Do you have questions about office politics, pets and patience?
Jeanne Marie Laskas has answers.
Life's Little Etiquette Conundrums
Q. A friend gets free theater tickets and invites you to join her. Afterward, you go out for dinner. Ordinarily, had she paid for the tickets, you might feel inclined to pick up the tab. But since they were free, are you still obligated to grab the check?
A. Here we have a classic case of a distinction without a difference. Whether your friend got the tickets free, paid for them, or even overpaid for them makes no difference for you: You still got treated to an evening at the theater. Springing for dinner is a classy way to say thanks.
Q. My dad worked for the same company for more than 20 years. When his branch was outsourced to Mexico two years ago, he and my mother packed up and moved halfway across the country to keep his job in the corporate office. Then he had to travel to Mexico every other week to train people to do his previous job. Last week he was laid off. My heart breaks for him. I want to write to the CEO of the company or do something to get the message out to the people who took advantage of him.
A. What message would that be? That you feel they took advantage of your dad? That they used him and apparently decided to do so a long time ago? Would that help your dad? Instead of writing to the CEO, why not write to your dad and tell him how much you love him, how proud you are to be his daughter, and how you'd love for him and your mom to move home, close to you.
Q. I admit it: I like to brag about my kids. They're young and cute, and what's not to love about them? But as bad as I am, my friend is worse. Every time I tell a story starring my children, she has to top it with one about hers. Worse yet, she once tried outdoing one of my stories with one about her dog! How do I hint at my frustrations?
A. When they compete with dog stories, you know you're in trouble. Parents who do this never quit. Chances are you're just as bad. You two need to find less competitive parents to brag to and set each other free.
Q. My husband's father is a piece of work. He says—screams—the meanest things to his own son, no matter who's around. Recently, he developed a medical condition that requires our weekly assistance; when he calls, he expects my husband to be there immediately. I've always thought this was a battle between my husband and his father, so I kept my mouth shut. But the old man has gotten much worse, and it's not right for our kids to see their dad treated this way. What should I do?
--Out of Patience with Pop
A. Don't expect your husband to stand up for himself; if he could, he would have done so long ago. Put your foot down. (The man's son is your husband, and that gives you license to step in.) Tell Pop to stop being nasty to your husband or you'll put a stop to the help coming from your house to his. But also seek out services for the elderly; a grumpy old man is often a depressed old man who needs help.
Q. Our company received a $100 gift card from another business with directions to donate it. Since no one in the office cared, I sent the money to a small school that needed a computer. We received thank-you letters from the class, and now my boss wants to use the letters as proof of our company's community outreach. I don't think we should take credit for another company's donation.
A. Transferring someone else's money to a needy school is a paltry example of community outreach, but standing up against the practice is sure to put you in a bad light at work. Ask your boss to write a letter to the school touting the other company's generosity. In the meantime, focus on the fact that some kids are enjoying the new computer!
Q. I'm 17 years old and headed for college soon. Yet my mother persists in speaking to me in baby talk. I've begged her to stop, but she says I have to live with it.
A. Aw, give Mom a break. She's about to lose you to the big bad world. As long as she doesn't expect you to sit on her lap and burp, you're good to go. Tell her you love her. And ask her to please try to control the baby talk when she visits the dorm.