Your Life your connection to The Boston Globe
Miss Conduct chat

Miss Conduct chat -- August 15, 2007

Robin_Abrahams: Hello, everyone! This is Robin Abrahams, aka Miss Conduct, and it's time to solve the world's problems together yet again. Get a snack, get comfy, and let's talk--
baldguy: I once knew a hockey player who became a Drag Queen, she went by the name Miss Conduct. Any relation?
Robin_Abrahams: Could be. The Conduct family tree is awfully branchy. We're having a reunion next winter, I'll keep an eye out.
email_question: My question is about email etiquette and it is, when sending email with your automatic signature which includes my name, title,phone number website I also sign my name or regards or anything or is my automatic signature enough
Robin_Abrahams: Yes, generally signing your first name, with whatever signoff you usually use (e.g., "Best, Robin") is good. Think of it as the equivalent of signing a letter in pen when your name is typed below.
gee: Two questions, both wedding related -- if you can't attend, but want to send a gift, do you say "can't attend" and ask for the registry/address info at the same time? Or do those separately? The other question is...what do you do if you didn't send wedding thank-you notes...and now it's years later. Terrible, I know, but I can't send them years late, can I?
Robin_Abrahams: As to the first question, it doesn't really matter. I generally prefer to ask a family member or member of the wedding party where a couple is registered; some people feel self-conscious about being asked ("Hey, where am I supposed to buy you a present, anyways?"). Second question: YES, write the notes or better yet call with apologies. The people who gave you gifts have not forgotten.
melanie: my boyfriend and i are attending a wedding on saturday. he says we have up to one year to give the couple a present. is this really true? id hate to show up empty handed.
Robin_Abrahams: Okay, a couple of wedding-related ones and then we'll take a break. You and your boyfriend are both off base--wedding presents should be sent in advance, not brought to the wedding.
rosie: Is it okay to wear black dress to a wedding? I have a formal evening wedding in mind, but I'm curious about daytime weddings, too.
Robin_Abrahams: The tradition is not to wear all black (too funereal) or all white (too bridal) to weddings. If the wedding itself is very nontraditional you could probably get away with it, but if it's a formal one, don't.
Our_Waiter: you are a server at a restaurant. a guest orders a meal and they mispronounce the name of the meal.
Robin_Abrahams: Okay, enough of wedding questions for a while. So, Our_Waiter, I guess you're not really talking about me but about you, here, aren't you? If I were you I'd avoid saying the name of the dish subsequently, and certainly not correct the customer. (Anyone who's sensible enough to WANT to be corrected will be sensible enough to understand why you felt it was safer not to.)
Strict_Mom: Am I wrong to want to teach my son's 15 year old friend some manners when he's at our house? He apparently doesn't have any.
Robin_Abrahams: Of course you're not--but do be sure you don't embarrass or humiliate him in any way. That's how people wind up getting the idea that etiquette is about being snooty and feeling superior to other people.
June: Hello Miss Conduct. Your column is the first thing I turn to in the Sunday Globe! I'm invited to a couple of weddings of colleagues' children this fall. I'd like to find out if anyone else in our workplace is invited. But if I inquire of someone I *think* may be invited, and s/he is not, there might be hurt feelings. And I don't think I can ask the colleagues who else they invited -- can I? I guess I'm a little afraid of not knowing anyone there and I selfishly want to know who else is going!
Robin_Abrahams: Okay, back to weddings--but this problem applies to all kinds of events, of course. I think it's okay to ask the inviter who else is on the list, especially if the reason is that you don't want to accidentally spill the beans.
sneezer: in this weather i find myself sneezing a lot outside, while walking down busy city streets. I've never heard a bless you, and I know I'm around strangers while sneezing, but they hear my sneeze... is it appropriate for a "bless you" or is it really not a big deal?
Robin_Abrahams: In another part of the country one might say "bless you" to a stranger, but Bostonians generally value leaving each other alone with their thoughts. I don't think it is unfriendliness, it's a combination shyness and almost exaggerated respect for privacy. (At least that's this transplanted midwesterner's analysis.)
NYCGirl: Not about weddings: How do I introduce my dad's girlfriend to people? I feel awkward saying, "And this is my dad's girlfriend, so-and-so..." because I never know how to classify them as a couple (They're in their 50s, been together 2 years).
Robin_Abrahams: Have you asked them what their preference is? If that would just feel entirely too weird, how about "This is my father Bill and his friend, Janet"?
Neighborly: I have a very close friend and neighbor. We have known each other for years and have children the same ages. We have watched each other kids grow together and spend a lot of time together. What is my problem is that my friend will talk excessively about her kids- bragging about their accomplishments to the point where it is uncomfortable. My children are quite successful, but I do not discuss their success with others in the same way. I just do not know how to respond when I hear how ?great? her kids are.
