Question: I recently invited my sister to go out to dinner for her 86th birthday, a yearly event. Since she has several doctor appointments, I wasn't sure just what day would work for her, so I mentioned several options. On Christmas, I asked if she had made up her mind and this is the answer I received: "I don't make decisions anymore." I bit my tongue to avoid an incident and went ahead to finalize the plans, but to me it was a slap in the face and I still resent the remark. Am I wrong for thinking this way?
- R. in Pa.
Answer: First, I hesitate to criticize someone who is the wise age of 86. I do, however, see that the answer she gave you was unkind and would make one feel that the invitation is not appreciated. You are not wrong to resent the remark, which wasn't polite, but it may be best to let it go (as frustrating as that is). Maybe there is more to it than just her flip response.
I consulted with Paul Booker, a psychologist at Haddonfield PsychManagement, because when it comes to those who share DNA, manners can be tricky.
"R has immediately personalized and concludes that his sister is angry with him," Booker replied. "While this may be true, there may be other reasons why his sister responded the way she did. For instance, she may be overwhelmed with her life circumstances, feeling stressed, struggling with health issues. She may have responded this way to anyone who tried to pin down a date, even though it was a nice gesture for her brother to coordinate the celebration.
"Before reaching the conclusion that his sister is rejecting him and delivering a 'slap in the face,' I typically recommend what I call a reality check. This is an effort to investigate what is truly going on. Talking to his sister, expressing concern that it appears that life is stressful and decision-making appears difficult, and that he desires if necessary to offer support. Working out a compromise for the birthday would hopefully follow.
"There can be a multitude of reasons for evasiveness. Evasiveness oftentimes can be passive-aggressive and controlling. I typically recommend looking beyond the surface and not reaching conclusions that may not be accurate since they haven't been explored with the other person."
Try talking about her answer and, if that doesn't work, give her a dinner date and say, "I made the decision for you."
Q: What is the etiquette for selfie sticks?
- K. in Pa.
A: The selfie and the selfie stick have delivered a whole new chapter in ways to be rude. I once saw people taking selfies in a restaurant bathroom. I do enjoy people's vacation selfies, but sometimes a little restraint is needed. Maybe a selfie quota of one a month.
The selfie stick should really only be used when the picture-takers have plenty of elbow room. A crowded place is not the time to take out the stick. "I would say if you are outside and have a lot of space, it's OK," said Carey O'Donnell, a former New Jersey resident who now is an associate editor for Paper Magazine and sees selfie-stick use nonstop living in New York. "It's tacky to use one in a restaurant. It's an eyesore. Ask a waiter or waitress to take your photo. Let's not erase all human interaction."
O'Donnell suggests trying the three-selfie-stick rule: Have the length of three sticks between your selfie gang and others.
Q: I enjoy reading your column, and I often learn how manners or customs are changing. I was wondering if you had heard of something called a "sprinkle" - a shower for a mom who is having a second (or third) child? It's new to me. Of course, friends want to give a gift for the new baby, but another shower?
- Chris in N.J.
A: You aren't the first person to bring up this topic. Sometimes friends and relatives suffer from gift fatigue. Sprinkles are a new trend. My suggestion would be to pitch in with several friends or relatives for a gift or politely decline the invitation. I do think the term sprinkle indicates a smaller gift is perfectly appropriate.
We also have to make allowances for changes in traditions. When I had my children, the baby registry didn't exist. Now, I think it's a good idea for preventing a lot of duplicate gifts. Manners do have to be flexible at times.
Manners Questions or Issues? Contact Debra Nussbaum at email@example.com.