Your Life your connection to The Boston Globe
Miss Conduct chat transcript

Oct. 3, 2007

Robin_Abrahams: Hello, everyone! This is Robin Abrahams, aka Miss Conduct, and it's not Talk Like a Pirate Day or anything exciting like that, unfortunately (although the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony is tomorrow, and THAT is certainly exciting!)--but I bet we can have some fun anyway. Let's chat!

benejeb: If you have accepted a wedding invitation but then find out you are unable to attend how long in advance should you tell the bride/groom

Robin_Abrahams: As soon as possible (and with profuse apologies). The wedding couple might have a "B" list and want to give your space to someone else.

karina: What do you think of emailed party invitations? They don't bother me, but some people get very annoyed by them.

Robin_Abrahams: I think they're great, personally; it makes it easier on the host/ess, manages to create social pressure to RSVP (ALWAYS a good thing), and is fun for guests to be able to see who's coming and who has the most creative excuses not to. But since not everyone feels as I do, I've found the best practice is to send a save-the-date e-mail a few weeks before the Evite goes out, and in that e-mail let anyone who doesn't want to be Evited opt out.

JTN: My wife and I are expecting our second baby, and we made the mistake of sharing some possible names with her parents. They didn't like ANY of them and told us horrible stories about people who had each name. I realize this must happen all the time - and since they're family, I should bite my tongue. What are some appropriate responses?

Robin_Abrahams: I think you have every right to tell them that their behavior was hurtful. A friend of mine is expecting (soon! very very soon!) and said that she and her husband aren't telling anyone what they're planning to name the baby, because they had similar experiences with their first one. This is drastic, but effective. (It's too late for you, obviously, but I'm offering this as a suggestion for expecting or expecting-to-be-expecting readers ...)

mysham: Miss Conduct, I love your column! I have planned several events (art exhibits, concerts, etc.) for myself and several girlfriends to attend. I email the event info, possible dates, ticket prices, etc. Once we all agree, I order tickets on my credit card. Sometimes these tickets have to be ordered weeks or months in advance and can be quite costly. Once I receive the tickets, I let everyone know and they send me a check. There is one in the group who repeatedly waits to pay me until the day of the event. I've even sent her emails gently reminding her that I have the tickets in hand and would appreciate her dropping a check in the mail when she has a chance...still no check. I really love planning these get togethers, but feel she is taking advantage.

Robin_Abrahams: Have a blunter conversation with her about why this is problematic for you. She may not realize why it's annoying. If she continues to disregard your preferences, start leaving her off the list.

jb: what's a good way to pick your nose?

Robin_Abrahams: I've never had cosmetic surgery myself, but I imagine surgeons can show you a computerized version of yourself with different "styles." Some beauty shops can do that, so I'm sure doctors can. Anyway, get something that's proportionate with the rest of your face, and ethnically plausible--bring a friend along for a second opinion. You want to avoid the Michael Jackson look at all costs.

WineOH: When you child is invited to a classmates party (3rd grade) how much is an acceptable price to spend on a gift? Again, this is not a best buddy it is a classmate.

Robin_Abrahams: I should think $10-15 ought to do it, but you might want to ask other parents; I'm sure community standards differ.

Ro: My adult children for whom I babysit and cook routinely, even bringing meals and the ingredients used to prepare same, never......never......even make an attempt at treating me as a guest with offering coffee, tea or beverage when I visit. I have only been to dinner at their home on two occasions (in 10 years). Is courtesy only to be extended to strangers and not family. I am perplexed, however love them nonetheless.

Robin_Abrahams: Okay, I really, really hate to say this, but: you raised them. Did you allow them to treat you like a doormat when they were growing up? If not, then do whatever you did then when they got out of line as kids. (In spirit, not letter, obviously; time outs are ineffective with the middle-aged, who are usually happy to get a bit of rest). If you did, then tell them that things have changed, and don't be overly accusatory about the fact that they're just behaving in the way they always have.

ladedadeda: My friend and I disagree on something and would love for you to clear it up. When invited to a wedding, is the gift given at the shower also considered the wedding gift, or do you also need to give a wedding gift? I know gifts aren't "required" but you know what I mean...Thanks a bunch!

Robin_Abrahams: Oh, thanks for saving me my "Gifts are GIFTS, people!" rant. You're an experienced reader of Miss Conduct, aren't you? Yes, you give two gifts: a shower one and a wedding one.

