DEAR MISS MANNERS: I hate to sound like a child who was born with a silver spoon, but it often distresses me when my boyfriend goes on and on about how poor he was when growing up. Mind you, my boyfriend is fun and can be a little boisterous at times.
Last night we had dinner with a work colleague and his date. By chance we happened on the conversation of a child's birthday party, and our colleague's date was just explaining how she went a little overboard for the gifts, and why not, as a child only turns 5 once.
My boyfriend piped up and said, "How spoiled your kids are. I never had one birthday party or any Christmas gifts. In fact, one Christmas, my mom did get me a used videogame set. When I was at school one day she took it to the pawn shop and bought a carton of cigarettes."
Miss Manners, how does one respond to that? I was flustered and the date was left with an uneasy feeling. The colleague of course scoffed, and said, "That's so B.S." Our associate had grown up in a well-to-do family and couldn't conceive of the idea. The two men began to "discuss" the idea, and I just stayed out of the conversation.
On the drive home, my boyfriend was upset that I didn't stand up for him, and I told him that it was rude to even bring up such a tragedy and it probably spoiled our company's mood. So who was being inconsiderate -- my boyfriend or our company? Or myself? What can I do to alleviate this type of conversation topic being brought back up?
GENTLE READER: Fraternize with people who have serious, current misfortunes, preferably by finding a way to help them. With any luck, the gentleman might be exposed to gallant souls who refuse to feel sorry for themselves. At the least, he will hear how irritating self-pity can be.
His behavior was culpable, as he used this self-pity to criticize someone else as well as to beg for retroactive sympathy. Miss Manners cannot condone what his friend replied, but she sympathizes with the sentiment.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was wondering if it is OK to drop by a neighbor's house unannounced. We stopped by a neighbor's house the other night and they invited us in; however, they were eating dinner and had company staying with them. I felt uncomfortable being there. My husband feels it is rude to decline the invitation to come inside, but I feel we should have said we would come back another time or call next time before stopping by their house.
GENTLE READER: Your husband thought it would be rude not to crash the neighbor's dinner? Miss Manners is hard put to understand why he would think that the polite way to make up for interrupting their meal and their time with their friends was to keep right on doing it.
Dropping in is an impolite habit exactly because it creates the sort of awkward situation that you describe. Of course you should call. Better still, why not invite them to your house when you wish to see them?