Q: I have received a few Christmas cards with photos of tween and teen girls in string bikinis. I am a mother and this makes me cringe. What is your opinion?
Miss Manners says: That these cards were misaddressed.
Your Head Bitch says: Have we somehow managed to devolve from the “everybody in the family wears a black or white shirt and jeans and sits in a pile” family portrait? I wouldn’t have thought that was possible. The Christmas card is no place for bikinis, America. You’re not auditioning for Survivor. Stick everybody in an ugly ass sweater and a Santa hat and call it a day.
Or antlers, if you prefer. Either is acceptable. But straighten that santa hat!
Q: I fly frequently on business and, as often as possible, book a seat in the exit row for the additional room needed to work while in flight. On two recent flights, I boarded the aircraft to find another passenger in my seat who asked if I would “mind changing seats” so a couple or family could sit together. Even though the seats proffered in exchange had less space and inhibited my ability to use the time to its best advantage, I acquiesced on both occasions. While I am somewhat troubled by their presumption in occupying the seat first and asking later, I am more troubled by my own inability to come up with a polite way to refuse their requests. Can you assist, please?
Miss Manners says: Yes, but you must promise Miss Manners not to amend her answer with excuses about needing to get work done. Surely you do not want to suggest that your work is more important than their family — at least not to parents who are already frazzled by traveling with children. The polite way to refuse is to say, “I’m so sorry, but I would prefer to keep my assigned seat.” Although the flier should not have first occupied your seat, it was not impolite to ask you to switch seats. There is also nothing impolite about refusing. It is then up to you to maintain the courage of your convictions while sitting next to a sad-eyed 5-year-old on a six-hour flight.
Your Head Bitch says: You’re having a hard time thinking of an excuse because there really isn’t one that doesn’t make you look like an asshole. And that’s why the family sat in your seat first and asked questions later, they wanted to make you feel like an asshole for saying no (though, hey, no children in the exit row, jerks!). Truthfully though, sometimes, it’s ok to put your physical comfort first — and in those little metal tubes you have to eek out what little extra room you can get. It’s genuinely not your fault that the family didn’t book in enough time to get seats together (I mean, really), so if you want to say no you’re completely free to do so. That said, amending your no by saying “I need to get work done” or “I’d prefer to have a little extra leg room” isn’t going to endear you to them. In fact, giving people excuses only makes them argue with you more. Miss Manner’s option is really the best way to go, though I’d also add “perhaps one of these other kind people may be able to switch with you” and
put someone else in the hot seat give someone else the option of kindly giving up their seat.
Also, don’t sit in someone else’s seat. They are assigned for a reason. What kind of anti-social psychopath just ignores the rules like that?
Q: As the assistant for one of the executives at my company, I routinely answer his phone with, “Good morning/afternoon, this is John Doe’s office.” I even have a note on the phone reminding me to smile before picking up, because I know that people can tell the difference (strange, but true). One caller, an executive in a different department, will respond to my greeting with “JOHN” in an impatient tone. This always seems to surprise and fluster me, at which point he will say, “John NOW. Put John on the phone.” No one else, either within the company or calling from elsewhere, is ever this rude to me. I go an extra step to be pleasant to anyone who calls before I even know who is on the other end of the line. Perhaps if this was a one-time occurrence, I wouldn’t be asking for your advice. However, each and every time this other executive calls my boss, he acts like this. I’ve been responding, “Sorry?” since this behavior does confuse me momentarily, but I would rather have another note next to my phone giving me a pointer on how to respond to him. If he continues to act rudely to me, then I’ll consider bringing this up with my boss. However, I do hope that I can deal with this on my own in both a professional and ladylike way.
Miss Manners says: Say pleasantly, “I’m sorry, but we seem to have a bad connection. I only heard ‘John’ and ‘now.’ What is it that I can do for you?” You may repeat this as needed if his replies get shorter and ruder, but if this exasperates him to the point of an all-out explosion, Miss Manners assures you that there is no shame in telling your boss. This is professional information that he would likely want to know.
Your Head Bitch says: Oh my god, this question gave me a fucking PTSD flashback to a frequent caller I used to interact with at a former job who wouldn’t even let me get through “good morning” without spitting a demand at me. Believe me, I feel for you, girl. There are just certain people who feel the need to be incredibly rude and/or cop an entitled attitude to the poor unfortunate souls who answer their phone calls simply because they think they can. But you deserve to be treated with respect too, both as a human and a co-worker, and never forget that. Treat him with as much politeness as you would any other caller, but make him treat you like a human being. Answer him with questions like “and who may I say is calling?” and run him through the whole information gathering rigamarole. See if he learns that polite people get their calls connected more quickly. If he still can’t take a hint, absolutely speak to your boss. I would certainly never let anyone speak like that to people who worked for me, and hopefully he’s the same way.
