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Posted by Robin Abrahams  October 9, 2011 12:41 AM

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My husband and I will be joining my brother and his wife at my parents' home out of state for Christmas. We all agree that the beds in the two guest rooms are less than ideal: One is a pullout sofa that leaves cricks in the back, the other a daybed with a trundle and hard mattresses. Is there any way to discuss this with my parents, or do we stay silent in return for their hospitality? If we stay at a hotel, their feelings will be hurt. 
M.T. / Malden 

 Quantify, quantify! How long are you staying, and how far from ideal are these sleeping arrangements? When you say "crick in the back," do you mean the sort of owie that requires an extra cup of coffee and a couple of Tylenol in the morning, or do you mean agonizing spasms that go on for a week after you've returned home? 

Minor aches and pains -- or the indignity, at the aches-and-pains stage of life, of having to sleep in an arrangement most notably associated with Laura Ingalls Wilder -- aren't worth fussing over. Traveling for family, like traveling for the Peace Corps, needs to be motivated by loving kindness and anthropological curiosity rather than pleasure seeking. You put up with a little discomfort in exchange for intimacy and saving a few bucks on a hotel. 

Or maybe you're talking about a solid week of insomnia and Vicodin pain. If this is the case, why don't you and your brother pitch in to get your parents some better guest bedding as a Christmas present? You're probably not the only overnight guests they have, after all. And this needn't mean new furniture. Inflatable mattresses are comfortable and an egg-carton foam mattress topper can ameliorate a sofa bed's shortcomings. (I know the latter for a fact, because my mother told me she didn't like sleeping on mine, and gave me a foam topper for my birthday. My other houseguests and I are all quite grateful to her.) 

This may sound melodramatic, but one day you and your brother and your parents will have to make judgments much more difficult than deciding whether "youngest gets the trundle" is still as sound a principle as in the frontier days. It's not a bad idea to get some practice now at communicating your needs and listening to those of others. 

When I tell people that I attend MIT, I'll occasionally get the "You were only accepted because you're a girl" response. It's hard to believe people still believe that ridiculous claim -- women have to work just as hard to get in and their grades are just as excellent as mens'. I'm looking for a lighthearted way to correct this impression and make people realize that I and the rest of the female population at MIT are here based on merit, not on gender. Any suggestions? 
A.O. / Cambridge 

People who say this aren't making some out-of-date comment about affirmative action, A.O. They are alpha-dogging you, and the most effective response is one delivered with an air of amused superiority. You know what game they are playing and you are not going to fall for it, so let's move on, shall we? 

A condescendingly murmured "I know, honey, I know" would work, or a mild "If that's your best material, don't give up your day job." Whatever you do, don't bring up your work ethic, SAT scores, or patents pending. Displaying your qualifications may feel like being assertive, but the message it really sends is "Yes, you do have the right to judge me." This is not a conversation that should be played by the other person's rules. Which means that perhaps the best response to "You only got admitted because you are a girl" would be a wide-eyed, deadpan "Oh, but I wasn't when I applied!"
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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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