DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am 23 and about to move in with my boyfriend, "Greg." My mother, with whom I am close, likes Greg very much. The problem? Greg smokes cigarettes -- as I have, but do not any longer. Mom is vehemently opposed to smoking, which is understandable and her right. She is now threatening to write Greg and inform him that if he doesn't quit immediately, she "can't approve" of our plans to cohabitate -- and my mother's disapproval, even the threat thereof, is a sharp and icy thing indeed.
I understand that she is worried about secondhand smoke (Greg does not smoke in the house) and about me taking up the habit again (I have no interest whatsoever in doing so). However, I maintain that it is presumptuous and rude for an unrelated individual to tell a grown man what he can and can't do in his own home (or on his own front porch, as is the case here). Mom says that "when it comes to deadly addictions, manners don't apply."
I do not object to Mom's opinions. I do object to her horning in and bullying my beloved. What does Miss Manners think?
GENTLE READER: Oh, Miss Manners is only thinking how little the world changes. The same scene could have taken place 50 years ago, except that your mother would not have dared criticize an adult's smoking, and would have instead poured that emotion into the issue of cohabitation.
Whatever upsets her, she should not be invoking that clause about suspending manners in an emergency, which only applies to immediate emergencies. For example, if Greg were to set the house on fire, she could override the rule against shouting orders and scream, "Get out!"
But Miss Manners notices that you are overlooking another clause that does apply, which is that a mother may voice her worries about a child of any age.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: It is your 19th birthday, and your boyfriend of one month is taking you out for dinner. When the check comes, he pays in cash. As you glance in the direction of the tray with the bill, you see that he has mistakenly put in too little money.
Do you point out the mistake, although you are not supposed to be peeking at the bill, or let the waiter do it?
I kept silent, but I can't help wondering if there was a way of subtly indicating the problem that would have saved him from the situation of the waiter returning and asking for the rest of his payment while preserving my facade of innocence.
GENTLE READER: If you are not paying the bill, Miss Manners is afraid that you will have to trust the young gentleman to do it. And you will have to trust the waiter to say, "Excuse me, sir, would you check that total again, please?"
Anyone can make a mistake. But not everyone wants to go around with someone who is looking over his shoulder to catch him at it.