Miss Manners: Finishing a phone call in someone’s driveway


Dear Miss Manners: Is it mannerly to finish one’s phone business while sitting in the driveway of a friend or client? Or should people pull into a parking lot, or to the side of a quiet road, to finish?

One purpose of the greeting at the front door is to establish for all parties that a new set of etiquette rules is now in effect: those of guest and host, co-worker and co-worker, client and salesperson. Within reason, everyone is assumed to be invisible before this exchange — meaning there is no bar against stopping in the driveway to check one’s lipstick, ensure you are at the right house or finish a telephone call.

There are limits. Miss Manners should not be understood to condone blocking the driveway, picking the flowers or falling into the swimming pool.

Dear Miss Manners: My husband has never had a good relationship with his parents, but he is a dutiful son, visiting his father regularly to take care of his needs. His father is a widower, and my husband helped him move closer to us so that he could better assist him as he ages.

I am writing to ask how to act around my father-in-law when he visits. We invite him for dinner occasionally, especially for holidays, as it would be unkind to ignore him. I always take care to prepare food that I know he will be able to eat with his medical considerations.

When he comes to our home, he only speaks to my husband, ignoring my daughters and me. When I offer him something to drink, he responds by saying, “No. If I want something, I will tell you.” During the meal, he eats silently, except to tell me what he does not like about his food, or to say, “Get me this,” or “Get me that.”

When my husband took him aside to ask him to show basic courtesy to his wife with a “please” or “thank you,” my father-in-law said that he is an old man and does not need to say those things.

How am I supposed to respond? I usually just smile and return to the meal preparations. I know that as a hostess, I must make guests feel comfortable in my home, but I feel that there is a difference between being a hostess and being treated like a domestic servant from eras past.

Your father-in-law’s behavior is inexcusable, an adjective that may seem insufficient to the many citizens alive today for whom rage is both sport and occupation.

To Miss Manners, it captures the icy contempt his behavior deserves — while leaving room for the wisdom that you have obligations that limit your response.

The model for your own behavior in this case is your husband’s: acting on duty, which no one ever confused with having a good time. Do what you must to shield others from your father-in-law’s bad behavior. Keep your own responses within the icy minimum required of politeness. And temper your temper in the expectation that your husband would do the same for you, were the positions reversed.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, missmanners.com. You can also follow her @RealMissManners.

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