Q: I’m not sure whether to reply to comments on my blog. On the one hand, ignoring reader comments entirely makes the blog look one-sided and discourages people from expressing their opinions. But on the other, for me to post a subsequent comment to those who agree with me — like “Thanks, you’re swell, too” – seems self-serving; for me to post a subsequent comment to those who disagree — like “I disagree; let me have the last word why” – is still more self-serving. I reply to those I know via private email, but many people don’t give contact info, since an email address on a website is an invitation for spam. What do you suggest?
Miss Manners says: Too often the purpose of maintaining a blog appears to be to have the last word, so Miss Manners appreciates your modesty. But if your purpose is to foster dialogue, it seems only logical to allow dialogue. Replying politely to those who disagree with you will further your purpose more than thanking everyone who agrees with you.
Your Head Bitch says: I swear I don’t write this blog in order to have the last word, you guys! My feeling on internet comments is that it’s good to engage with the intelligent people who read your blog carefully and thoughtfully and respond with their own careful and thoughtful input in some way. Smart, passionate people having a conversation with one another is something that has the power to make the world a better place, and engaging with your readers on that level is incredibly important and powerful, so do it! When I get questions, emails, and comments like that, I always respond, because my readers are awesome, flat out. You know what isn’t awesome though? The kind of madcap, makes you want to tear your hair out, balls to the wall fucking insanity that one finds in the comments of, say, a youtube video. That kind of craziness does not in any way serve the greater good, I promise you that. Engaging in those conversations will get you nothing but a severe chunk taken out of your sanity. Let those go. You don’t have to respond to everything, even if you really, really do like to have the last word.
Ok, so just this once I will take the opportunity to have the last word, which is this: You guys are awesome, and I love you, and I’m so thankful you read this blog. I’ll accept no argument on the subject.
Q: We have several very overweight friends whom we often entertain in our home. We have been friends for more than 40 years, and numerous times they have broken the frames of our sofas and also have broken chairs. One friend in particular comes over quite often to watch sports games. He is probably 300-plus pounds and tends to just plop down hard onto our furniture. What can we do or say to our heavy friends? We just replaced our sofas, AGAIN.
Miss Manners says: Your 300-pound friend is aware of his effect on furniture, and Miss Manners assures you that he takes no more pleasure in hearing a couch support snap under him than you do in making repairs. Guide him to a chair that will support his weight with the explanation that you are sure he will be comfortable there. If you don’t possess such a chair, buying one has to be cheaper than continuing to replace sofas.
Your Head Bitch says: What can you do for your heavy friends? You can be a bit compassionate, for a start. He’s probably mortified every time he hears the couch creak and snap under his weight. And if you’re 300 pounds, I think all sitting becomes “plopping down heavily” — to use your words — pretty much no matter what you do. It’s difficult to be graceful. So, you know, maybe start by not assuming he’s “plopping” willy-nilly because of his blatant disregard for your furniture’s long-term well-being.
They do make chairs specifically to accomidate people of additional girth, and I think Miss Manners is right, you should make it a point to invest in one, both for his emotional well-being, and the well-being of your other furniture. Genuinely, it wouldn’t even be a chair just for him, it’ll just be an incredibly sturdy piece of furniture that will assuredly last you a very long time, no matter who sits in it. Think of it that way.
This is NOT an option.
Q: Do ladies remove gloves before shaking hands? What about gentlemen?
Miss Manners says: Why does this question strike fear in Miss Manners’ brave heart? She knows the answer to your question, of course, and if you will be patient for a moment, she will give it to you. But then she will have to brace herself for the onslaught of indignant reactions from those who believe that any variation in expectations of ladies and gentlemen, no matter how trivial, constitutes oppression. You may notice that Miss Manners uses the term “ladies” here. She fails to see any conflict between being a fervent feminist and being a lady — or a gentleman, for that matter. She also admits to a bit of fondness for some of the social gestures that traditionally characterized ladylike behavior. For example, she is probably the last person on Earth to know that ladylike applause does not consist of smacking the hands together vertically, the way gentlemen clap. Rather, ladies should hold the left hand palm up in a horizontal position and hit the right hand against it. If the hands are slightly cupped, this can make a remarkable amount of noise. Oh, and gentlemen must remove gloves before shaking hands, but ladies need not.
