Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Mom Doesn't Know Not to Comment on Weight

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.

DEAR HARRIETTE: All my life I have thought about buying a horse. In my head, it would be the symbol that I had “made it” financially. Now, I can afford a horse, but I find myself balking at the idea. My husband is proud that I have finally accomplished this level of stability.

I don't know if I can devote enough time to riding this horse to make sure it is exercised. I don't know if it would get lonely without someone coming by a few times a day. Is this benchmark incomplete if I don't follow through on this purchase? Now that I can do this, I don't think I'd be right for it. -- Pony Up, Upper Marlboro, Maryland

DEAR PONY UP: There is a huge difference between being able to afford to do something and making the decision to do it. You should be proud of yourself for reaching a level of financial security that allows you to be able to purchase a horse. It seems that it was an ambitious and inspiring goal for you for some time.

Now that you are at the crossroads of making the decision as to whether you will buy a horse, do more research. Find horse farms nearby that may board horses. Learn how much it would cost for your horse to be boarded there. Review all costs, including veterinary care. Learn about how often you can visit -- all of the terms. If you board your horse, you can still have it but pay others to make sure it is exercised. This could be the solution for you. Or you may want to ride horses that are already there and not own a horse yourself. Let the research guide your wallet.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)