1. Anonymous

    Q: I’m currently unemployed, married, and childless, and sometimes face the question “What do you DO all day?” I can usually tell when it’s just a conversation starter and find those conversations pleasant enough. However, sometimes the question comes from close friends and relatives, with an edge to the tone, and the implication that I must have very little to do. The truth is, running a house and being supportive of my husband’s career take time and work. However, if I say I’m busy, they usually reply that no one is busy who doesn’t have kids. I find these conversations to be unpleasant. Can you tell me how I might handle these inquiries? Thanks!

    • A friend of mine replies to the “you’re not busy unless you have children” comments like this: “Well, I find cancer keeps me pretty busy, but perhaps you’d be able to multitask better than I.” Of course, we don’t all have cancer (fortunately!), so I like Alicia’s answers. I too encounter some friends who make comments such as, “just wait until you have children. You’ll know what busy is!” I find that changing the subject does wonders.

    • Elizabeth

      I agree with all of the suggestions that have been posted. An alternative, or something you might add, is an acknowledgement of your privilege, something like, “Yes, we are very fortunate to have the arrangement or lifestyle that we do.” In this day and age, not a lot of people can afford to have one spouse stay home, and there’s nothing wrong with admitting as much.

      As an aside, I would caution you as a woman against putting all of your efforts into your husband’s career while letting your career, skills, and contacts fall by the wayside. If something happens twenty years from now, god forbid, like death or divorce, an older woman without skills will be up a creek without a paddle. Linda Hirshman wrote a very compelling little book called “Get to Work: a manifesto for the women of the world” that’s worth a read.

    • Jodi Blackwood

      Hello Anonymous,
      Two responses come to mind:
      1. I keep up on ALL of the soap operas for my friends while sitting around eating bon bons. (Said with a very straight face.)
      2. I enjoy life! (Said with a big smile.)

      Just because someone feels comfortable asking a question does not mean you are obligated to answer it! Respond, smile, and change the subject or move away.

  2. Alicia

    Well first off you have a few choices.
    1. If you are job hunting which is implied by calling yourself unemployed rather then a housewife then this is a great time to say what type of job you are looking for. Networking is a very useful way to find a job.
    2. If you just want to brush off the comment and change the subject then “Oh the usual, so do you love this bean dip isn’t it fantastic!!
    3. If it is a close friend of family that is genuinely curious and you are willing to indulge their curiosity then tell the truth. Well this week I dealt with the plumber took care of our end of year donations , cleaned the entire house, volunteered with a charity, returned 3 ugly sweaters and that thing I could not identify that my folks gave us, went grocery shopping, went to the gym every other day, cooked home cooked meals every day, balanced the checkbook, reallocated our 401K, cleaned the gutters, put away the holiday decor , and oh half a million other things.

    • Country Girl

      I just love the last of Alicia’s suggestions. lol

      I have personally heard the “No one is busy who doesn’t have kids” comment, to which I typically reply with a smile “Try telling that to Oprah Winfrey.” =)

      • Zakafury

        Anonymous does seem to understand that people with jobs or kids (let alone both) can be legitimately curious about what he or she does. While Alicia’s list is a great tactic, it doesn’t really answer the question, because those are the kinds of things I have to do along side working.

        I would suggest sticking to the unique elements of the list, whatever they may be. Mentioning charity work on the same level as grocery shopping leaves me wondering what the other 20 hours of work-week were filled with.

        The really rude questioners are letting their jealous at your freedom show through. For them I would suggest something like, ” Spending time with your children isn’t a joy for you?”

  3. Country Girl

    I live in an area that gets a lot of snow in the winter. At the recent holiday party that my fiance and I threw, one of the male guests tromped through the entire house (and right past the boot tray I’d set out) with his snow covered shoes on, leaving puddles of snow and water everywhere on our hardwood floors. After stepping in one such puddle with my stocking feet, and realizing that many other ladies were also in their stocking feet, I rushed to sop up the puddles with a towel. My fiance later mentioned that I had really embarrassed this male guest, who after seeing me sopping up puddles, immediately looked ashamed and went to take off his shoes. While embarrassing him certainly wasn’t my intention, did I inadvertently do something wrong? There was no way to really hide the fact that I was cleaning up his trail. Is it considered poor hostess manners to clean up after a guest during a party?

    I know have read on this site that some find it controversial to ask guests to remove their shoes at a party, so what would have been the best thing to do to prevent this situation or to have handled it better?

    • Alicia

      Well the guest is the one who made the mistake by bypassing the boot tray and I assume you had entrance rugs (at a minimum scrapping off snow at the outside and then the inside entrance rug is needed. )
      I think you were fine and your guest was reasonably embarased for making a gauch mistake but that you did exactly as you should have done.