Your Head Bitch says: The difference in attitudes between men’s gloves and women’s gloves has to do with their ultimate purpose — a lady wore gloves to be modest and protect her hands from getting sunburned like some common peasant. Thus, they would only take them off indoors, and didn’t necessarily have to remove them every time someone went to shake their hand. Men, however, wore gloves to indicate rank (a practice which, you may have noticed, has quite fallen out of vogue) and to protect them from manual labor. There was no reason to keep them on for something as easy as shaking hands, so traditionally they removed them. All of this goes out the window in the dead of winter of course, when no thinking person removes their gloves outdoors for any reason at all, hand shaking be damned. If you know anyone who regularly wears gloves these days other than in the dead of winter, technically these rules still stand, but literally no one knows or notices anymore, except possibly BPBTY readers. The only rule that still stands firm is this — if a lady is not wearing gloves a man must always remove his to shake hands with her. Otherwise it looks like you think they might have cooties or something.
And not the cute kind.
Q: I have always felt faintly ridiculous whenever someone proposes a toast, whereupon glasses are raised and pressure is applied to clink on each and every glass remotely waved in my direction. Are toasts still considered good form? Are they not a little trite? And what does one do when at a long table where persons at opposite ends of the table can’t possibly clink on each other’s glass?
Miss Manners says: The bad form here is not toasting, presuming that it is kept short and flattering, but insisting upon clinking. Especially when you would have to lie down on the table to reach the glass at the other end. Miss Manners considers it better form merely to raise the glass and meet the eyes of the person being toasted (who must remain modestly immobile).
Your Head Bitch says: Uh, well, there has to be at least a little clinking — a toast met by resounding silence is probably not a good omen and makes everyone there look spiteful. At large gatherings, I go by the rule of two — when someone proposes a toast, I look at the person being toasted (who has to sit there politely and look appropriately like they feel they don’t deserve the toast), raise my glass to them at the end while saying “cheers!” (or whatever is appropriate for the country at hand), and then clink glasses with the person on my left and the person on my right. Then you drink and put your glass down. The end. Don’t feel like you need to go around the table clinking glasses with everyone there, two perfunctory clinks with those nearby is sufficient to make the point and make enough noise that the room feels celebratory. Don’t forget to make eye contact with those you clink glasses with, or who knows what kind of grab bag chain letter threat of bad luck might befall you!
And don’t forget if it’s you that’s being toasted, you don’t toast yourself. It’s tacky. Just sit there and smile and let your adoring fans rain down their praises.
Q: Am I completely out of touch, or is it now acceptable to send a message of condolence via text? My mother passed away recently, and a couple of my friends, one of whom I have known for over 30 years, sent me messages of condolence via text. OMG, your mother died! Seriously? She’s my mother, not my favorite plant. Although one of the messages was nice, I honestly cannot recall what it said because I was so hurt that I promptly deleted it. Is it ever appropriate to send a condolence message via text or e-mail?
Miss Manners says: The advent of new technologies has not changed the fact that the proper way to recognize a death is in a handwritten letter. Supplemental expressions of sympathy — for example, a telephone call to a friend who lives some distance away, and a condolence visit to someone nearby — are also welcome. Miss Manners notes that the increasing rarity of letter-writing makes the effort more special today, as it shows a level of sympathy beyond what can be expressed in unpunctuated acronyms.
