DEAR MISS MANNERS: My single, 20-year-old niece unfortunately has found herself pregnant. The father is not in the picture. She is having the baby, but whether she gives it up for adoption has not yet been decided.
I love my niece dearly, as I do her mother, my sister. That this has happened in no way diminishes my love for either of them.
I am writing to you because I am not sure the appropriate way to respond. How deeply do I inquire about their plans? The state of her pregnancy? What they are thinking about after the birth?
I don't want to be intrusive, but I also don't want to seem dismissive. What I'm asking is the best way to express the love I have for my niece and whatever support I can give to her and this child. This is really uncharted territory for me.
GENTLE READER: Then proceed cautiously; this territory is full of land mines.
It is never polite to probe any pregnancy; the lady in question gets to give or withhold information as she pleases. Miss Manners begs you not to ask about the plans for the baby, which you will learn in good time.
What you want to show is concern, not curiosity. So you could offer to take her to her medical appointments, for example, or just to take her out for lunch or another treat. If you find that she plans to keep the baby, then you should make the usual fuss that relatives do when a baby is expected, but until then, let her do the talking, while you simply listen sympathetically and assure her of your love and support.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: On innumerable occasions, some of my guests have scolded me for not using disposable tableware, saying that my dishes create too much work. Once, a couple sent their children to the car to collect picnic supplies and began dismantling my table setting.
I prefer spending time with my guests, then doing the cleaning once they have left. My well-meaning friends, however, ignore my pleas that they go into the living room to visit with the others, and insist upon doing the dishes, while complaining the whole time. How am I to handle such situations?
GENTLE READER: Apparently your guests believe that they are unworthy of being treated nicely. Considering how rude it is to criticize and sabotage a host's arrangements, Miss Manners is inclined to agree.
If you really want to entertain such people, you should tell them, "Thank you for your concern, but please sit down. This is my house, and I prefer to run it in my own way. I wouldn't dream of interfering in your households."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it rude to ask someone how big their diamond earrings are? Is it considered rude not to answer that question?
GENTLE READER: That is rather an odd question, as it presumably comes from someone who is looking at them. Miss Manners would consider it acceptable to reply, "They're exactly the same size that you see." If the follow-up question is, "No, I mean how many carats?" you may respond that they are welcome to count them.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, email@example.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)