DEAR MISS MANNERS: I recently made my first visit to a foreign country where the language, customs and general comportment were different from what I expect as an American.
Of particular concern to me was how I should behave when confronted with something I found unpleasant, uncomfortable or rude. Some of the examples are minor and probably stem from language difficulties, as when a waiter says, "Wine, lady?" Others are more extreme. A man on a city street blocked my path to try to sell me something and wouldn't take "No, gracias" for an answer. A man asked my husband in front of me if he would like to buy his "other wife." A waiter seemed confused that I was bothered by finding hair in my food.
As polite behavior precludes accosting strangers on the street, I was unprepared for all of this. What would Miss Manners suggest for my next trip?
GENTLE READER: A different country.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: What are the rules for (not) accompanying one's significant other to funerals, weddings and other emotionally charged social functions?
My beloved recently lost an uncle whom she had not seen in 15 or 20 years. By all accounts, the man was a jerk -- abusive to his family, addicted to painkillers, with vague mob connections (really). My partner never liked the man, but because she knew him as a child and is in touch with the deceased's children, she plans to attend the memorial service.
Here is the problem: My partner was upset that I did not offer to accompany her to the funeral, which is out of town. I never met the man. Given that I did not know the deceased and barely know his family, along with the lack of close relationship between my partner and the deceased, why would my absence, particularly for an out-of-town funeral, be a big deal?
If the person who died had been one of his children whom I've met, of course I would go to the funeral. I would not expect my partner to attend out-of-town funerals of my distant relatives or of family friends whom she never met, regardless of the relationship I had to the deceased. But are husbands/wives/partners required to accompany each other to all such events? I could use some guidelines!
GENTLE READER: There is nothing wrong with the guidelines you have, except that you only have one set. Miss Manners is afraid that the situation calls for using one you don't seem to have.
The factors that should influence whether to attend a funeral are the nature of the tie between you and the deceased and the degree of affection or respect you have for that person. If the tie is strong enough, there need not be respect; if the respect is great, you need not have much of a direct tie. On those grounds, you would be right about not attending the funeral of someone you neither know nor respect.
However, the other set of guidelines has to do with the feelings of the person to whom you do have ties and for whom you feel affection. This is easier than weighing factors. All you have to ask is, "Honey, do you want me to go with you?" and abide by the answer.