Your Head Bitch says: I just….no. No! It’s never ok. You should all know this. Texting is something you do when you need to ask a quick question or say something that doesn’t require a whole phone call. It is not your default mode of communication, and if it is, it shouldn’t be. You’re a real adult who lives a real life and interacts with real people. Act like it. Let me see if I can express this in language that anyone who might think it was ok to text their condolences would understand:
Can I text someone to say I am sorry someone died?
I hope that’s clear. Texting someone to say you are sorry about a death in the family is like the bare minimum effort you can put into expressing your condolences. You might seem like less of a dick if you said nothing at all, frankly. It is shitty. BE BETTER.
What he said.
Q: My niece has been appointed as a judge. I plan to send a card of congratulations. Is there anything else I should do?
Miss Manners says: Such as clearing up all your unpaid parking tickets? Miss Manners would consider a handwritten letter of congratulation sufficient.
Your Head Bitch says: I think a card would be plenty to congratulate your niece on the honor, though if you really wanted to do a little something extra you could buy her a nice pen to commemorate the occasion as well. That’s usually a safe choice for work related gifts for people in law/business fields. When you do send her card, though, be sure you properly address it in light of her new title — letters to judges are rightly addressed to The Honorable Mary Perkins, not just Ms. (or Mrs!) anymore! For our readers who speak the Queen’s English rather than the President’s English, the correct title is either The Honourable Justice Mary Perkins, which is pretty good as far as titles go, or The Right Honourable Mary Perkins, which I think we can all agree is a fucking super badass title. It’s almost enough to make you want to become a judge yourself, though I think it may partially be an attempt to make up for the fact that they have to wear such terrible wigs.
Seriously, it’s a really bad wig.
Q: Is it okay for a gay coach to invite his soccer team of 16-year-old girls to his wedding?
Miss Manners says: Certainly, provided he sends them all individual invitations, so that they understand that being a guest at a ceremonial occasion is not like showing up for a sports event. Miss Manners is afraid that people nowadays do not always make that distinction.
Your Head Bitch says: Of course! Unless there is something in your coaching contract which says you can’t interact socially with your players (which is a little draconian, and you probably should have read your contract in advance more carefully) then I have no doubt that your 16 year old ladies will be beyond pumped to be invited to your wedding. I suspect you are mostly concerned about if their parents will approve — not of your invitation, but of the wedding itself, to which I say screw it. If you were straight, you wouldn’t have to think twice about the appropriateness of inviting them to your wedding, so you shouldn’t worry about it just because you happen to be gay. If the parents have a problem with it, they are certainly free to tell their daughter she can’t come, but you can’t let worries about other people’s opinions dictate how you live your life. Love is love, and wanting to share one of the happiest days of your life with people you are close to is universal. Just make sure everyone on the team gets an invitation and that they are all addressed individually, and then work on breaking in your dancing shoes. I expect you’re going to owe a lot of excited young ladies a dance that night.
Just don’t be surprised if they are mystified when the Electric Slide comes on.
Q: My sister-in-law recently gave birth to her second child. Her first child is a toddler. My brother-in-law, her husband, sent an e-mail saying, “New mom and baby are doing well.” Is she still considered a “new mom” even though it is her second child? I thought the term applied only to first-time parents, i.e., when the first baby is born. It seems that the wording should have been reversed — “Mom and new baby are doing well” — as it is the baby who is new, not the fact that she is a mother. I ask because she was referenced as “new mom” several times, and my brother-in-law even referred to himself as “new dad.”
Miss Manners says: Perhaps the couple’s reasoning is that they are new parents to this particular child. Or perhaps, more likely, they are just sleep-deprived. Either way, Miss Manners does not find the error to be one of manners, or even particularly of syntax. When it comes to all things newborn, she is inclined to be forgiving — and encourages you to be the same by not pointing out the perceived error.
