DEAR HARRIETTE: My mother moved to the United States from Eastern Europe recently. She speaks a little English and tries to socialize. She doesn't understand that we don't comment on someone's weight gain in America. Where we are from, this would be a normal observation to make upon seeing someone, like a change in appearance of hair, yet in America it is deemed incredibly offensive.
Is there anything I can tell her about conflicting cultures to help her understand she is hurting feelings? She is nearing her 80s. -- You've Got Weight, Chicago
DEAR YOU’VE GOT WEIGHT: Given your mother’s social nature, it is clear that she wants to connect and be welcomed by the people she meets in her new homeland. I am certain that she does not want to offend or insult anyone. This is a case of simple ignorance -- of not knowing the social mores of this country and how to navigate them. It is your job to teach her.
Point out to her that you believe she is hurting people’s feelings without realizing it. Give her concrete examples of how her comments about the way that people look likely seem critical and rude here, because Americans typically choose to say nice things or nothing at all when face to face with others. It may be tough at first to temper her commentary. Suggest that it is worth it as she wants to make friends. Give her a list of things to stop saying, including critically commenting on someone’s weight, appearance or personal relationships. She will get the knack of it in time.