How Do I Tell My Sister to Stop Bragging?
Each week, Miss Manners answers questions exclusively from the MSN audience on all of your etiquette dilemmas. (Have an issue you want help with? Send in a question today.) Read on for this week's hot topics:
DEAR MISS MANNERS,
My father has disclosed the contents of his will to his four surviving children. He's leaving the much-loved family vacation home (small quaint cottage) that was built by my grandfather to my sister. This decision came after he made a set of "rules" that included the recipient must: a) have children to pass it to; and b) have enough money to take care of it.
I know the property is his to give away, but I will never be able to have children through no fault of my own, and when he made this decision, I was poor.
I am no longer poor and we are doing quite well, but the decision still stands. My sister has taken over the property, and she and my nieces brag all the time about how wonderful it is (sometimes it's on purpose, I'm pretty sure - "winners" gloating). I am losing my ability to reply to these comments with grace and tact, as it emotionally burns me (especially the pictures on Facebook).
Since my sister and I had a totally unrelated argument, I am unable to visit the cottage by her decree, although every single one of her friends and my family are allowed.
How do I tell her tactfully that she needs to shut up about it? I would rather not cut ties with her, as we get along if we don't talk about the cottage.
"No matter how hard she tries, Miss Manners cannot imagine an exchange in which you say, "Oh, shut up about the cottage," and your sister responds, "Please come and stay here; we've missed you."
You did ask for tactful wording, but "shut up," however phrased, is just not a tactful concept. It is especially provoking when you interpret others' enjoyment as being directed against you. If their Facebook pictures gall you, don't look at them.
Also, Miss Manners doesn't believe that an argument that resulted in the extreme measure of banishing you was truly unrelated. You have a big grudge there which could come out in different situations.
The tactful way to make up is to say, "I'm sorry that I've been taking out my disappointment about the cottage on you. I really am glad that you're enjoying it, and that it will stay in the family."
If you still need to air your grievance, talk to your father. Although you acknowledge that the property is his to will away, it was his decision that has been fueling your anger."
DEAR MISS MANNERS,
How does a guest express appreciation for dinner? After a meal (at a restaurant or in a home), does the guest say "thank you for the dinner"? During the meal, is the guest expected to comment on the different dishes served-- "The garlic in the potatoes adds that Italian flair"? It seems like that would be similar to applauding after each movement of a concert.
"There was once a rule against any discussion of food at the dinner table, banning even compliments. The rather grand idea was that it was not the hosts, but their cook, who was responsible.
That rule had to be abandoned now that hosts are not only assumed to be doing their own cooking, but likely to be taking pride in it. Nevertheless, Miss Manners is considering reviving it, now that we have people talking about nothing else, and not all that talk is pleasant.
Well, yes, she would allow you a reasonable number of compliments: a brief one at table for a special dish, and a general compliment about the delicious meal afterwards. But not a dish-by-dish critique, however favorable, and nothing whatsoever of medical, nutritional or philosophical topics as related to food.
A guest's thanks, both on departure and in the letter to follow, should focus mainly on the ambiance-- the whole evening, rather than just the meal."
Judith Martin's latest book is No Vulgar Hotel: The Desire and Pursuit of Venice. She is also the author of Miss Manners' Guide toExcruciatingly Correct Behavior(Freshly Updated). She and her husband, a scientist and playwright, live in Washington, D.C. They have two perfect children, of course.
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