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miss conduct chat transcript

August 6, 2008

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August 6, 2008

Robin_Abrahams: Hello everyone! I am having a cup of HOT TEA as I write this. Isn't it great to have a little break in the hot weather? I like it, anyway. And what's on all of your minds today?

furz__Guest_: How do you feel about acquaintances who say "we should get together- I'll call you" and then don't? Part of me is sympathetic, we don't always have time to get to social activities, but part of me thinks its misleading and in fact they don't really WANT to get together- they are just being polite?

Robin_Abrahams: Some are probably being polite, some mean it. I decided about 15 years ago that there was no point worrying about who initiates things socially, and if it's me most of the time (which it is), that's fine. What am I, some 1950's cheerleader who needs to line her mirror with dance invitations to prove her popularity? If you would like to get together with the call-promising acquaintances, call them or drop an e-mail.

carolyn__Cambridge__Guest_: That 'send yourself a telegram' letter was wonderful--doesn't it sound like de Maupessant?

Robin_Abrahams: Oh, Carolyn, you *have* to go online and get yourself a vintage-era Emily Post book. It's just brilliant. There is, in fact, not a de Maupassant but a Ring Lardner story about exactly that situation--it was a Broadway composer who was retreating to an acquaintance's country house to finish a score and everything went wrong, and eventually he had his wife send him a telegram allegedly from the show's producers claiming a big emergency that required his presence in the city. (For anyone who has no idea what I'm talking about, it's a recent post on my blog-- boston.com/missconduct.)

Dee__Guest_: I was at the Boston Harbor Hotel outdoor concert last nite and a man from the next table asked us if we thought it was proper for women to put on lipstick in public. I had read in some magazine that a quick touch up was ok. Any thoughts?

Robin_Abrahams: I think it's fine, IF the lipstick tube is nice and not grody-looking, and if it's done quickly. (No line your lips, put on the lipstick, brush on the sealant renovation project.) A fair number of folks disagree with me on that, though. To me it's a sort of glamorous, feminine gesture, but perhaps I'm confusing 21st-century reality with a Lauren Bacall movie. It's happened before.

CW__Guest_: My boyfriend and I have been together for 5 years and he is ten years older than me. He has married friends that had a hard time accepting this and still do. Recently I found out a wife of one of his friend's said nast things about me. I have to see her at social outings. How do I handle this? I have no interest in speaking to her but I don't know if it can be avoided.

Robin_Abrahams: Avoid her or be snarky and her idea that you're an immature brat will be nicely validated. This is the time for killin' with kindness, hon, and let your graciousness and wit heap coals upon her head.

carolyn__Cambridge__Guest_: The escape-telegram shows up in more than one Wodehouse story, as well, but of course with the pathos dialed down and the humor up. I have Eleanor Roosevelt's etiquette book--she knew a thing or two!

Robin_Abrahams: Oh, my, I didn't even know she wrote one. I'll have to look THAT up.

Robin_Abrahams: Speaking of Eleanor Roosevelt, does that beloved quote of hers "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent" bug anyone else as much as it does me? I mean, yes, it's true if you're THE MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMAN IN THE WESTERN WORLD and just really ugly, but oh, I think a woman who's getting beaten up every night by her husband, or blacks during the era of Jim Crow and lynching, or some poor soul being waterboarded at Gitmo miiiiiiight tend to develop a few self-esteem problems whether they "consent" to or not. What do you all think?

Robin_Abrahams: No questions, so here's two other quotes I think are wrong: Tolstoy's thing about how all happy families are alike and all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way, and Fitzgerald about how there's no second acts in American lives.

carolyn__Cambridge__Guest_: I have to hope that the ER quote is out of context somehow. Her own self-esteem problems were fairly terrible as a child, till she met the right teachers at school in England.

Robin_Abrahams: I should read up on that; context matters.

no_name__Guest_: Is it extremely rude to invite people to a bridal shower, when they are not invited to the wedding? What is the best way to handle that?

Robin_Abrahams: Yes, it pretty much is, because the message is "You're good enough to buy me a present, but not to come to my wedding." Not really a message you want to send. (It might make people feel inferior without their consent!)

carolyn__Cambridge__Guest_: Tolstoy and Fitzgerald were wrong too--how many second acts did ER have!

Robin_Abrahams: Probably somewhat fewer than Madonna. I wonder if that used to be more true, though? People certainly reinvent themselves more now (changing careers, spouses, religions, where they live) than they used to.

no_name__Guest_: As the host of the shower, is it rude to say something to the bride about the guest list since includes all the poeple that are not invited to the wedding? I feel really bad that these people are calling and leaving messages that they can't wait for the wedding...when there are not even invited!

