Q: I am spending the holidays with my boyfriend’s family for the first time. I asked my boyfriend what his family dinners are like, and he mentioned that after dinner the women clean and the men talk and watch sports on TV.
These outdated gender roles go against both of our beliefs. I don’t mind helping clean, but it bothers me that the men will just be sitting around.
My boyfriend says it bothers his sisters too, but no one has done anything about it. He offered to say something, but I know he really doesn’t want to and is just doing it to make me happy.
What should I do? I don’t want his family to think I’m rude by not cleaning, but I also don’t want to encourage something that I don’t believe in.
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A: So, as a first-time visitor and non-relative at a family event, you could snap off the television set and order the men to the kitchen. It wouldn’t do anything to spread your beliefs, but at least you would never again have to worry about the dynamics of this particular family.
Guests have no business acting as reformers. Still, Miss Manners supposes that you expect her to devise a more subtle way to plant the idea of change in this family, because of the possibility that you might someday join it. All right, all right.
One would be to ask the sisters, “Don’t any of you want to watch the game?” and, if anyone says yes, to say, “You go ahead; I’ll cover for you here. Or maybe you could send one of them in, in case anyone wants to join us.”
Another would be to persuade your beau to insist upon helping clean up and insisting equally forcefully that his mother go out and relax.
Either way would begin to suggest the idea of after-dinner division by interests, rather than by gender.
Q: I’ve asked my elderly neighbor (three times) not to call me Monday to Friday, 8 to 5, owing to the fact that I have a home business and can’t be disturbed during that time.
I have an old phone so I don’t have caller ID. I don’t think I should have to get a new phone just to screen calls.
Despite my request, she continues to call me during the weekdays. Having her not respect my wishes is upsetting to me. What can I do to get her to stop calling me during the weekdays?
A: The confusion may be that you are saying one thing and doing another. Every time your neighbor calls, you answer, demonstrating conclusively that you are, in fact, available.
Miss Manners feels it is time for a dramatization. Next time she calls, excuse yourself and put down the phone without hanging up. When you return, apologize for being so busy, explaining that it is the middle of your working day. Several such interruptions should make the point without your having to resort to play-acting irate but imaginary customers.
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.