DEAR MISS MANNERS: I think this is a question about how to deal properly with concrete disagreements that seem to be acting as stand-ins for emotional issues.
The specific example has to do with salt. My sister's family visits our parents for several weeks at a time, and we go up for a few days so the cousins can see each other. My sister does not believe in using table salt, either in cooking or at the table. (Salt in condiments, snacks, canned foods, etc. is not a problem.) My parents also don't use table salt in cooking, but they keep a small amount on hand to put out when they have company. We cook without added salt, so each person can season things to their own taste at the table.
My sister used to argue ferociously with me whenever I went in search of salt for meals: I wasn't respecting my parent's wishes, I always force others to conform to my demands, etc.
There are several reasons why I think the issue isn't specifically about salt. For one, my parents don't object. For another, my sister has no problem putting salt out for her friends when she hosts them at my parents' house.
I don't know if our participation as guests makes a difference -- we purchase groceries and do the lion's share of the cooking. (Only "approved" recipes -- it's made abundantly clear when something is not acceptable, so we stick to recipes that get raves and are specifically requested.)
I try to accommodate style differences as much as possible since these visits are so short, and I realize that going without salt for few days is hardly a tragedy. However, this is the one of numerous minor issues that we found the most stressful. In desperation, one time I brought our saltshaker from home and the issue of salt at meals never came up. The reduction in acrimony was amazing, so since then we travel with the salt shaker.
I didn't feel like I was imposing my will on others. (We only salted our own food.) I await your verdict and any suggestions you may have about how to deal with this type of issue in the future.
GENTLE READER: What shocks Miss Manners here is not that the use of salt could ignite a family feud. Vicious battles over trivial matters identified as etiquette problems (often matters about which etiquette couldn't care less) are all in her day's work.When people who are not normally etiquette-conscious go to pieces over a minute point such as this, you may be sure that worse problems underlie the surface complaint. (And people who genuinely believe in etiquette ignore such transgressions in those they are not charged with rearing.)
Does this mean that Miss Manners recommends dealing with the deeper problem instead? Well, that could be a lot harder and take a lot longer. What shocks -- and pleases -- her is that bringing your own salt shaker actually solved the problem.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My father says that it's polite to pick up the phone (even if you know someone has already picked it up) to see if it's for you.
I think that only one person should answer the phone, and if it's for someone else in the house to say one moment please, and go get the person. What do you think?
GENTLE READER: That your father wants to know who is calling you.