Robin_Abrahams: Oh, lucky YOU to be in the middle of that! I was assuming you were the bride. You've got my sympathies. Probably don't tell her what to do--there's often no point trying to save people from themselves, odd though that might sound coming from an advice columnist. You should let her know what you just told me, though, that a lot of folks are making it clear to you, when they RSVP, that they assume they'll be invited to the wedding. Let her do with that info what she will.

gossipycoworkers__Guest_: I was at an office lunch part yesterday where they served cupcakes. A coworker had her 2 year-old present and she was upset that I came to visit her in her cube and brought a plate of cupcakes. She asked me to hide the plate away from her son as she didn't want to expose him to sugar. And then she asked me to keep my voice down beacuse a few people nearby were holding a cube meeting. I was stunned and quickly turned around and walked away. i am considering not attending officeparties anymore and also sending her a box of cupcakes in the mail. How should I handle this rude behavior int eh future?

Robin_Abrahams: I can't speak to her asking you to keep your voice down--she might have been right about that--but "expose him to sugar"?? If you bring your kid to the office, your kid will see adult, officey things. She sounds like a bit of a control freak, and the best way to deal with those is not to retaliate at all--that just bolsters their sense of the world as a hostile place that NEEDS TO BE CONTROLLED BY THEM AT ALL TIMES--but just go on your way and do what you want to do, cheerfully disregarding them.

Bobbi__Guest_: My fiance and I called off our wedding less than a month before it was to happen. I know this has really inconvenienced a lot of our would-be guests who bought tickets, scheduled other events around ours, etc, and I feel terrible about it (on top of, obviously, being upset myself about having to call things off). Is there anything I can do to make it up to these people?

Robin_Abrahams: Probably not, beyond sincere apologies and gratitude that they wanted to celebrate with you to begin with. If you know someone who really took a financial hit because of this in a way that's going to cause them some pain, and you can reimburse them without going into hock yourself, that might be nice. But looking at the bigger picture: congratulations. I admire the courage of both you and your fiance. This is not an easy choice to make once the gears of the Wedding Machine have started to grind. I know so many divorced people who said they knew, walking down the aisle, that they'd made a mistake but didn't know how to get out of it.

Robin_Abrahams: *crickets*

Robin_Abrahams: People, I am not getting any questions and that makes Miss Conduct cross! I'm counting to ten and then you know what happens--

Robin_Abrahams: ... eight, nine, ten. That's it. I'm going to start singing "Muskrat Love." I haven't had to do *that* in a while.

Robin_Abrahams: Muskrat, muskrat candlelight

Robin_Abrahams: Doin' the town and doin; it right

Robin_Abrahams: In the evenin'

Robin_Abrahams: It's pretty pleasin' ...

Kathy__Guest_: Any thoughts on what would be an appropriate gesture for someone recently diagnosed with a serious mental illness?

Robin_Abrahams: Oh gee. Is this someone you know well? I think in general letting someone know that you care, and that you're there if they need to talk, and that you don't judge them, is important. There is almost certainly a foundation for whatever the illness is--google them, and find out what guidelines they offer for supporting a friend/coworker or whatever. One thing I have learned from doing this column is that on these issues we do *not* have to figure it out all by ourselves--there are tons of support groups and professional organizations that can be immensely helpful.

janet__Guest_: I just took a look at your blog here on Boston.com. What a lot of fun things in there. Loved the bean recipe but I think I'd skip adding the squash.

Robin_Abrahams: Thanks! I'd like to write a short cookbook someday. I wish I had tags enabled on my blog so that people could look up all my recipes or search by topics they're interested in.

eeeeeeeeeeeee__Guest_: Not really a question, but you inspired me to go out and purchase (albeit the most recently updated edition) of Emily Post's Etiquette. Now I want to buy copies for all of my dear friends (we are 20-somethings), as it seems we all have something to learn.

Robin_Abrahams: Yes, the new Peggy Post is, I think, the most comprehensive and best overall guide out there. I love Judith Martin (Miss Manners), too, but she's almost more a philosopher of etiquette, like me. Her book is GREAT reading but you won't find as many answers to your questions in there--Peggy Post covers pretty much everything you can imagine. I don't recommend Letitia Baldridge.

plum__Guest_: In this electronic age, is it acceptable to maintain communications with someone mainly via email? Or, should a phone call be made every now and then? (This is coming from someone who doesn't like to chat on the phone)?

Robin_Abrahams: It's certainly acceptable to me! I hate talking on the phone, too. The only person I ever really talk to on the phone is my mother. I think there's an age thing going on--if you're dealing with someone in the older generation, the occasional phone call is probably a good idea. For folks 50 and under, use whatever communication technology is most comfortable to you.

Mansfield_Mom__Guest_: You should post the Greek Casserole one again. You know - the one with the fresh spinach & tofu. I was making that weekly back in the cooler weather. It would have been good today.