For any others of you out there who have apparently never had to answer a phone for a living, there are a few basic things to keep in mind when placing phone calls. First, speak to the person answering the phone exactly as you would if that person were standing in front of you. Don’t be a dick just because you can’t see their face, the phone does not absolve you of manners. Secondly, you are almost certainly not the only “Jim” the person you are calling knows. Tell the assistant your first and last name, please. The boss in going to ask the assistant the first and last name, so stop using the fact that you think you’re special to put them in an awkward position and make them look incompetent. It sucks. Finally, and most importantly, if the person you want to speak to is not available, do not huff at the assistant and be an asshole to them like it is their fault someone else dared to be on the phone when you chose to call. Assistants have many, many skills, but ESP is not one of them. I can’t stress this enough — just. don’t. be. a. dick. The nicer you are, the more likely people are to want to help you. Polite people get connected a lot faster than those who bark into the phone like they are too important to bother with basic human niceties like saying hello, capiche?
Please hold (presses hold) you gigantic pain in the ass motherfucker.
Your Head Bitch is currently in Rome. Back to our regularly scheduled program when I’m back in London tomorrow. xo -HB
Q: Is there something appropriate to be said to a relative or friend who is ill and obviously close to dying?
Miss Manners says: “I love you.” Miss Manners considers it a vast improvement over the patently false command, “Get well.”
Your Head Bitch says: The right thing to say is anything you will regret not having said if they do, in fact, die. Nothing you might say will be able to make what is happening to them better, so all you can do is tell them all the things you’ve always wanted them to know, but have been avoiding because they are too mushy and uncomfortable to say. Go for it. Mush it up. There’s no better time for it, and though it won’t make them be better, it may make them feel better. You know what’s something no one has ever said to themselves? “I wish I had told X I loved them less.”
Oh, I’m sorry, is this post to mushy for you? Too fucking bad! We love each other around here, and that’s all there is to it. Now go give the next person you see a hug, god damn it.
Q: My neighbors were kind enough to help me with a large household problem. In order to demonstrate my gratitude, I baked a cake and took it to their house two days later. When the plate was returned, cleaned and within a reasonable time frame, there was a box of chocolates on it. This token was greatly appreciated, but I now find myself in a position to, yet again, reciprocate with either another cake or some other baked item. How does one put a stop to the constant “thank you” reciprocations of such gifts? I feel that I should be the last one to give such a gift, since I had the original household problem that my neighbors assisted me in resolving.
Miss Manners says: In Greek mythology, Agamemnon appeases the goddess Artemis for a serious etiquette breach (bragging) by making a human sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia. He does this without consulting his wife, Clytemnestra, who, upon his return from the Trojan War, returns the favor by stabbing him in his bath. Their son Orestes then murders Clytemnestra in retaliation. Eventually, the Greek gods have to step in to break the cycle of vendetta before it depopulates the Peloponnese. Miss Manners realizes that your situation is not quite as drastic, but the principle is the same. If you answer the chocolates with baked goods, you will only prolong things. Send them a letter covering both the chocolates and the original help.
Your Head Bitch says: We’ve discussed this kind of thing before, as some of you may recall. And I can tell you that this thank you exchange has gone on long enough, lady! Though it’s not really about who “gets the last word,” as it were, you are correct, you get to be the one who says the final thank you. You just can’t say it with a gift. Sorry. Write a thank you note, for christ’s sake, before you and your neighbors turn into some kind of insane reverse Hatfields and McCoys and gift one another to death for so long that you forget what the hell you were thankful for in the first place. As long as everyone is thankful for everyone else, isn’t that what really matters, and not who gave who the last baked good?
Thank you so much, you are too kind. No, thank YOU, you are the one who is too kind! No, I said thank YOU, motherfucker!
Q: Several family members were casually talking after our Thanksgiving dinner. I asked my husband if he would get me some coffee (he was standing, I was sitting). My brother-in-law piped up and corrected me with “Please.” Should he have corrected me? I’m 58 and felt like a 2-year-old. I told him I thought the please was implied, as we have been married 34 years.
Miss Manners says: At what year did you decide that it was no longer necessary to be polite? And when did your brother-in-law decide that he no longer needed to be polite to you? Miss Manners should not have to tell you that being related does not justify suspending politeness. You have discovered that for yourself.
Your Head Bitch says: There’s a reason the first thing we teach kids about manners is to say please and thank you. That shit is fundamental. I don’t care how long you have known someone, what you’re asking them for, what kind of mood you’re in, or what the moon phase is — always please, and always thank you. Period. If we say it after “bitch” you know you’d better say it after “honey,” too.
That said, we don’t publicly call people out on not doing it either, unless those people are our children. If you really have a problem with something someone says, you can take it up with them personally. Reading someone for not saying please in front of a big group of people just makes everyone feel super awkward and is probably just as rude as not saying please in the first place.