Your Head Bitch says: I’m sure the argument could be made that she’s newly a mom of two, or that being a mom to a new kid is like being a new mom again or something. Whatever. She surely doesn’t have time for such silly arguments, and if you’re looking for a way to help her, there are much better ways to spend your time than starting stupid semantics-related arguments with exhausted people who are being regularly puked on. It won’t end well. People say a lot of things that I don’t like (i.e. people who say “myself” in situations where “me” or “I” would do, people who say “whenever” when they just mean “when,” etc.) but, as it is rude and incredibly obnoxious to make a career out of outwardly correcting every grammatical error made by the people one interacts with, I let it go. I suggest that you do the same. Perhaps you could consider channeling your grammatical fervor into making food to bring over to the parents so they don’t have to worry about cooking on evening? That would be a helpful and polite way to spend your time. If it really makes you feel better, I promise you can even spitefully write “Congratulations to the family on the new baby!” in the card you send them.
Do I look like I give a dusty fuck if you think I qualify as a “new mom” or not?
Q: When you are a guest at a family member’s house, and the hostess overcooks the cinnamon rolls for breakfast, is there ever a way to criticize her?
Miss Manners says: So as to avoid being invited back? That is the only reason Miss Manners can think of, as no matter how you put it, you surely do not imagine the lady will thank you and begin another batch.
Your Head Bitch says: Um, excuse me? Why on earth would you think it might be appropriate to criticize her? That is some entitled bullshit. Oh, boo hoo, someone who was kind enough to let me stay in their house as a guest went to the effort to make breakfast for me and overcooked it a little. Where’s the complaint box, AMIRITE? Get over yourself. If you want to complain about breakfast, stay in a hotel, where it is someone’s job to cook for you and make sure it’s exactly to your liking. Your family member’s house is not a hotel. When she agreed to let you stay — for free! — in her guest bedroom, she didn’t agree to be your personal chef too. She went to a special effort to make you breakfast because she’s a good hostess. Repay that effort, and her kindness, by being gracious, not by being a fucking dick.
Q: I’m gay and I don’t know to ask out guys. Can you help?
Your Head Bitch says: I must admit that I don’t have all that much experience with asking people out — it comes with the territory of being a lady, I’m afraid. But, I can tell you that, from my position as someone on the receiving end of date invitations, much of what we covered in Friday’s post can be applied to your situation as well — the most important thing to keep in mind when asking someone out (or even just talking to someone generally!) is to make sure they feel safe, comfortable, and respected as a person. Ensuring those things to the best of your ability significantly increases your chances of success in social situations great and small, because people like people who don’t make them feel nervous or uncomfortable. I know that seems like a simple thing to say, but you’d be surprised how few people realize that if you don’t give people a reason to suspect you’re a great person, they won’t just assume it on their own. Give them a reason.
Since I don’t have a ton of personal experience on the subject, I reached out to a marvelous coterie of dear friends who now form what I am going to call BPBTY’s Gay Advisory Board, to see if they had anything to add on the subject. They too stressed the importance of making the other person feel comfortable, both emotionally and physically, by asking them out in a safe and discreet place, just in case they are straight, or perhaps not comfortable with being out yet. They also mentioned that it’s important to approach the other person with respect; since gay men (and women!) frequently have been the targets of bullying, they often respond negatively if they don’t immediately perceive people’s advances toward them as being kind and respectful — it’s a defensive mechanism. They suggest making an effort to look your best — dress well and comb your hair — so that it looks like you are genuinely interested in them and take the idea of going on a date with them seriously. On an even more practical level, they said it’s very important to have a concrete plan in mind before you ask the other person out. If you leave things open ended, it can be very awkward for you both, and may again indicate that you haven’t taken the idea of a date seriously. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate plan, but something like “Would you like to have dinner with me on Friday?” is better than “Do you maybe want to get together this weekend?” You would be forgiven for thinking that picking a specific date like that would limit your chances for getting a date, since the other person might not be available on the specific day you have chosen, but it’s actually the opposite. People appreciate people who are decisive and know exactly what they want. Even if he already has plans on Friday, but is still interested in going out with you, he’ll propose an alternate date for your date.
