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Carolyn Hax: Readers’ wisdom on dealing with boorish public behavior


While I’m away, readers give the advice.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

On dealing with boorish public behavior:

I have found that life is so much more pleasant when I assume the best of everyone. I rarely take offense; rather, I assume the person just had an awkward moment but meant well. When someone is obviously dishing dirt, I try to refrain from shoveling it back, again assuming the best from the other people within earshot. And if the others go along with the dirt, then I guess they aren’t people I care to associate with anyway.

I get lots of practice because I am a high school teacher.

(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)


When my charming 32-year-old son, who happens to have Down syndrome, was 18 months old, he was with me at a Christmas party. As he sat on the floor with some other children, a guest walked up, looked at him, looked at me, and said, “Didn’t you have prenatal testing?”

For 30 years, I have regretted being so completely stunned that I couldn’t say a word. Sometimes you really do have to respond.


On not having kids and remaining friends with people who do:

I have stayed very close to my three college roommates. I lived farthest away and never married or had kids. I loved visiting my friends and seeing how they live, and they loved coming to visit me and see how I live. I’ve seen them through kids and divorces and now one expecting a grandchild.

Sure, the poop-centric talk got to me at times, but knowing what is going on in their lives is part of friendship. We were also lucky in that two of the three husbands understood how much we valued our time together and would otherwise engage the kids so the merlot could be poured.

I’m still touched by the memory of one friend who called me after Baby 3 was born, just to chat. She was still in the hospital feeling miserable and said, “I just want to hear your voice.” Could I relate to her nursing issues? No. Could I relate to just needing someone to talk to? Yes.


On making assumptions about other people’s circumstances:

It grinds my gears when someone will say about another, “They have plenty of money.” This is usually followed by some kind of suggestion about how they should be using it.

How can anyone presume to know anything about another person’s finances? EVER? I have plenty of commitments with my money that are none of anyone else’s business, and though it may seem to an onlooker that I have a lot, my dollars are accounted for how I choose, not you.

So please, anyone out there who may ever see this, do not ever assume someone can chip in more than they committed for Mom’s birthday gift, or for cousin Joe’s medical treatment. You don’t know, you don’t get to ask, and you definitely don’t get to tell.


On having too many people to see when returning home:

When my brother and family come from out of town, they choose a restaurant or tavern for anyone who wants to see them to join them at their own expense. It always ends well!


Another reader asks a friend to host a potluck. — CH

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at

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