Not saying please? Bitch, please.
Q: How can one know if she is talking too much or being talkative? I like to think I’m funny and engaging, that I tell a good story and am an entertaining guest and hostess. However, at Thanksgiving dinner, my husband said I was carrying on a monologue. I thought I was aware enough of being long-winded to cut myself off, but perhaps the champagne (which wasn’t cut off) blurred my judgment. Therefore, would you please advise me how to judge whether I’m entertaining people with my stories, or if I’m becoming a bore? A good tip on how to engage other guests would also be useful. Further, if you could include a kind way for my husband to let me know I’m going on too long, I would pass that on to him. Have I gone on too long again?
Miss Manners says: No, Miss Manners is still giving you rapt attention. Face to face, you would be able to see the bright gaze she has fixed on you. But there are indeed ways of gauging your listeners’ limits. Faces resting gently in plates are a good sign that you have gone on too long, as are downcast eyes, which nowadays probably indicate the presence of an electronic device under the napkin. In social settings, an appreciative audience usually makes encouraging noises and nods, so silence and immobility are also signs. To re-engage people at that point, halt the story and offer others a turn by saying something vaguely relevant, such as, “Everyone must have these embarrassing moments,” or “And how did you spend your vacation?” Unless you hear a chorus of “But wait, what happened to you then?” you may consider that you have yielded the floor, and that no one has noticed that your story wasn’t finished. But even without this problem, every couple needs a Meaningful Look. Generally, it is a fixed, unblinking stare, accompanied by an upturning of the mouth intended to disguise its real meaning. And that can be anything from “You should probably wind this up” to “Didn’t you tell me that we were going to keep that a secret?” to “Please, can we go home now before I keel over?”
Your Head Bitch says: Oh, honey, do I know how that goes. As a descendent of a long and illustrious line of women who could carry on a conversation with a brick wall, this is something I worry about frequently. But you can trust the cues people are giving you to see if they are into it. Remember, funny people get laughs and not eye rolls or blank stares into the middle distance. If that’s what you’re getting, it’s time to shut it down. Just trust your instincts — there is no “correct” way to have a conversation. Just keep a good flow back and forth with the other people involved and you’re probably going to be just fine. If you didn’t feel weird, it probably wasn’t all that weird. Don’t let your husband, well-intentioned as he may be, make you second guess yourself or re-play the whole night in your head twenty times over. Men have a different barometer for “talkative” than the rest of us do anyway.
Please also note that this is the only “meaningful gesture” we here at BPBTY choose to recognize.
Q: If, after one of my preschool-age son’s events, I spontaneously invite my in-laws back to our not-exactly-immaculate house, is it appropriate for them to attempt to make it so — without checking in with me first? What if their attempt involves the sudden use of a leaf blower within vicinity of my infant daughter? Is this my problem because I shouldn’t invite them unless my house and yard are absolutely ready for prime time?
Miss Manners says: Loath as she is to get in the way of a good grudge, Miss Manners urges you to consider that your misguided in-laws were trying to be helpful. Rather than holding off on further spontaneous invitations, you could say: “I hope you don’t mind, but I’m afraid our house might be in a bit of disarray. If it will distract you from enjoying the visit, perhaps we should do it another time.” And then hide the leaf blower.
Your Head Bitch says: Your in-laws were almost certainly not being judgy about your un-raked lawn. I know this because, first, that’s something that literally almost no one has ever cared about, and second, because you have an infant in addition to your pre-schooler. People do tend to make an effort to make the lives of those with newly acquired children easier, as a general rule. I think it’s safe to assume that’s what was going on here and not that they just ran in, leaf blower a’blazin’, because they didn’t want to have to tell you to your face that your lawn looked like hot hell and they were embarrassed to be related to you. If you really don’t appreciate it, feel free to tell them that it’s absolutely not necessary for them to tidy up when they come over, but if your problem with it was just a byproduct of feeling judged then I say let them do what they want so they can feel like they are contributing. There’s no need to go on the defensive because someone else tidied up a few of your leaves. All that being said, your Head Bitch does not condone leaf blowing (blowering?) near an infant unless said infant is wearing hilarious baby goggles and earmuffs for protection. Not only are they functional, but they are also adorable. The more you know.
Seriously, I’m such a sucker for babies in earmuffs. They are FAR superior to the eternally alarming babies with pierced ears, who do nothing but freak me out.
We here at BPBTY wish you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving, filled with family togetherness, awkward questions about your life choices, uncomfortable political opinion sharing, pie, and family gossip. As always, I am thankful for each and every one of you who shows up day after day to hear what my bossy ass has to say about shit. To you, I say — may your wine glass always be full, your gravy always be lump-free and may the crispy onions on your green bean casserole never go soggy.