Miss Manners

DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the etiquette around addressing, with a friend, a personal topic that you learned about through social media?

For example, if a friend publishes on social media a story of their recent hospitalization, how do I handle this information the next time I see them in person? Do I wait for them to tell me again? Address it head-on? I have tried both approaches, and neither feels natural.

GENTLE READER: We have become so accustomed to the technology in our lives being replaced every six months that it is natural to think that etiquette is equally transitory.

It does evolve, but at a slower pace. The situation you describe is no different than when the neighborhood gossip told you across the fence that Mr. So-and-So’s wife absconded with both their retirement savings and the plumber.

Source and subject matter are the relevant issues. If the personal information was promulgated by the friend affected, you are free to address it; if it was promulgated by someone who had no right or reason to share, then delicacy is in order: “Did I hear that you were not feeling well? I’m so sorry. If I had known, I would have called.” And as before, some subject matter is best not touched at all until you have been told directly.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My 11-year-old son goes to an international school in the U.S. We hosted an 11-year-old boy for several weeks on an exchange program.

That boy rarely said please or thank you, made occasional gruff requests, resisted going to bed, and was in general not experienced as a lovely guest by us grown-ups. (My son is not perfectly polite, but is mostly good at please, thank you, and friendly conversation with grown-ups.) The two boys had a wonderful time together nonetheless.

However, his poor manners got more and more on my nerves as the days wore on. To what extent would you say that it was my responsibility or right in loco parentis to offer reminders -- as I would to my own son -- to say please/thank you, ask pleasantly for things rather than make gruff requests, and so on?

I felt uncomfortable at the beginning about prodding him to be more polite. As time went by, his behavior was getting very much on my nerves, but then it seemed too late to start prodding. I did remind him to thank another mom who drove him with several boys on an outing, saying (in his language, as he didn’t speak English), “Don’t forget to thank Caleb’s mom!”

But would it be acceptable to say to him, “Don’t forget to say ‘thank you’ when we take you on a special weekend outing”?

GENTLE READER: As the acting parent, teaching good manners is both your responsibility and your right. Miss Manners will allow you to soften the blow with explanations that this is “the custom here,” so long as you can avoid giving the impression that you think Americans have a global corner on the etiquette market.

(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, dearmissmanners@gmail.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)

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