DEAR MISS MANNERS: There is an old saying my mother-in-law seems to have embraced wholeheartedly: “If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.”
But isn’t the saying meant to spare hurt feelings, not cause them? These deafening silences tell me how my mother-in-law truly feels.
The most recent instance came when I redecorated our front porch. My mother-in-law visited and didn’t even acknowledge the drastic changes. Instead of saying something like, “I see you have redecorated the front porch,” there was this silence on her end, which told me she didn’t care for it at all. On the way out of the house, she stood on our front porch and said she liked the neighbor’s lawn.
My mother-in-law believes she has impeccable manners. Those manners feel more like weapons. Am I being too sensitive, and is she correct in not even acknowledging things she dislikes?
GENTLE READER: You have not left your mother-in-law any options. You consider her silence rude. Telling you she disapproves of your taste would be ruder. And Miss Manners finds it hard to believe that the flat statement you propose — merely acknowledging the change — would be satisfactory.
That leaves vocal approval, a choice your mother-in-law may find distasteful, particularly if she has reason to fear it will be met with accusations of insincerity.
So her policy is a sound one. Miss Manners suggests that you stop worrying about whether your mother-in-law approves of your front porch.
On their own
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I wanted to invite family and friends to our 25th anniversary dinner party, but I can’t afford to pay for everyone’s meal. Is there a tactful way to let them know they'll need to pay for their own meals?
GENTLE READER: “We want to honor ourselves with a party that we clearly can’t afford, so we are inviting you to pay for it. We will pretend to be your hosts, but if you want anything to eat and drink, you are on your own.”
A lack of respect?
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My friend often omits any type of salutation or greeting in her emails. No “Dear So-and-So,” or “Hi, So-and-So,” although on occasion, she will say “Hi” without using my name and then start her email.
She always signs it with her name — twice actually, since she has an automatic signature built into her email program.
I interpret this as a lack of respect, and it annoys me so much that I would like to say something to her. But it would probably sound petty to say, “How come you don’t call me anything, but sign your own name TWICE?!”
GENTLE READER: Informal emails do not properly require either a salutation or a valediction, although if one uses the former, it is reasonable to pair it with the latter. And if one uses an automatic signature, a valediction is redundant.
Yet Miss Manners agrees that you would look petty to let on that you are keeping score. And if you do, your friend will no doubt counter that she should get credit for having used your name in your email address.
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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