DEAR MISS MANNERS: What do you say to a niece who just had a baby? She is 17 years old and unwed.

GENTLE READER: “Congratulations. I’d love to see a picture.” And, if you can manage it, “Is there anything I can do to help you?”

If, as Miss Manners suspects, you were thinking of some version of “This is not a good idea,” your timing is bad.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I customarily wear a wide-brimmed hat when going out to lunch during the summer. Once I arrive at my luncheon destination, whether it be restaurant, food court or coffee shop, I take off my hat and place it on an extra chair.

I do this because the heat is so oppressive and it’s a relief to remove the hat. I don’t place it on the table, of course, assuming that it would be bad etiquette, not to mention unhygienic. And I don’t place it on the floor, of course. So it gets placed on the other chair at my table.

Well, it seems that hat is a magnet for anyone needing a chair for their own table. They make a beeline for my chair and demand to know if anyone is using it, looking down at the hat. I’m usually so taken by surprise that I give up the chair and end up balancing my hat, precariously and uncomfortably, on my knee.

This happened to me today at a coffee shop. It wasn’t until someone had taken the chair away that I noticed the table behind him had a gentleman sitting at it, with an empty chair, equidistant from his table.

I would like to know how to handle this situation, to be prepared next time. My instinct is to, first, not get surprised — it’s happened so many times. I plan to say, “Yes, I am using it.” Then I will look around and say, “That gentleman is not using his chair. If you are too shy to ask him for it, shall I do it for you?” And then I’ll do it. Pointedly.

Seriously, Miss Manners. I love my hats, and I’m thinking of giving them up if I can’t deal with this situation.

GENTLE READER: Nobody loves hats more than Miss Manners, except possibly the Mad Hatter, but even she acknowledges that human beings outrank them. No one should have to stand while a hat — or a backpack, or a laptop — is comfortably ensconced.

If there are other seats available, you can certainly point them out — although politely, rather than, as you suggest, pointedly: “Do you mind seeing if that one over there is free?” If not, yield gracefully.

As for where to park your hat — on your head. Unlike gentlemen, ladies need not remove their hats indoors. If necessary, you can remove it briefly to wipe your brow.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: How does one acknowledge that a friend has been given six weeks to live, besides visiting and supporting them? What can one say?

GENTLE READER: One can listen. If there is ever a time that one should be allowed to direct the conversation, it is at the end. You will soon understand whether that particular friend wants to reminisce, philosophize, bemoan fate or chat as usual. Miss Manners trusts that you can then work statements of your affection and admiration into any conversation.

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

2012, by Judith Martin

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