Robin_Abrahams: Hmmm. I think you've got two choices: you either do the relationship talk and tell her about your discomfort, and ask her to help solve the communication problem with you--or you go, "Mmm-hmm, that's great" a lot. (I'm 99% sure that's all she wants to hear from you.) Which path does your gut tell you to take?
Daisy: Do I need to write thanks yous as I go along or can I wait until the dust settles ?
Robin_Abrahams: You WANT to write thank-yous as you go along, Daisy, you WANT to. Because composing one or two thank-you notes is a delightful pastime akin to writing haikus, but writing five or more at a swat is a grueling uphill climb that will leave you filled with resentment.
Robin_Abrahams: Daisy, I'm sorry--I was skimming down very quickly (there's a lot of questions coming in) and didn't see your first question that put this one in perspective. I thought you were a bride or new mom.
Daisy: Hi Miss Conduct! A few weeks ago I inquired if it would be okay not to attend a dreaded baby shower . Strange family circumstances. My idea was to send money to a needy party after the fact. My sister in law called to tell me my niece was yes! going to have a shower. I balked for a few seconds and honestly told her what I thought of the up coming event and to please try to keep me off the guest list. I was nervous doing this but to my surprise my sister in law laughed and said no prob. Thought you'd want to know your advice was great, again! My question for today is much more serious. My husband has been diagnosed with cancer of a type- and location that will take several months to recover from. Blessed with LOTS of friends and family doing wonderful things for us both. I've been keeping a folder of cards and letters/tracking the good deeds. I thought it would cheer my husband to be able to reread and serve as a reminder of how much he is loved.
Robin_Abrahams: I'm glad things worked out with the shower. I am so sorry to hear about your husband (and happy to hear he'll be recovering)--but you never do know how much you are truly loved until these things happen, do you? Anyway, I think your idea about keeping a "good deed file" is a brilliant one, and thank you for sharing it! And although my advice above was flippant, I stand by the basic idea--do the TYNs when and how makes the most sense for your schedule and emotional needs. I'm sorry again that I overlooked this question before answering the first.
BoSoxGal: My question relates to the telephone manners (or lack thereof ...) of a dear friend - basically, there never seems to be an appropriate time to call him ! (He always has to end the call to watch a tv show, re-cap his pen, etc ...) He does not use email, so that alternative isn't available - any thoughts re how to handle ? My delicate feelings have been hurt ....
Robin_Abrahams: Try asking him if you are calling at inconvenient times, or staying on the phone too long. Pose it as what are *you* doing that could be changed, and see how that goes.
Birthdaygal: How do I get my parents to stop calling my boyfriend of 2 1/2 years my "friend"? Am I being too sensitive?
Robin_Abrahams: I'd let it go--there just isn't a good word for adult romantic companions. I doubt that anyone your parents introduce your boyfriend to wouldn't realize that you're a couple. As long as the relationship between him and them is generally good, let this one slide.
franktank: We're getting married Summer 2008 in Newport RI. Due to hotel booking up so early / rooms at the inn etc -- When should I send out the "Save the Dates" and in those I would like to give them hotel information etc.
Robin_Abrahams: Boy, I would ask someone with specific experience on that. Ask the hotels when they usually book, or ask the wedding planner or any other local people you're working with what they advise. I could give you general parameters but I think talking to people in the region would be a lot more helpful.
jw3: My husband and I are about to have our 3rd child. We are planning a very small baptism (for the first 2 we had over 40 people at the party). How do I respond when people ask when the party is? We are trying to keep it small and are on a budget.
Robin_Abrahams: It might be a good idea to get out in front of the bad news--if there are people who would expect an invite and aren't going to get one, call and tell them (with Appropriate Expressions of Regret) so that they're not waiting for something that doesn't come. For the others, there's not much else you can do other than to explain (with E.A.R.s) that this time you had to have a much smaller ceremony and couldn't invite everyone you wanted.
Phone_Lady: Would you consider it proper Corporate Etiquette to host a Customer Appreciation Day/Corporate Golf Tournament on September 11th? I believe it is inappropriate but I have other co-workers who disagree with me.
Robin_Abrahams: Unless your office is located close to the events, or is in some way or another connected with them, I think it would be acceptable.
AJ: Hi Robin, love the chats, column and blog! How can I ask my neighbor, with whom I am friendly and have a good neighbor relationship with, to stop slamming her screen door when she leaves her house very early in the morning? She does it again an hour later when she returns. It wakes us up, even with the air conditioner in the window. Our bedroom windows face the side of her house where she slams the door. I do not want to cause a rift.
