1. Jessica Lister

    I often hear people say on their outgoing work voice mail messages, “I will call you back at my earliest convenience.” It rubs me the wrong way. I think the intention is to convey “as soon as I can.” But with the word choice “convenience,” it conveys more of “when I’m ready without regard to your needs.” Am I being persnickety?
    I would really appreciate knowing your thoughts. Thank you.

    • Nina

      Hi Jessica,

      I think what’s happening here is that folks are so used to saying when they *leave* a message for someone else, “Please call me back at your earliest convenience,” that they are using it in their outgoing mail too. It is certainly polite when asking someone else to do something (call back) to suggest they do it at a time that works best for them; it’s less polite to say that’s when I’ll do something for someone else. But it’s probably just that they didn’t think about exactly what the words meant, just that they are usually thought of as polite.

      Or it’s possible they just don’t want to raise a caller’s hopes for a prompt reply! Either way, there’s really nothing you can say about this, so probably best to assume they meant well.

      All best,

    • Jerry

      No, you’re not being persnickety. Unfortunately, this is one of those things that you can’t really do anything about. Unless it’s your minor child or your employee committing the infraction, you don’t have standing to alert the violator of his violation.

  2. Jody

    I agree with you, that phrasing does sound a bit arrogant. I think I’ve said “I’ll return your call as soon as possible. Saying “I’ll return your call at the earliest opportunity” softens it a bit.

  3. Jerry

    At what point do you cut someone off from your social calendaring? For example, you treat to a baseball game, then several months later you treat to dinner. On each occasion the couple offered thanks and seemed to enjoy themselves, but no return invitation issued. Please assume, for purposes of this question, that enough time passed between first invitation and second invitation that the other party could have issued an invitation of their own. Please also assume that there are no financial difficulties for the couple (i.e., please assume that the couple can afford to entertain). Does the fact that couple has children and we don’t affect the analysis at all?

    • One of my favorite sayings that I learned from a former boss is “Don’t count others’ money.” Even if someone has nice cars, a nice home and good jobs, they still may be paying off students loans, medical bills from years ago, may be caring for an aging parent, may rent the home and lease the cars. Plus, kids are expensive (or so my father tells me).
      Who knows? Perhaps they are the ones counting your money (“oh, let’s assume Jerry will pay since he doesn’t have kids and has that great office job, so we know he’s not hurting for cash.”)

      That said, when I am not able to reciprocate, I generally decline the invitation. I don’t believe you should write these people off completely, since I assume you enjoy their company. Instead, I suggest only asking them to join you somewhere (perhaps another ball game), and buying your tickets separately.

    • Hope

      I like Laura’s comment, it’s a good reminder to all of us that we really never know anyone else’s situation!
      As the mother of a 3 year old and an infant, my two cents is that yes, the kid factor does weigh into it quite a bit. One factor is to remember that every night out probably costs the couple twice as much as normal due to babysitting expenses. I know you said you treated those two times, but even in a normal scenario where each party pays their own way, their cost is likely doubled, unless they have family that agrees to watch them. They may not have many people they trust with their children. Pre-kids I always thought “there’s a million people that babysit, just get a teenager to come!” However, I now know it’s just not that simple to trust.
      Cost and babysitting aside, there is the guilt factor. Many parents have overwhelming guilt about leaving their children, even for an evening. They may feel less guilty if someone else offers the invitation rather than them initiating, especially if they work outside the home and feel they have limited time with their children already.
      Time flies for all of us and it could just be that they’ve been caught in the whirlwind of life and haven’t realized how much time has passed.
      Of course all of this is conjecture but some or all of it may factor in.

    • Jody

      Jerry — I think Just Laura’s answer hits the spot. Since you enjoy their company, I wouldn’t write them off immediately. Maybe change the venue where you meet — for example, at a ball game or theatre say something like “I’ll buy a ticket in section X, maybe you can get tickets in the same section” or at a movie say something like “I’ll arrive early and sit in the middle on the right, and will save you seats as long as I can.”

      It’s true that their having children might make a difference in the situation. Still, there are inexpensive ways for them to reciprocate your hospitality.

    • Chocobo

      While I agree that it is wise not to assume anything about other people’s finances — appearances can be deceiving — that doesn’t mean that they are unable to host you at all. You may be treating to a more expensive affair such as the baseball game or dinner out, but they can still host you at their home or even for a cheap afternoon tea. This is what my husband and I do when our family or friends treat us to an event we cannot possibly return equally. If your friends are hosting you at home or some other cheaper alternative, then I would consider your friendship reciprocated. If they are not issuing any invitations at all, you might reexamine your friendship. However, I will urge you to be kind-hearted and patient. Children do change much for a family, not just for finances but also for time and availability. Your friends may simply be so busy carting the little ones around they haven’t even thought to invite you over.

      Perhaps you might cast out your line just to say that you miss them and would like to see them sometime, including a subtle hint that you’d love to see their new patio (or whatever, something that relates to their home). Maybe they will catch your drift and extend an invitation to you. If not, at that point I think you are free to reconsider how you and your wife feel about the couple and either continue including them from time to time with the understanding that it may not be reciprocated, or simply letting the relationship drift away gracefully.

  4. Please advise

    While on a recent flight, I encountered a situation for which I found no appropriate response. I hope you can offer me some advice.

