Miss Manners: Asking relatives to be social when they come around

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Miss Manners: Asking relatives to be social when they come around


Dear Miss Manners: My sister-in-law of about 40 years has always kept information about her life pretty close to her vest. Lately it’s gotten worse.

She doesn’t talk about her new car (when asked, all she would say was, “It doesn’t have leather seats”), her new computer, their whole new heating system, the work they had done on their deck, even their vacations or weekend getaways. Nothing is our business.

Now the situation with my nephew is similar. I live relatively far away from most of my family, so I can understand my nephew not sharing tons of stuff with me. But you’d think his wife would say something about her job, her friends, her parents, her daughter’s day care, something — if not to me, to her husband’s parents, aunts, uncles, etc. Something.

Instead, she sits at the table like, “Just talk to him; I’m busy contemplating my navel.”

I’m guessing there’s some millennial etiquette book that says to new wives, “You don’t have to have anything to do with your husband’s family — let him deal with them,” but I don’t like this. Also, I’d hate to see this go on for another 20 years.

Would you make a big announcement that when you enter someone’s home, you should at least say “hello” to them? You really should assume they went to some trouble and are doing you a favor, not that you are doing them a favor by showing up and announcing that you have to leave soon to do something more important.

When you go to someone’s home for dinner or cake or coffee (or anything else), you should have at least one topic of conversation. At a minimum, you should say something about yourself, not, “So, how are things going?” to the person sitting next to you. In general, people do not die from making conversation.

Please add that it’s very rude to sit at a table with people, time after time, and let them wonder about: 1. where you work or what you do for a living, 2. how you like your job, 3. what’s been bothering you, 4. something you’re reading or have seen on TV, 5. something you like or don’t like, or 6. any plans you’re making that you think will be fun (or won’t be).

I don’t know how people can just not talk for decades, but I guess they can. I really don’t know why these people show up.

Expecting relatives to be social in a social setting is reasonable, and Miss Manners can even agree to your suggestion that everyone bring at least one topic to the dinner table.

Where she differs is in being grateful, not exasperated, if they do not expect widespread interest in their new car, their new computer, their heating system or their deck installation.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, missmanners.com. You can also follow her @RealMissManners.

#Manners #relatives #social

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