Robin_Abrahams: She's probably not even aware she's doing it, so start off with that. "You probably don't realize this, but the screen door when you close it in the morning is really loud .." (see, we blame the DOOR, not the slam, for the noise). Ask if she can try to close it quietly and point out that you know that will be a new habit to learn, and you won't be annoyed if she forgets a few times. That should do it!
jc_2: I have a thought on your column this week. The writer complained that men at her workplace treated her as though she were a child. I wonder, maybe she is not practicing good office manners? Perhaps her lunch frequently has a distinct odor? Perhaps she flips her flops all over the place? Maybe she just wasn't looking at herself too see others maybe were trying to be subtle? Just a thought from the peanut gallery. I completely love your column though!
Robin_Abrahams: Unless my Spidey Sense goes off, I tend to take what my letter-writers tell me at face value. The woman who wrote that letter did not seem unprofessional to me in her e-mail, and I've seen men engaging in the kind of behavior she's described before, so the Spidey Sense was silent on this one. (And thanks for the kind words!)
quickquestion: my wife and I were discussing this the other day - why is it when you go out to dinner or drinks with friends, and the bill comes, it is common to split it evenly, even though on couple could have been responsible for a greater portion of the bill?
Robin_Abrahams: Because to break the spell of good fellowship and cheer to niggle over who got what spoils the mood for a lot of people. (Not for everyone, though, and no offense to any lurking accountants.)
Robin_Abrahams: Hmmm ... it's quiet out there. Maybe I'll take a break to go check out the beloved Milo. He just got back from the groomers--he had to get de-skunked this morning!
Robin_Abrahams: Still a little skunky, but no worse than the last Miller Icehouse I had.
LML: I asked a question a while ago about how to deal with "you're so big" comments from coworkers - umm yes, I am 8+ months pregnant and fully aware of how large I am. It's always the same people and they don't respond to "that's a rude thing to say".
Robin_Abrahams: How about a straight-faced, "Oh, that's just because there's a human being gestating in my body. Nothing to worry about."
jc: Thanks for all your advice! I have a roommate who has relations with her boyfriend that are loud and well ... shake the house. We've asked her a few times to keep it down but it continues? What's the next step?
Robin_Abrahams: I think the next step is looking for a new place. If they know you can hear and aren't toning it down, there's a good chance that means they ENJOY knowing that you can hear.
2much: Another question: if someone who owns a store gives you something very expensive from that store as a gift, what is the proper way to thank them? other than a thank you note that is...
Robin_Abrahams: A thank you note is fine!
yoyomama_2: i don't say 'bless you' because i'm an atheist! wish there was something else to say though, as i am constantly suppressing the urge to wish the sneezer good health!
Robin_Abrahams: Gesundheit, how about? I wouldn't get my theological panties in a twist over "Bless you"--you're not saying WHO is blessing them, are you? You can be the one blessing them, if it comes to that.
ooh_miss_conduct: my massage therapist own the spa and he's wonderful..i am cheap and always thought that if they own the spa you don't have to tip...can you tell me if i should tip..i give him excellent business and know he appreciates that
Robin_Abrahams: Nearly all spa/salon/etc. owners are just fiiiine with being tipped these days. If you suspect your guy is old-school, give him a nice holiday-season gift instead.
bub: "gesundheit" means the same thing as "bless you"
Robin_Abrahams: No, it means "health."
an: Love your column. My question is this, how can i politely tell my mother in law to butt out in front of other family members or friends. She frequently thinks she has the right to make important decisions for my kids, despite being asked several times not to do so. We actually had to have a very specific conversation after an explosive argument regarding what my husband and I feel is appropriate. I fear that it will not be enough. This is based on past behavior. She has told the kids that she makes the rules and that my say does not matter- while standing in front of me. SHe has made decisions about family vacations and began to tell the kids without consulting us- the parents, just to name a few. Thanks!
Robin_Abrahams: WOW. That is waaayy beyond an etiquette fix. This is seriously dysfunctional behavior on your MIL's part. I would recommend you and your husband see a family counselor to get some skills to deal with this problem ASAP. I'm so sorry you're in this position--it sounds awful.
yoyomama_2: well, i really am an atheist, so i really don't ascribe to the blessing of people after they sneeze out good spirits or whatever i am blessing them for. and i don't speak german, although i do say 'danke!' whenever someone gesundheits me. color me fussy, but there must be a better way!
Robin_Abrahams: I don't speak French, but when I get that weird feeling like this has happened before, I call it deja vu. English hasn't managed to steal *quite* enough words from other languages to cover all situations ... I think gesundheit is your best option for now, or develop a non-supernatural theory of "blessing." (I'm sure a good Unitarian could help you with that!)
Robin_Abrahams: And that's it for today, everyone! Thanks for a lively chat, and I'll see you this fall ... September 5 will be our next get together, right here. Enjoy the lovely weather, and I'll see you then!