Miss Manners

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a 39-year-old single father with a beautiful 4-year-old girl. I would like to know what is proper etiquette for taking my daughter shopping for clothes and then having her try them on in a fitting room. Last time, I went to the women’s dressing room, but I didn’t know if I should go in. There were moms sitting down waiting for their children to come out of rooms. My child still needs a little help.

GENTLE READER: Although the 4-year-olds of Miss Manners’ acquaintance are aware that their classmates come in different flavors, they generally attach less significance to this than, to take one example, the distinction between strawberry and vanilla.

The existence of these same children suggests that their parents are more aware of the consequences of gender differentiation. It is therefore the gender of the parent, not the child, that determines which dressing room to use. If your daughter needs help trying on her dress in a shared changing room, the other fathers will accept her presence more readily than the mothers will accept yours. Individual dressing rooms, when available, should cause no surprises for anyone.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I live in Florida and have many family members visit throughout the year. Recently, some of our family came and stayed at our house for a few days. Because they didn’t fly, but drove, they weren’t sure when they were going to leave, but told us it would be sometime Thursday.

When we were having dinner Wednesday evening, we asked them if they had decided what time they were going to leave the next day. They said no, and that they might even stay until Friday morning.

When I got up the next morning, they were gone. They had seen my husband in the kitchen at 7 a.m., when he was leaving to go to work, and didn’t tell him goodbye or that they were leaving. When I came out to the kitchen at 8 a.m., all I found was a note saying goodbye and thanks for everything.

When I mentioned this to a friend of mine, she asked if they were upset or mad about something, or if we had argued the night before, but the answer is no. They went to bed early, saying they were tired and would see us in the morning. Is this any way to behave?

GENTLE READER: The behavior certainly is odd enough to warrant a follow-up call, inquiring if everyone is all right.

Note that Miss Manners did not suggest asking if everything is all right. Your purposes are, first, to unravel the mystery and second, if they were merely thoughtless, gently to point that out.

Asking after their health implies that their behavior requires an explanation while showing concern for them. Asking about the more nebulous “everything” sounds like an invitation to air grievances against you, which, if there are any, will no doubt emerge without an invitation.

(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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