Miss Manners: My mother-in-law complains about me to her friends

Dear Miss Manners: My mother-in-law is a very outgoing person. She is also an addict.

She makes friends quickly. Her friendships are generally short-lived because of her addiction, but while they last, they are intense. Her friends tend to see her as a victim; they are very protective of her and want to set things right.

We do care about her, but we also know that enabling her addictions would be the worst possible thing for her — and for us. We will help her with necessities in an emergency, and we give her generous gifts (within our household budget, because we are far from wealthy) for holidays and special occasions, but we also do a whole lot of saying no to outrageous demands. She blames me for this, although I tend to be more generous than her son is, because he carries more resentment toward her.

Have I always gotten it just right? Probably not. Have I done my best to see things from all sides, forgive some hurts and do what is right? Absolutely.

She complains about me to her friends, and I am bombarded with phone calls from relative strangers who accuse me of heartlessness and heap on the guilt.

I have no interest in joining in the name-calling and accusations. There is no point in offering up facts to each infatuated new enabler. How does one politely, but with absolute firmness, tell the outraged and self-righteous to mind their own business?

By coldly informing them that they have their facts wrong, explaining that you now have to go — and quietly hanging up.

Timing is critical, because you do not want to leave the impression that you are slamming the phone down, but neither should you agree to share the actual details with someone who, Miss Manners agrees, has no right to inquire.

Dear Miss Manners: I was a guest at a group dinner featuring a cuisine traditionally eaten with chopsticks. The restaurant served the meal family-style, with several common dishes in the middle of the table with the intent that diners serve themselves. No serving utensils were provided.

In this setting, what is the proper way to serve oneself from the common plates? The concern is, of course, that using one’s own chopsticks to serve from a common dish is unsanitary.

Restaurants also sometimes forget to set as many places as there are people, but that does not mean the last arrival is expected to eat with their hands. Miss Manners instructs you to ask a passing waiter for serving utensils.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, You can also follow her @RealMissManners.

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