Robin_Abrahams: C'mon folks, make with the questions! Or comments. Or concerns. Or parody song lyrics (that would be fun!) Or Haikus! Yeah, haikus!

van: I was interviewed, but not hired, by the workplace of a former professor this summer. I was disappointed not the get the job, but it might not have suited my interests anyway. Yesterday I was approached by someone at another organization about a similar position...they received my contact info from the former professor. I responded with interest and we have scheduled a phone interview. What is the best way to handle the non-hire this summer during my interview? Also, how should I follow up with the former professor?

Robin_Abrahams: Unless there's something I'm missing (and there might be) I don't see why the non-hire would come up in an interview with another company. Company X usually doesn't care that two months ago you interviewed at Company Y and didn't get the job. Regarding your prof, give him or her a call and say major thank yous for both introductions! This person really seems to be in your corner, and that is a valuable thing. If you get this job a TYN and maybe a small gift would be nice, too.

kim: Sort of an odd one. My mother, who tries really hard to be open minded and respectful, sometimes unknowingly crosses the line by being oversensitive to other cultures. For example, she once avoided asking my somewhat Muslim friend to help carry groceries because one of the bags contained a ham and bacon. Another time she fretted for days about having my part-Japanese friend stay over because the house wasn't "zen" enough for her. Is there any fix for her nervousness?

Robin_Abrahams: Oh, wow. I think I love your mother! She would also, no offense, be a great character in a TV show. Probably spending more time with people would help--is there some diversity initiative, or interfaith group, that she could get involved in that would enable her to get some practice relaxing around people of different cultures?

Robin_Abrahams: Another perspective for Ro--

Babs: To Ro: If you are at your childrens' houses enough so that you are using their kitchens and babysitting their kids, you are not a guest. You are family! When your children visit you, do they sit at the table and wait to be offered a drink or do they go to the fridge and get one? My mother used to sit at the table, watching me running around after little ones and cleaning up messes, obviously miffed because I didn't offer to make her a cup of coffee. My MIL, OTOH, makes herself at home.

ChatAt12: My sister is an extremely difficult person and makes demands on the family that are unfair. Yes, I know, life is not fair, but I am the one who always gives in and bends to my demands. Though I realize I will never change her, how do I let my mother know that I am just about done overextending myself both in terms of time and money just to accommodate my sister (without having to deal with my mothers guilt trip and whining, that is)?

Robin_Abrahams: Good on you for deciding to stand up for yourself. Announce your intention to your mother calmly, and let her know that since it doesn't affect your relationship with her, you'd appreciate not being criticized for it. (You might want to hold off on that latter until she actually DOES criticize you--it's annoying to be preemptively accused of something.)Then stick to it. If she starts in, say, "I don't want to talk about that." Change the subject. If she continues, say, "If we're going to continue talking about that, I need to hang up now" or whatever. As long as you're calm, firm, and loving toward her, she'll have to adjust in time.

yaya: A woman i had been seeing for about a month came clean with an STD status - genital herpes. I like her but did let her know that the condition, untreatable as it is, would probably sink any desires or possibility for intimacy. I eventually backed out of the relationship but suggested we remain friends since I thought there was much more to her . Was this within the bounds of good judgment?

Robin_Abrahams: If the herpes was truly the only thing bothering you, I think you should get over it. It's an untreatable condition, but not a life-changing one. (Read up on it or attend a support group to learn more.) I suspect if you'd been really crazy about her, though, you'd have decided it didn't matter that much. In which case it would be kinder to tell her the truth--that it's lack of chemistry, not presence of cold sores, that doomed the relationship.

Bean53: Should cell phones calls and business conversations be conducted on an elevator?

Robin_Abrahams: Of course! How else are you going to get the kind of insider gossip that can lead you to make a killing on the stock market?

susann: I will be moving soon. What's an appropriate tip for the movers and delivery guys who will be bringing the new furniture I ordered?

Robin_Abrahams: $10 for the delivery guys is good--but call the store first and ask. Some might have a no-tips policy. $20-40 apiece for the movers, depending on the difficulty of the move (stairs, lots of unwieldy stuff, etc.). This is all assuming that they do a good job, you understand. No tips needed otherwise. And do have water for them, and a soft drink or something like that.

Jen: Two of my sons have birthdays 5 days apart. They are turning 4 and 10 and we are planning one party for both of them at an indoor pool. Their guest lists will be different...the older son will invite school friends, for my younger son we will invite his friends, who are mostly my friends' children. Do I do separate invites for each group of guests and not mention that there are actually 2 birthday boys? I don't want the guests to bring gifts for both kids, but I think walking into a party and finding out there is another guest of honor would be a little odd. Am I over-thinking this? Thank you!

Robin_Abrahams: Hmmm. You are overthinking this but now so am I! It's an odd one. Has anyone else had experience with this? One way out would be to do a general "no gifts" or request contributions to a charity instead. I can't really think of a tactful way to say "Please only bring a present for one child."

