons. Am I incorrect in thinking that we need to just answer “no” and move on with the conversation? I feel this level of laundry airing to be unnecessary.

GENTLE READER: Laundry airing? To admit to having children?

Miss Manners is sorry, but this does not meet the modern standard for a dirty little secret. Besides, “no” is not, as you suppose, a correct answer. Your husband has children, and you have stepchildren.

It may help you to remember that your interlocutors have no deep interest in the provenance of these children. They are merely trying to start a conversation. More likely, they are angling for an opening to talk about their children. So all either of you need say is, “Yes, two, both grown up. And you?”

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it rude to want to shake someone’s hand while they are eating?

GENTLE READER: It’s messy. And Miss Manners fails to see why it would be necessary. If the two are eating together, it’s a bit late to shake hands, and if one person has just come upon the other, say at a restaurant, the greeting should be fleet enough not to require the diner to swivel or stand in order to reach out a hand.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site,, where you can send her your questions.

2012, by Judith Martin

Distributed by Universal Uclick for UFS