Miss Manners

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’m married, with two young children. When our kids ask my wife a question and she is doing something else (watching TV, looking at her cellphone), she does not respond or acknowledge them.

Is this proper etiquette, or is it just being rude? Is the proper thing to acknowledge the child, and tell them you will speak with them in a moment, as you’re busy?

GENTLE READER: No one enjoys being interrupted. Etiquette recognizes this, and balances the potential damage to the activity against the importance of the interjection.

Disrupting laundry-folding is different than interrupting someone blowing glass. Doing so to find out what’s on the calendar for next week is different than reporting that the house is on fire.

Debating where on the spectrum “Have you seen the car keys?” falls is one of the major activities of married life.

But context is also a factor. The breakfast table is a familial, social setting. In that case, Miss Manners disallows pleas of an important work email taking priority. All this aside, is this really the example your wife wants to set for children who will someday be teenagers?

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My cousin started dating again after many years of being divorced. It’s the first time since then that he feels comfortable being with someone. We like his new girlfriend; she is very pleasant and sweet. She moved in with him a couple of months ago.

Our family is very close. We’ll visit him about twice a month, and vice versa. During their last visit to my house, she took off her shoes and put her feet on my couch. She positioned herself where she sits on her feet, so that they are tucked in the cushions.

I was taken aback, and my first reaction was to look at my mother, who was also visiting; we just exchanged looks. I am usually a direct person, and normally I would’ve said something, but I didn’t want to just blurt out what I really wanted to say: “Get your feet off my couch!”

I’ve been told that I can come across as insensitive, but I honestly don’t mean to be. I noticed she sits like that in their house, so I am afraid that she’ll feel comfortable to do it again at mine. What should I say the next time it happens?

GENTLE READER: Life was simpler when everyone understood that undressing in front of acquaintances -- even partially, and with ones you hope might someday be something more -- was impolite. But hosts who insist that guests leave their shoes at the door have muddied the waters, if not the floor.

Your cousin’s girlfriend no doubt thinks she is both “making herself at home” and respecting your couch (by taking her shoes off). The way to get her off the couch is to offer an alternative -- ”Would you be more comfortable in this chair?” -- one without sufficient room for drawing up one’s feet. But depending on how serious you consider her infraction, Miss Manners recommends you wait and see how permanent her company is likely to be.

(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, dearmissmanners@gmail.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)

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