More than anything else, they wanted me to stress to you that asking anyone out for the first time is terrifying, no matter who you are. But, with time, it genuinely does get easier. Practice makes perfect, and having confidence in yourself is the biggest battle of all. Personally, I’d also like to add that even if you ask someone out and they say no, it isn’t a referendum on you as a person, so you shouldn’t assume that their saying no has anything to do with you and who you are. You are deserving of love just the way you are, no matter what, and I hope you always remember that. If life were as easy as meeting the person you were supposed to be with forever the first time you asked someone out on a date, there would be a lot less stress associated with the process, but there would also be a lot less surprise, and excitement, and discovery in our lives and in the world. Being turned down for a date sucks, there’s no doubt, but it’s just a stepping stone on your way to something better. Use it as an opportunity to learn something about yourself or others, but never let it make you doubt that you’re a person worthy of love as a whole. You are, I promise. xo, HB
We believe in you!
Q: My daughter, a recent college graduate, has received invitations to several wedding showers in one month alone — all of them including the phrase “share our joy!” They are all from people she does not know well, and she is sending polite regrets. These showers are attended by 100-plus people, most of whom are not invited to the wedding. Apparently this is their only opportunity to share the happy couple’s joy. I really want to know what Miss Manners thinks.
Miss Manners says: The hosts probably don’t. Miss Manners thinks it rude to invite people to a shower in connection with a wedding to which they will not be invited. Your daughter is wise to decline.
Your Head Bitch says: Well, I’d like to go on record that I don’t have anything against the phrase “share our joy!” per se, but I will tell you that inviting 100 (plus?!) people to a wedding shower is cray-cray-crazy. Would you want to sit around with that many people while opening the creepy undergarments and furry handcuffs that some out of touch person has inevitably bought for you? I certainly wouldn’t. Of course, all that not withstanding, inviting people to a wedding shower when they have not been (or will not be) invited to the wedding is a big no-no. Massively, shockingly tacky. You might as well send them an invitation that says, “Dear B-list friends: You’re not important enough to be invited to my real wedding, but I thought I’d give you this opportunity to buy me some presents. Isn’t that sweet of me? Share my joy!” Just don’t do it. Ever. And if someone does it to you, don’t feel bad about politely declining (with a note expressing your wish for every happiness for the bride and groom, of course).
That about covers it.
It’s a holiday, so we here at BPBTY politely request that you get off the internet and go get on to a boat. We’ll be back on Tuesday as usual. Don’t forget your sunscreen!
Q: Is there an acceptable way for a gentleman to introduce himself to a lady whose acquaintance he wishes to make, in a public place like a museum, store, bar or restaurant?
Miss Manners says: You mean other than by social media, hook-up apps and offensive one-liners? Miss Manners commends you on your desire to forgo these regrettable practices and indeed prove yourself to be a gentleman. As you seem to frequent interesting places, you could endeavor to strike up a conversation that relates to them — an opinion or a recommendation — and see where it leads.
Your Head Bitch says: Of course there are acceptable ways to speak to women in public! Unfortunately, there are many, many more unacceptable ways, which has led to people moving away from the practice generally. Still, an old fashioned gal like your Head Bitch strongly prefers having a normal conversation with someone to being swiped right on Tinder any day, so god bless you for wanting to try — though I’ll warn you, it won’t be easy. I’m sure none of what I’m about to tell you hasn’t been said other places by more eloquent people, but I like you, so I’ll give you the CliffsNotes version.