    After boarding the plane, I was seated in a window seat. A man was seated on the aisle. The woman assigned to sit in the middle seat was extremely overweight. When she sat down, she lifted the armrest and left it up. It was clear there was no way for her to put the armrest down, as she was taking up at least a quarter of my seat in addition to her own. It had already been announced that we were on a full flight, so there was no opportunity to change seats. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, so I said nothing. I was extremely uncomfortable the whole flight, and I couldn’t help but feel (rightly or wrongly) extremely annoyed. Was there something I could have said or done?

    I realize that flying isnt a comfortable situation for anyone, but I felt that I deserved the entire seat that I was paying for. (Also, she left the armrest down separating her and the man in the aisle seat. I’m not sure if this was because I am quite thin and she felt that gave her sufficient space, or if because she was merely more comfortable touching another woman instead of a strange man).

    I know it must be quite an uncomfortable experience for her to fly, and I wouldn’t want to make her feel self-conscious about a situation she was probably already embarrassed about. If anyone has any advice about how I could have handled this (and how I could address the situation in the future), I would very much appreciate it.

    • Jerry

      Alicia is right on. Unfortunately this is a no win situation: you either keep her contained by refusing to allow her to raise the armrest or you sacrifice your own comfort. If you choose the first option, there’s always the possibility that she escalates the situation by getting the flight attendants involved. Then you’ve got to decide how comfortable you are with confrontation. You may also have a medical condition (wink wink such as skin condition, joint issues, fear of touching) that makes it impossible for someone to spill onto you and allow you to fly.

    • Vanna Keiler

      Personally, I think you did the best thing in not doing anything, although you were inconvenienced. Your compassion over-rode your sense of injustice and discomfort, for which I applaud you. The people who really need to address this situation are the flight staff, and in all fairness, this should be done at the gate when tickets are being stamped. Unfortunately, no one wants to make anyone else feel uncomfortable and that is probably why no staff member approached her. Also, since these types of scenarios are not well publicized, it’s possible the passenger was unaware she needed to make other arrangements. In all likelihood, you would have to be the one to speak up next time for anything to be done.

  5. Alicia

    When she went to lift the arm rest I would have said”Oh can you please leave that down, thanks.” and then she would have been contained on her side of the armrest. Yes she may be too big to be comfortable in the space and that is a shame but she had options ( buying a 1st class or buisness class ticket which are bigger) or buying two tickets. Yes it is mainly the airlines fault for the tiny spaces they make but you have bought your own tiny space and have every right to use all of the tiny space you purchased and she has no right to assume that she can use some of your tiny space.

  6. Jody

    I too agree with Alicia’s response. Something similar happened to me once on a Southwest flight (I was in the aisle seat and a man was in the middle), and I just put the armrest back in position once the man was seated. I mentioned it to a flight attendant later and he said regulations required the armrest be down. So, if the other person had raised a fuss, you should have no compunction about calling a flight attendant over.

  7. Airline Poster

    Thank you all for responding. When I returned home I did a little reading about different airline policies and I was surprised to see how many people firmly insisted that it should not be the responsibility of the larger person to make arrangements ahead of time, but that since everyone was uncomfortable anyways, that the other person should “deal with it” in regards to sharing seat space. This is partly why I turned to everyone here: if my annoyance seemed unreasonable, I definitely wanted to know. I think in the future, I will probably still not address the other person directly as there seems to be no good way to do it without hurting their feelings, but I will probably contact the airline after the fact to ask about their policies, and, for long-distance flights, perhaps ask the flight attendant for her advice.

    I mention this only because it may be of interest to those who responded, but in my reading I learned that some countries have actually regulated this at a federal level (the biggest example being Canada’s One Person-One Fare policy). Again, thank you to everyone for your time and advice.

  8. Angie

    Yesterday, I was using my iphone4 to look at Twitter while i was waiting for a movie to start (not dark in the theater yet). I opened my 16 year old daughter’s twitter page and looked to see who she was following besides myself. The person at the top looked like her boyfriend, who has been dating for over a year and had a brief break up with the day before over how much time he spends with female friends. I should mention that I am friends with his mother and we have get togethers with them at times. I tapped on his image to see the picuture larger, and it opened his twitter account. I put the phone back in my purse because the movie was starting, without closing the app. After the movie, he called my daughter to tell her I had favorited a tweet directed to one of the female friends, which was apparently his last tweet. She was upset with me but was good about it, asking me if I had. I said no because I didn’t know what she was talking about, but then I remembered looking at twitter! I went to my phone and sure enough, I had indeed favorited his tweet to one female friend that said, “I love you too!” in response to a group tweet she had sent saying she loved her friends, which included him and other boys. I certainly had no idea I had favorited this, so I unfavorited it and apologized to my daughter, telling her I didn’t know how it happened. Now both of them are unhappy with me because they think I was trying to intrude on/give an opinion about their relationship problem, considering they had broken up over his friends only hours before but worked it out. Should I sit them down and apologize? Do I explain what happened to both of them, or just him or just my daughter? What about his mother? Or am I making too big a deal of nothing? Thanks!

    • Jerry

      Tell them that it was an honest mistake and that your sorry that it happened, but that they should take this as a lesson to never put anything on any social media platform (including facebook, e-mail, and twitter) that they wouldn’t want on the front page of the New York Times. People have really had their lives turned upside down by poor posting choices — if anything, this is a teachable moment.

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