DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am in my mid-30s, single and childless by choice, and I live in a large city three hours away from my parents, who still live in my rural childhood home. Every year starting around Dec. 1, they are inundated with calls from my old classmates and ex-boyfriends who are calling to see when I'll be home for the holidays -- they want to "catch up" with me.
I have no interest in speaking with any of these people again, much less spending a few hours with them and their screaming children (they never want to come and visit ME, they want me to stop by their parents' houses where 15-plus hyper children are running amok).
I was finished with these people years ago, but they are oblivious to that fact (especially the ex-boyfriends). One persistent fellow phoned my parents' home every other day starting on Thanksgiving, asking if they had relayed his phone number to me (they had) and wondering aloud why I hadn't phoned him yet.
I don't know who gets more irritated, my parents or me. Do you know of a gentle way to permanently discourage someone from bugging the living crap out of my folks?
GENTLE READER: Madam, please control yourself. You do not have to see these people, but you need not use such language about people who were your friends and whose crime is their continued interest and offers of hospitality. And Miss Manners will fastidiously refrain from commenting on your attitude toward children.
There is no polite way to tell well-meaning old friends that you never want to see them again. Your parents should say firmly that they don't know what your plans are but know that you are terribly booked up; if repeatedly implored, they can only repeat that they have given you the message.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: This year, my husband and I are playing host for our family's Christmas celebration. My mother plans to bring her current beau, and he is Jewish. We like and respect him, and we want him to feel welcome in our family celebration, but we do not want to offend him by either ignoring his traditions or by participating in traditions we have no rights to. How can we, as gracious hosts, adjust our celebration to include his traditions?
GENTLE READER: With the best intentions in the world, you could embarrass and offend your guest by introducing some element that you consider Jewish into your Christmas party.
American Jews have a wide variety of ways of dealing with the centrality of Christmas, from ignoring it to adapting the customs for Hanukkah to participating in the secular aspects. These attitudes are not framed lightly, and you cannot hope to guess this gentleman's.
If you are having other Jewish guests with whom you are on close terms, you could ask them to help you make your party somewhat ecumenical. Simply singling out a newcomer smacks of saying, "Oh, look, there's a Jew here." You should either de-emphasize the religious aspect of your celebration or accept him as a welcome observer of the same, and a full participant in the social aspect.