Advice Columns

Miss Manners: If you can’t understand phone assistance, ask for written instructions

Q: In these days, where one must rely on technical support given over the telephone in order to repair a problem, what is the proper etiquette when one cannot understand the person giving the technical information? Especially if you are being charged for that information?

A: “I am so sorry, but we seem to have a bad connection — and with all of this technical language, I am unable to understand you. Could we do a written chat instead, or is there someone else with whom I can talk?”

Q: My wife and I just had a baby (our first). We were obviously very excited, as were most of our family. However, my father-in-law has not shown the level of excitement we would have expected.

My father-in-law has not gotten us or our daughter a gift or even a card. He did visit briefly while my wife was in the hospital.

When my wife’s sister had their first child, my father-in-law had a custom dresser made by a furniture maker. This dresser is easily a $700 to $1,000 piece of furniture.

My wife is starting to take this personally. It is becoming part of a long-standing situation in which my father-in-law discounts everything accomplished by my wife because her older sister has already done it. I want to say something to him but don’t know that it is my place.

A: Are you really hoping to get into the middle of an age-old fight about which sister your father-in-law prefers?

While Miss Manners sympathizes with your disappointment in what you deem lesser treatment, really your only solid complaint is that you didn’t get the $1,000 piece of furniture. Your father-in-law did acknowledge the new baby – even if it was not with the measure of excitement you would have liked.

Asking why you didn’t get the goods (“but Bethany did!”) is not a polite grievance. You could, however, ask for the gift of his company – and make concrete plans to arrange for it. Then if he still doesn’t comply, you may wonder aloud what you or your wife did to upset him. But only if you are genuinely prepared to hear the answer, which may not be reasonable or pleasant.

Q: I liked your advice to the person who may not be able to afford a big restaurant party to invite friends over for tea and cake instead. I always get carried away with big ideas that I can’t afford. I forget that one can still be hospitable and generous without spending a lot of money.

Do you have any other similar ideas for someone on a budget?

A: The underlying idea is to invite people at times when meals are not expected: midmorning coffee, afternoon tea, or after another event, such as the theater. Miss Manners has noticed that even the greatest food snobs consider scrambled eggs to be a great treat when served at midnight.

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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