DEAR MISS MANNERS: There seems to be an idea (mentioned by others and presented in books and movies) that one’s new spouse or partner must be introduced to one’s ex-spouse/ex-partner. The implication is that the ex’s approval of the new romance is necessary.
Unless the exes share children, I am puzzled as to why a new beginning needs to be presented to the past and accepted. Is this always a requirement? Is it unacceptable to proceed with a new relationship if one does not have an ex’s blessing?
GENTLE READER: Were this indeed a requirement, it would significantly cut into the second-marriage market.
Miss Manners thought that the point of a divorce was to eliminate the requirement that two people agree, after they realize that they cannot.
That said, many people find that some social contact with their ex-partners is either desirable or inescapable. In such cases, a formal introduction will be unavoidable, and may reflect the warmth (or lack thereof) of the relationship with the ex-partner.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have invited some of my sister’s friends for dinner for her birthday. These people are far better off financially than I am. Since I have invited them, do I pay for the entire meal for everyone, or should they pay for their meals?
GENTLE READER: Do you suppose that hospitality operates on a sort of tax system, whereby the rich are obligated to subsidize other people’s parties?
In the social realm, you are not even supposed to acknowledge being aware of your guests’ finances. (And while you may guess at their incomes, you are probably not privy to their financial obligations.)
If you cannot afford to entertain these people at dinner, Miss Manners recommends inviting them for tea and a slice of birthday cake.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: In dealing with people like waiters, waitresses and housekeeping staff in the United States, I occasionally find that my second language is one that is likely to be their first language — and sometimes their English isn’t very good. I’d enjoy a chance to practice my second language and maybe make communication a little easier.
I do, however, wonder how to break the ice in this respect, without making unwelcome assumptions — maybe I’m wrong and this person doesn’t speak that language at all or would rather use English.
Is there a polite way to ask whether the other language would be better or whether I could make things easier by meeting them halfway? Or would it be better for me to just forget about it and stick to English?
GENTLE READER: Have you ever had the deflating experience of proudly speaking a foreign language abroad, only to be coolly answered in English?
Perhaps the foreigners were only trying to practice their second language. However, it comes off as being unable to bear if you mangle their language.
That is what Miss Manners hopes you will avoid doing to others. So she will let you try only if you are able to admit, in a humble yet chatty way, that you do speak a bit of whatever, and if the person you address also does, you would appreciate being permitted to practice it.
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.
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