DEAR MISS MANNERS: Do you have a suitable answer to those who say to me, an older woman, "You must have been attractive when you were young" or, after looking at an earlier photo, "Is that you?"
GENTLE READER: "And you must have been charming."
"I seem to recall that it was."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Some contractors came to my home to do work in my backyard. They were there for just one day.
About halfway through the day, I thought to bring them out some water, as that seemed only decent, especially on a warm day. Is the water enough? Should I have offered the water right away when they arrived? Should I have brought them something else or a bit of light food? I thought of giving them some muffins, but I had made the baked goods several days prior and was afraid they would be stale.
Should contractors who are not working indoors be automatically given leave to use the restrooms of the home? I was at home alone with a young baby, so I admit I was wary about letting strange men inside the house.
My grandfather was a contractor before he retired, and he told us that often such workers are treated poorly or like they don't exist. I want to be better than that, and I should think offering a bit of water is the bare minimum of common courtesy. Please let me know if there is anything else I am missing.
GENTLE READER: While not absolutely denying that there may be rare situations in which a homeowner would be unable to provide onsite bathroom access, Miss Manners nevertheless considers it unkind, if not rude -- as well as highly impractical. She would understand if the resulting lost productivity due to workers having to leave the site and return was included in the bill.
Water on a warm day is an equally basic requirement. However, she is ambivalent about more extensive food service. The contractor and his cohorts are employees. This relieves you of any technical etiquette requirement to provide food as if they were guests. But you may wish to consider whether doing the bare minimum required is a behavior you wish to model for people working on your home.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When you write a sympathy card to someone relating that you were sad to learn that they lost their Mother, is it proper to capitalize Mother? Even though it is not a grammar requirement, I have always thought to do this. We are wondering about this at my work.
GENTLE READER: Given the context, Miss Manners infers that you believe capitalizing increases the deference, importance or respect being accorded to the deceased.
The problem is that she, like the addressee, can only guess at your intention. To be intelligible, conventions must be generally understood. They do change: In an email-driven world, everyone now understands that full capitalization means a raised voice, usually in anger. But if you and your co-workers cannot decide the difference between mother and Mother, it is unlikely that the bereaved will understand.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)