Robin_Abrahams: Thanks for the encouragement! Maybe I'll pull a comprehensive post together with links to all my recipes, and put them on the "Favorite Posts" sidebar. That would be a good workaround for the no-tags problem. Thanks!

furz__Guest_: what's the best way to act when you see the CEO of your company "about town"? I work at a large company but of course I know who he is- I am not sure he would know who I am! I ran into him at a restaurant and didn't know if I should acknowledge him or leave him on his own?

Robin_Abrahams: Yep, introduce yourself to him at some point. I actually got this question when you e-mailed me, and it will be in an upcoming column! So stay tuned for further details ...

Dan__Guest_: You've probably addressed this before, but where do you stand on the problem of people who insist that you not talk about the results of a sporting event, Emmy awards, TV show season finale, etc, because they recorded it to watch later and don't want to know the outcome?

Robin_Abrahams: Oh, dang, I blogged about this once and can't find my blog post now (anyone with better Google-fu than I want to help?) So, you don't talk about it if you're one-on-one. If the whole office is chatting about the Superbowl or the season finale of "Lost" (which *totally ruled*), though, it's the spoilerphobe's responsibility to hie their unknowing booty elsewhere.

willow1981__Guest_: I don?t have a question so much as a small pet peeve. I work as a bank teller in a drive-thru only building and it seems as though the customers that frequent us seem to think that because we are behind glass it is ok for them to pretend we don?t exist. (usually while talking on their cell phones, of course) I always say thank you and/or have a nice day and i?m not asking for a full-blown conversation but at least a smile or nod would be nice!

Robin_Abrahams: Ugh, and that's such a two-way street, too. I hate it when salesclerks do not acknowledge me when I thank them. (Blogged about THAT, too--you know, if I had tag capability, I could find these things again!) Really, you don't have to have some big spiritual Martin Buber I/Thou moment with a clerk or customer, but at least acknowledge each others' humanity.

Dan__Guest_: Is there a statute of limitations on that? How much time is a reasonable amount of time to have caught up on one's recorded shows? A week? A month?

Robin_Abrahams: Rosebud is the sled, the poison plot goes awry and Romeo and Juliet wind up committing suicide, Ben moved the island, George and Martha don't actually have a child, and the screen just goes to white at the end. There you go.

janet__Guest_: Just my two cents on the mother's milk in the fridge, I agree with your advice. If someone had medicine that needed to be refridgerated (like insulin) I wouldn't want to see these also. So it is perfectly fair to ask users of the fridge to be discreet.

EddyCat__Guest_: I just wanted you to know that as a former breastfeeding mom and pumper-at-work, I thought your advice to bag up the milk at work was entirely appropriate. In the workplace, its important to separate as much as possible our personal lives from our professional lives. As an aside, I had a very funny incident where I had to go through security with my breastpump and cooler while doing jury duty and had to explain to the very confused elderly security guard what I was bringing in and why I had an empty cooler bag.

Robin_Abrahams: Thanks to both of you! (And having recently had jury duty, I can imagine that situation all too well!)

Mansfield_Mom__Guest_: My grandmother passed away in '03 and left me all of her books. One is Miss Manners Guide to Excruiatingly Correct Behavior by Judith Martin (love the title!) My grandmother was one of the most well-mannered women in the world and the ultimate hostess. Inside the front cover, I found random etiquette articles she had clipped. I hope this gift was due to the fact that I'm a bit of an etiquette buff and not that I needed advice in the area!

Robin_Abrahams: Hah! That's what we psychologists call "attributional ambiguity."

Robin_Abrahams: And finally, something really beautiful to share--

JP_Gal__Guest_: Hi Robin! No question today but instead a thanks of sorts. My partner and I, who both grew up in different parts of the country but now live here and who both grew up knowing that we are gay and always feeling not quite accepted because of that, were married in June, on my 50th birthday. Being sort of older, we eloped and so have returned to our lives with the task of telling our family, friends, employers and colleagues about our good news. We had no idea what this experience would be like, but it has been wonderful and deeply moving. Regardless of age, politics, and religion, our news has been received with happiness, warmth, hugs and kisses, and even tears. I wanted to say thank you to everyone (and to folks like you) who understand that ettiquette is really all about kindness and acknowledging our common humanity. Our hearts are very, very full. Thank you!

Robin_Abrahams: And thank you for sharing! That is beautiful and I wish you and your wife all the best. Love love and hate hate, people.

Robin_Abrahams: And thank you all for an excellent chat! Boy, a chorus of "Muskrat Love" sure brings the questions out ... have to remember that the next time I'm moderating a panel discussion. I'll see you all back here on August 20, same chat time, same chat channel. Stay warm & dry!

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