Dear Miss Manners: While shopping in a small market, I saw a little girl (approximately 4 years old) take a bread roll out of a bin and put it in her mouth. Her mother took the roll away from her child and put it back in the bin.
I said to the woman: “What’s wrong with you? Someone will come along and buy the roll that your child had in her mouth. That’s disgusting.”
The woman looked at me as though I was from outer space, then turned and walked away.
How could I have better handled this situation? I mentioned this to the cashier as I was leaving, and she said it happens all the time. Please Miss Manners, tell me what you would have done.
Gentle Reader: Started shopping somewhere else, with a more fastidious clientele – although Miss Manners suspects that this behavior is not unique to the market in question.
A direct assault on the mother is both impolite and, as you discovered, ineffective. You could have taken the used roll and handed it to a nearby store employee. The trick is to do this overtly enough that the mother sees it, without being so obvious that she feels called upon to defend herself – perhaps with a countercharge of rudeness, or, worse, with the plea that her poor child was starving.
Chill out and butt out
Dear Miss Manners: After my first child was born, I had a few weeks of high blood pressure that put me on medication and had me regularly checking my blood pressure. My mother-in-law required regular updates about my numbers, my doctor’s appointments and which medications I was put on, which she kept track of in a notebook.
Now, with child No. 2 on the way, I’m concerned about this happening again. A few years older, I’m adamant this time about not sharing this type of information with her, but I do not want to be rude.
How can I let her know, if she asks, that I will not be sharing health information with her this time around? I’ve told my husband that this cannot happen again, but am worried that he’ll have trouble passing on that message.
Gentle Reader: Well, it would be awkward for him to say, “Ma, stop being concerned about Zoe’s health. It’s none of your business.” No matter how annoying the requests for details, it would be churlish to chastise her for worrying about you.
The script Miss Manners suggests for your husband instead is: “We really appreciate your concern. Basically she seems to be doing all right, but dwelling on any tiny ups or downs is making us both anxious. I’ll be sure to tell you if there is anything significant, one way or the other.”
This column was co-written by Judith Martin’s son, Nicholas Ivor Martin.