DEAR MISS MANNERS: I had braces put on my teeth, and my fiance's sister-in-law finds it rude that after we eat dinner with my future in-laws at a picnic or restaurant, I excuse myself without saying where I am going so I can brush my teeth and clean the remnants of food from between my braces and wires.
I do not begin picking food from my teeth at the dinner table. My future in-laws know what I am doing and they have not said anything. I have a toothbrush at their house so I can brush after dinner, and I also carry one in my purse so I can brush in the restaurants' restrooms after I eat. Am I being rude by brushing my teeth after dinner?
GENTLE READER: Does your future sister-in-law never use the bathroom, and do the rest of you get to vote on whether you approve of whatever she does there?
As you know, picking your teeth at the table would be rude, as would discussing your hygienic intentions. But if excusing yourself after dinner to go to the bathroom were rude, the polite world could quickly turn unbearable.
Miss Manners assures you that what you do in the bathroom after you excuse yourself from the table can be deemed neither polite nor rude, as it does not affect other people. Unfortunately she cannot say the same about the other lady's behavior toward you.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My boyfriend of two years has been in Iraq for nearly a year. He will be returning to the States for a 14-day rest-and-relaxation visit.
Since he has been away, his mother has been battling cancer and has had a bone marrow transplant, but seems to be doing well. I know she really misses her son and seeing him will really help her.
He will be flying into their home state to visit with them and I have been invited to stay for seven days. I'm not entirely sure the mother wants me there and I don't want to impose on her time with her son, but I would really like to spend some time with him, too. I feel as though I have a right and a need to be there, but I also wonder if I'm being selfish.
GENTLE READER: Declining to go and being selfish are not your only choices. You could go there and be unselfish.
If you care about this gentleman, surely you care about his troubles and do not want to add to them. But in small ways you might be able to help him with them.
Of course his ill mother should have private time with him. You can make this easier by volunteering to relieve him of any chores or errands that he might otherwise do. You can also be cheerful about suggesting that you visit for fewer days, or that you schedule your own private time with him when his mother is resting or otherwise occupied.
Miss Manners does not see you and his mother as having opposing claims on him, and apparently neither does your beau. His inviting you at this time indicates that it would be a comfort to him, as well as a pleasure, to have you there, and even perhaps that his mother, feeling her mortality, wants to get to know you.