LTRRTL: Are certain utensils considered appropriate for certain foods. I.e. a spoon for ice cream, fork for salad?

LTRRTL: I know my question was strange an vague - of course there are - but is it considered poor etiquette to be using the "wrong" utensils (sp???)

Robin_Abrahams: Thanks for clarifying that! Yes, you should use the right utensils unless you have a compelling reason to do otherwise--for example, if you have hand tremors and simply cannot eat peas with a fork, then use a spoon. And if you can't eat neatly with chopsticks, ask for a knife or fork, or practice at home until you can.

LLW: For LTRRTL - wouldn't it be rather difficult to eat ice cream with a fork or knife? :-)

Robin_Abrahams: Not if it were frozen really, really hard! BTW, I trained myself to use chopsticks by eating an entire bowl of popcorn with them. It's a great practice food, all light and irregularly-shaped. Once you're halfway done you can increase the difficulty and deliciousness by adding melted butter.

Kerry: Ms.Abrahams, I am having a birthday party this weekend. The invitations indicted "no gifts". If someone does bring a gift, I feel I should NOT open it at the party. Is this correct?

Robin_Abrahams: Right! You say "thank you" and put it in the bedroom or somewhere else that is unobtrusive. If people bring wine or food gifts, it's up to you if you want to serve them at the party or put those aside as well.

LLW: Or use pencils and try to pick up other irregular shaped office items, like binder clips.

Robin_Abrahams: Hah! That sounds like a great way to kill a boring afternoon in the office.

Robin_Abrahams: OK, there's no questions at the moment, so here's a little plug from me--I'll be doing a special Q&A feature on medical etiquette (how to interact with doctors, nurses, other medical staff). So if you have questions about these things, and who doesn't, please send them in to Thanks, y'all!

LLW: LOL! You figured me out. (Although I learned to used chopsticks back when I was 5yo. Father born in Shanghai of American parents, so we kinda were fated to learn as we grew up. :-) )

Robin_Abrahams: It's really not that hard, I found to my surprise (I grew up in Kansas, not Shanghai, and hence didn't learn until I was an adult). I think some people just get all freaked out about it. I actually eat with chopsticks a lot at home, because it slows me down a bit which means I eat less. So there's a little diet tip for y'all ...

van: Regarding yaya's situation. If genital herpes is really such a problem, he would do well to be tested himself. With about 25% of the population with confirmed cases, many more people have been exposed, they may be asymptomatic. However, I do think that it is a shame that yaya would cross this honest woman off his list. Not everyone is so forthcoming.

Robin_Abrahams: That is an excellent point, van. MANY more people have herpes than are aware of it.

ladedadeda: Ooh, I have another question. When my Prince Charming is working and can't pick me up at the train station after work, I often get a ride with a coworker. He's old enough to be my grandfather, should I invite him up to see my new place or for a drink or whatnot?

Robin_Abrahams: Probably not a good idea. However, gas is expensive these days, and he is being really nice to you--why not buy him lunch during the workday sometime by way of a thank you?

yaya: I have a co-worker who dominates team meetings, take a disproportionate amount of time expanding on already discussed issues, and generally comes across as a know-it-all type. Recently he ratted me out to a senior team person (i left 15 minutes early on a friday and let him know - in my judgment there was not much going on - work in IT) I t is my third month of employment and probation is not over until 90 days have elapsed. Should i confront this person, talk to the manager about it or keep my cool until I am more secure? I did let the senior know on a follow-up talk that I am very open to any feedback from colleagues that would lead to me performing my job better . I went to Harvard.

Robin_Abrahams: You know, you had me until that "I went to Harvard" remark. This is relevant how, exactly? Chill out. If the guy is a tattling jerk he's a tattling jerk to everyone and management is smart enough to know that. Focus on your work--not on interpersonal power games, and not on where you went to school.

patricks_mom: I am attending a wedding in a few weeks and plan to give the bride and groom a monetary gift. I know you are not in favor of bringing gifts to the wedding - what about cards? Should I send the card in advance? Thanks, I love you column and chats!

Robin_Abrahams: Oh, gee, ESPECIALLY send a card with money in advance! That is *exactly* the kind of thing that is likely to get lost at a wedding. That's why you don't bring presents to weddings--it's not some archaic tradition, it's a matter of practicality.

disko2k: Ms. conduct, could use advice on my neighbor and her kid!

Robin_Abrahams: Oh, couldn't we all. That's our chat for today, folks! Thanks for making it a fun and lively one. The next will be on Wednesday the 17th, you know where & when--hope to see you all back here!

More from