    • Elizabeth

      CG, of course you were right to mop up the puddles. It’s not as if you shouted to the whole group, “Now who the heck is making all this mess?!?!” What would your boyfriend have had you do? If the guy felt embarrassed, good! He lives in a snowy area, for goodness sake, and should know by now not to track snow in!

      • Ugh, I agree. Did he really think it was better to have those poor women get their socks cold and wet in his puddles? What about the slipping hazard? A considerate guest doesn’t track dirty snow through a host’s home. In fact, he should have offered to help you.

    • Winifred Rosenburg

      You did the only polite thing that could have been done in consideration of your other guests and have no reason to feel guilty. I understand why you don’t want to require your guests to take off their shoes as I don’t like doing that either. It is still the guest’s responsibility to wipe their feet enough that they are reasonably clean and, if wiping his feet doesn’t seem to do the job as is sometimes the case with snow boots, take the liberty of removing them.

    • Jerry

      No. No. Nothing. You were correct.

      The comfort of your many guests outweighs the embarrassment of a guest who should have known better.

      In the Midwest, an area that gets lots of snow, the rule is that you take your shoes off upon entering. Why? To avoid just such the problem you addressed.

  4. Pam

    We all made it through another holiday season! I kept this message board in mind as I got through the most stressful of the evenings, which is Christmas Eve with my extended family. Most of my family is fine, but my Grandfather, his wife and her son are always making very snide political comments. My first incident was that I sat down at a table with my cousin, and also seated there was the political crew. They started in making nasty comments about the Wall St. protestors and making other anti Obama remarks. It’s the manner in which these statements are made that upsets me, but when I mouthed to my cousin that I was going to move my seat she gave me a “please don’t leave me here!” look and so I stayed. Then, toward the end of the night, my grandfather’s wife’s son (who has only been spending Christmas Eve with us for 4 of the last 30 of my life) starts saying “conservatives are just smarter people” and then my Grandfather’s wife says “I agree.” It is such a shame that a lovely evening can be so marred by such hateful statements. Even my conservative Uncle, whose home we were in, was apparently complaining later on about the radical statements. I decided to be the bigger person and not spew my opinions or start arguing with these people–try to let it roll of my back. It’s just amazing that people feel it’s okay to come in as the guest of an entire family’s holiday and basically call half the people at the party stupid. I just wanted to share this, wish everyone a Happy New Year and congratulate all of us on making it through another busy and etiquette-intense holiday!

    • Elizabeth

      Pam, I think there is a happy medium between staying totally silent and engaging in a full-on argument. If these people can state their opinions so brashly, I think there’s nothing wrong merely stating your views. “Actually, I find that the Wall Street Protestors are behaving quite admirably given the current economic situation.” or “Well, I know quite a number of intelligent left-leaning individuals.” If you want to engage their idiocy, you can ask them to elaborate: “Uncle, how did you come to such a conclusion?”

      My father and I are on the complete ends of the spectrum, but we have quite rousing conversations because we can laugh about it afterwards. My favorite way to end the conversation is, “Ok, I think we solved all the world’s problems now.”

    • Jerry

      I’ve got no problem with returning fire in the face of rude relatives. Start with “[Relative], this isn’t a conversation that we should get into right now.” (If she challenges you, you can say “because I think you’re wrong, but I’d rather have a pleasant evening than a big debate.”) If he doesn’t take the hint, you can respond with your version of the facts and rest comfortable with the fact that he started an argument after being told to drop the subject. Etiquette doesn’t require anyone to go along to get along.

      • Alicia

        I strongly disagree with Jerrys advocating returning fire. Nothing will start a fight quite like the words”because I think you’re wrong, but I’d rather have a pleasant evening than a big debate.” That phrase will result in either long term hurt feelings or a huge huge battle. Do not throw grease on the fire.
        Change the topic. Ie make your point and then change the subject and prattle on about your subject long enough that switching back to the first subject would be alkward.
        “oh I think some conservatives make good points about fiscal policy. But enough about that, have you tried this bean dip. It is delicious did Aunt Sue make it? She is just the best cook. i really must ask her for teh recipe she makes teh most delicious things. Have you seen her son cousin bill. He has just sprouted up a foot since I last saw him . He was telling me that he is playing pe wee baseball this year. Did you ever play pee wee baseball?”

        • Jerry

          You’re right, of course, Alicia, that telling someone you think they’re wrong could start a fight. But you’ve got to figure that if (i) you’ve asked someone not to walk over a certain line and they walk over it anyway, and (ii) they walk over that line in any case, they’re either trying to (i) start a fight, or (ii) act like a bully. And confronting a bully is not rude.

          (Indeed, confronting a bully may make it less likely that you’ll have to deal with people making comments after you tell them you find those comments offensive — I remember one of my family made some homophobic remarks and I asked her to drop the issue immediately. She didn’t, we had a long and loud discussion, and she’s never said anything similar in my presence again.)

