Q: I was eating a meal in a mom-and-pop restaurant when I noticed a man feeding a baby from a bottle. Also at the table were three older boys and a woman, who I took to be the man’s older sons and wife.
It was obvious to me, as a nurse and a mother, that the man did not know how to properly burp the baby. None of the other people at the table said anything to him about this. I wanted to go up to the table and explain how you properly burp a baby but I did not, for fear of rejection.
Should I have done so? Can you please tell me what kinds of words I should have used to politely approach this issue in order to ensure the man’s and family’s cooperation?
A: Since the answer to your first question is “no,” Miss Manners will excuse herself from finding a polite approach for committing a rude act.
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When someone is in genuine danger, a stranger can — indeed, should — intervene. But this liberty does not extend to correcting routine parental ineptitude. The man’s three older sons provide direct evidence that his burping technique, even if flawed, is not fatal.
Q: I had the privilege of having one of my creative works (over which I labored for nearly a year) performed by a local theater troupe. Many of my friends attended, and most of them readily offered their compliments and congratulations after the performance.
My best friend, however, who was in attendance, has yet to offer any compliments whatsoever, despite the fact we have seen each other a number of times since the performance.
She is neither a theater critic nor a potential producer, and she is certainly entitled to her own private opinion. However, I was under the impression that friends are supposed to be congratulatory regarding such occasions regardless of the perceived quality of the performance, and I am quite hurt by her lack of response.
Is there indeed a rule of etiquette that covers such situations, and am I right to be aggrieved?
A: Your friend should certainly have said something, even if, as you suspect, she did not enjoy the work and is therefore flummoxed about how to avoid hurting your feelings.
The solution, as Miss Manners has said on many occasions, was not to blurt out the truth. She does not understand people who think that saying, “Thank you so much for inviting me. I enjoyed the evening immensely,” will forever damage their sterling reputations, while maintaining that hurting the feelings of a beloved friend is perfectly acceptable.
What can you do now? She is your best friend. If you are interested in genuine criticism, you could say so and, if your guess about what has happened so far is correct, you could trust that the criticism will be well-intended and delivered so as not to hurt your feelings. If you are instead looking for compliments, however insincere, Miss Manners warns you that you will only encounter embarrassment or worse.
Judith Martin writes the Miss Manners column with help from her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, MissManners.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.