Here we are again with our weekly etiquette column, Gentle Reader. This week, we focus on family matters. Our first question involves new elements in the family dynamic:
How do you subtly display your dominance and be condescending to your siblings’ significant other without them figuring it out?
What Lucille above is lacking is the subtlety asked for. It’s very easy to put yourself in a position of dominance through overt scorn and blessing of hearts, but a much more difficult matter when one wants to keep things quiet. The answer to this really depends on the age of the sibling’s significant other – if they’re roughly your own age or older, some comments about “the family” or how “we always do things this way” really indicate that the S.O. is an outsider in the scenario, and should pipe down. Another useful way, at any age, is to put them in their place is to use diminutives to refer to their opinions or deeds – and be a bit curt. Should they go on at length about – oh, politics or their future plans or something – and are waiting for you to respond, smile slightly and say “Oh. Cute.” This should be fairly cutting at any age. Keep the language friendly, and let your tone do the talking.
Our next question involves a battle that the poor Gentle Reader is on the outside of:
Help! I’m going to a family function this weekend, and two of my (adult, married) cousins are fighting. It’s a sibling thing, and I don’t really know what it’s about. How can I find out what’s going on and be friendly with both of them at the same time?
Okay, so maybe it’s not on the same level as the Hindenburg, but it certainly seems like a disaster in the making. First of all, under no circumstances are you to ask either of your cousins what this is about. It’s not your business; you’re not going to get them to make peace; stay out of it. I don’t care how many cocktails you have, don’t ask. Simply make an effort to talk to them separately, and remain friendly to both – thus showing that, like Switzerland, you’re taking a neutral stance. Talk to one over by the buffet or something, and the other over in the corner where she’s glaring daggers at her sibling. Stay out of it, awkward though it be, and try to stick to neutral topics, like the presidential race.
Later, after they’ve both gone, it’s permissible to ask an aunt, uncle, or uninvolved cousin just what the hell all that was about – but only after they’ve both left.
As ever, Gentle Reader, if you have a tricky etiquette question or just need some advice, don’t hesitate to ask.