Just Behave

Just Behave: It’s Not All Relative

BY July 30, 2019
Suzanne Willis is a hospitality consultant and the founder/CEO (Chief Etiquette Officer) of Mimi's Manners, specializing in dining etiquette for children, teens, and adults. Have questions for Suzanne? Email justbehave@gulfshorelife.com

How much time is enough to spend with a loved one? When I come in from out of town, I typically spend a couple of hours with my relatives. No matter how much time I spend with them, they seem to think it’s not enough. What is the protocol? Is one meal enough? Should I feel obligated to spend a full day? How do I let them know they are important but that after a couple of hours there’s not much to talk about and I have other things (and friends) I’d rather visit?
            —Kelly, Estero

Dear Kelly,

Sure, you want to see your relatives, but you’ve got friends you want to see as well. Like Einstein, I’ve got a theory of relativity for you. Never let them know you feel “obligated” to see them. And go for quality, not quantity, of time here. Plan something you’d all enjoy doing together (visit a historical site, eat at a fancy restaurant, etc.). That way there’s both fun for everyone and something to remember fondly. You’ll get a lot of “smileage” out of that going forward.


A Wait Problem

Old friends were visiting from New York last week. I’m usually excited to see them, except I forgot that they are chronically late. The other morning, we agreed to meet at a restaurant at 10 a.m. I arrived at 9:45 a.m. and put our name in for a table. At 10:10 a.m., I received a call from my friend saying that they were on their way—still more than a 20-minute drive away. Needless to say, I was furious. I’ve known these friends for years (we’re in our late 70s), but they are ALWAYS running late. I pulled my friend aside and told him how it was rude to continue to be late. Was I wrong?

            —Gerald, Naples


Dear Gerald,

When I worked at The Ritz-Carlton years ago, the general manager would begin our weekly managers meeting by saying, “If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. Don’t be on time.” There’s no excusing the rudeness of those who leave you hanging like that, and it’s not likely that you can change them at this stage of their lives. Can you perhaps give them a time—say, a half-hour—before the real time for meeting? In any case, if it’s a restaurant date and they haven’t appeared within 20 to 30 minutes of the appointed time, I’d begin ordering your meal. You don’t want to add hunger to your irritation, do you?


Funeral Etiquette

When attending a funeral recently, I overheard my friend tell the mother of the deceased, “At least your daughter isn’t suffering anymore.” I thought it was insensitive and I told my friend so. Now, she’s not talking to me. What is the appropriate thing to say at a funeral? I didn’t mean to anger my friend. I guess I shouldn’t have said anything.

            —Betty, Fort Myers


Dear Betty,

No one wants to trample on someone else’s sensitivities, and you can never really know what words set different people off in that way. So, keep it simple with something like, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Or acknowledge a person’s pain by saying, “I know this must be so difficult for you.” You’re not going to make the pain go away, but you’ll at least show that you care.

As for your friend, I don’t think it’s your place to judge her effort and an apology is in order. She meant well, speaking from her heart. I’d like to think the grieving mother would be consoled by that even if the words might not have been the perfect ones for the occasion. Let kindness rule with all these exchanges.

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