The first thing you have to remember is that women are not conditioned to be interested anymore in strangers coming up to chat with them out of nowhere. We all know damn well that if you murder us, somehow the whole thing will be discussed as if it were our fault and we won’t be around to set everyone straight, and we don’t like that shit. So everything you do from the moment you decide you want to speak to her needs to convince her that you are not a murderer and having a conversation with you won’t result in people accusing her of having dressed sluttily (to go to a museum! I’m so sure.) in the hopes of being raped and murdered (obviously). Some people have this gift naturally, and some people do not, but there are things you can do that will help calm her “am I about to be murdered?” radar down. First, apologize for interrupting her, particularly if she is doing something that indicates that she doesn’t want to be chatted up by random guys. If, for example, she’s reading a book, or has her headphones in. This is easy enough. If you’re in a store you could say, “I’m sorry, I know you’re listening to your music, but I’m lousy at picking ties. Do you possibly have any advice about which one of these looks better?” If you’re in a museum, you can ask a question about the painting you are both looking at — “Sorry to interrupt, can you read the date on this painting? I really need new glasses!” etc.
Say and do all of this while smiling. Smile widely. This helps set her at ease that you are not a secret murderer. Make sure that you are not physically blocking her from getting away from you quickly, should she need to do so — murderers are interested in preventing people from getting away from them, so you should not be. Don’t stare at her too long directly in the eyes without blinking. Don’t turn your body fully to face her square on, as this is aggressive body language and makes her feel like you are boxing her in. No bueno. In any case, she will almost certainly respond to your question, because we are conditioned to do that in order to avoid angering potential murderers. But it means at this point, you have to reassess the situation. Is she interested, or is she just being polite? If she gives you a curt one word answer and begins to move away from you, she doesn’t want to talk to you. If she puts her headphones back on, she doesn’t want to talk to you. If she puts up any barriers to the conversation at all, she doesn’t want to talk to you. And that’s ok, she’s a free person going about her day and she doesn’t owe shit to some random guy who barged into her day uninvited. You know how you think it’s cute on TV when a guy keeps pursuing a girl after she has told him no and eventually he wears her down? We don’t think that’s cute at all. Can you guess what it makes you look like to us? I bet you can.
Still, if you’ve done an adequate job of convincing her you’re not going to get her picture on the 6:00 news, there’s a good chance she might smile back and be chatty. Congratulations! You are now politely having a conversation with a woman in a public space. She likes you enough not to run out the door screaming, which in this day and age is like seeing a unicorn ambling down your street delivering your mail. Try not to screw it up. If she puts on the brakes, let her go on her way. But if it’s going well, you never know, you might just get her to say yes if you ask her to have coffee with you (ahem, which you will, of course, pay for). Godspeed, brave unicorn. You give us all hope.
If you keep this in mind, you’ll be a lot better off.
Q: We are holding off on a memorial service for my mother, with a notice of the delay in her obituary, until my two sisters can come home. I have not received any condolences from my place of work yet. I don’t really expect much, but an acknowledgment of her passing would have been nice. Am I reading too much into this, or is it normal not to do anything until the memorial takes place?
Miss Manners says: It is sadly normal for no notice whatever to be taken by employers and professional colleagues of the death of a member of an employee’s immediate family — but this does not make it right. It would have been right and kind for not only your close colleagues at work, but also your boss, to offer condolences when aware of the death, as well as attending the memorial service. Such duties are exceptions to Miss Manners’s rule about separating personal and professional life.
Your Head Bitch says: Some people feel that it is normal to hold off on sending flowers until the memorial takes place, so they can been seen by the whole family and displayed at the funeral — personally, I’m fine with either, as long as you send something. But no matter what you decide on when you are going to send flowers, you send notes of condolence as soon as you hear about a death, and that’s all there is to it. I can already hear people making excuses about how they didn’t know the deceased and don’t feel it’s “their place,” but this is a cop-out, because it is not the deceased who needs comforting after a death. If you know someone who has had someone die, I don’t care if it’s your best friend or your cubicle-mate, you send a note telling them how sorry you are the day you hear about it, unless you want me to drag you to your desk by your ear and damn well make you write one. Is that clear?
I don’t care if it’s awkward, it isn’t about you.