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Posted by Robin Abrahams  September 25, 2011 05:01 PM

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Unfortunately didn't get formatted right in the online version. Here it is: 

I live and work around people much richer than my husband and I are. My parents' wisdom left me immune to the appeal of McMansions, Lexus SUVs, and bichons frises in little pink jackets. But people who show off their money and travel experiences get under my skin. Recently a dinner guest told me in detail how she was spending her entrepreneur husband's recent windfall on an elaborate trip plus birthday party for herself. Is there any way, without sounding peevish, that I can hint to these clueless people how badly they come across? Anonymous/ Newton 

A person immune to the appeal of bichons frises in little pink jackets is a person with no soul. For the sake of our sacred advice columnist-letter writer relationship, I shall pretend that was but an ill-chosen hyperbole. 

Bichons aside, if your neighbors and co-workers are as obnoxious as you say, someone in this tense economy will lash out at them sooner or later. So if a person close to you begins moaning that brick sidewalks wreak havoc on her Louboutins, a light warning ("Be careful who you say that kind of thing around these days") could be appropriate. 

However, it's good to keep in mind that we all have remarkable, even obscene levels of privilege by somebody's standard. Can you be sure you have never spoken of your own education, marriage, upbringing, or values in such a way as to make another person feel denigrated or judged?

Often in conversation a friend or co-worker will say something factually incorrect, such as "Gay marriage is legal in Hawaii" or "Dark chocolate isn't better for you than milk chocolate." I want to challenge these misstatements but am not sure how to do it without sounding like a pompous know-it-all. Is there a way to do this? 
S.M./ Andover 

You can manage this, but it takes quick thinking. First, what is the nature of the mistake? Does it matter, either to the conversation at hand or to future activities? Second, is the mistake a matter of clearly defined facts -- like your "gay marriage in Hawaii" example -- or about more subjective categories and questions, like the "dark chocolate" affair? (What if too much cocoa aggravates my acid reflux? Does it even make sense to talk about "better" nutrition regarding candy? You see the potential for derailment here.) Your options differ for each combination of answers. This handy chart breaks it down: 

wrongchart.jpg

If the person is wrong about something important, speak up. Be polite, but in this quadrant, protecting the other person's ego may be less urgent than informing him that he is barreling the wrong way down Storrow. If the mistake is clear-cut but trivial, bring it up only if you want to introduce or fuel competition in the relationship. Some people enjoy that - I knew a couple who liked to put money on trivial matters and passed the same dollar bill between them for years. If this kind of one-upmanship doesn't play in a given relationship, though, let it pass. 

Treat an important mistake with a subjective element carefully. Speak up, but don't waste time hairsplitting or cause someone else to lose face. It might be a good idea to phrase your correction as a request for clarification, particularly at work. Finally, if the question has shades of gray and doesn't matter, drop it unless dissecting the mistake would provide an entertaining "Cheeseburger Royale" distraction for everyone. 

P.S. Your original letter saluted me as "Miss Manners." I am Miss Conduct. Judith Martin is Miss Manners.
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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 missconduct@globe.com.
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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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