          • Winifred Rosenburg

            The problem with starting a fight is although it might not be rude to return fire to someone making such remarks in general it can be rude to the host. I’m not sure if the grandfather was the host in this case, but assuming he wasn’t there’s a good chance the host was watching this hoping the subject would just die so everyone could enjoy the party. Returning fire would make the host think “Why did she have to say that? She should have known he would never let that go without escalating the fight!”

            What you can try in response to the “conservatives are smart” line is to say “I’m a democrat.” and stare at him. The awkward silence that will likely follow should shame him enough to change the subject himself. Unfortunately, many people who are foolish enough to make such remarks in mixed company are also the same people who are lacking in shame so he may just continue.

            In that case the only suggestion I have is a trick I got from my brother. Our uncle had a habit of starting unpleasant political discussions at family events. One Thanksgiving, on the way to dinner, my brother told us if anyone brought up politics he would pretend to break his leg. Sure enough the subject was brought up, and my brother shouted “Oh no! I broke my leg!” He obviously didn’t break his leg since he was just sitting there, but we all started laughing and the laughter caused a change in subject!

          • Jerry

            ROTFL “I just broke my leg.”

            In all seriousness, though, you’re nuts if you allow someone to keep making snide comments that you find offensive. You wouldn’t sit at the beach and let a bully kick sand on you every few minutes, would you? Why would you allow someone to do the verbal equivalent?

            Tow quick responses, then I’m done: (1) You are not starting the fight by returning fire; you’re merely standing up for yourself. (2) It may be uncomfortable for the host, but it is not rude to the host. Perhaps the host might think “Why did she have to say that? She should have known he would never let that go without escalating the fight!”; the host could very easily think “Thank goodness someone had the intestinal fortitude to shut that blowhard up!” Of course, you’ve got to be able to win the debate, preferably quickly and decisively.

            In my case, I had facts (rather than empty rhetoric) at my command. I was (briefly) accused of being disrespectful to my elders. I said that respect goes both ways and that we could drop the controversial topic or we could fight all night — choice belonged to the person who brought it up. Argument ended very quickly and we moved onto better topics, and everybody (except perhaps the person who brought up the offensive topic) had a great time.

  5. Ann

    Not sure if this is exactly an etiquette question but I always appreciate the responses I get on here so I thought I’d give it a try. I recently applied for grad school and was accepted. I then applied for housing on campus and have had many problems with the school (they mis-read the application and thought I was coming in fall 2012, not January; they assured me I would have my own room and now instead I find out I will have a roommate but will be paying the same price; and the lady who handles housing is very rude). I have talked to the director of housing about this but my question is this: would it be appropriate to send an email to the Dean or someone else higher up? This whole situation is completely unacceptable to me. Would that be considered “beating a dead horse” or should I inform those in the higher leadership positions at the university?

    • You should contact the person in charge of student affairs (at the university where I work, the title is “Vice President of Student Affairs”). This person handles or streamlines difficulties that students face with the university process – be it housing, academics, procedure, or misunderstanding between faculty, staff and students. Unless you have it in writing (email or hard copy) that you would get your own room, such accommodations are very rare at this point in the academic year, and I would be surprised if you get it. That said, if you’ve signed a housing contract, they have to abide. I hope this works out for you, Ann.

    • Pam

      Hi Ann. Congratulations on your acceptance to graduate school. It is a shame that the school has messed up your housing application. It seems completely appropriate that you should speak with someone higher up. I find that I have only ever gotten results with colleges when, after trying to deal directly with a particular department, I have written a letter or spoken with a dean. When I was away at school I was supposed to have only 1 roommate, but because of space I had 2 roommates. The school reduced my housing tuition by about $800 for the semester due to this. I believe, after experiences at a couple of different colleges between undergrad and graduate school, that the various departments just hope that you accept their first answer and go away. Stand your ground and politely explain that you do not believe this is fair and feel that the school should make up for their mistake.

    • Jerry

      Consider reminding them that you will eventually be an alumni and that you condition your alumni donations based on how you were treated as a student.

      Good luck.

  6. Maren

    I’m looking for “thank you” letter help. Family friends asked my husband, who is a realtor, to help them rent their house. Unfortunately, my husband was unsuccessful but they mailed us a very generous gift certificate to a local restaurant. Of course I want to thank them profusely for their generosity but also say that it was totally unnecessary to send anything. How can I phrase this as graciously as possible? Thank you in advance.

    • Alicia

      Of course it was unnecessary all thank you gifts are unnecessary. Telling them so takes away from their kind gesture to your family made by theirs. Your family was nice and helpful to them in exchange they did something nice for your family. How lovely!! Do not put them to task telling them it is unnecessary instead write thank you. Wriote something about how delicious that resturant is and how much you absolutely love there triple chocolate whatever thing for dessert oh and how they are even sweeter then the triple chocolate whatever thing.

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