DEAR MISS MANNERS: My sister-in-law has adopted an alternative lifestyle that embraces a range of unsubstantiated psychological, medical and scientific myths as proven fact. She makes it clear her beliefs and knowledge are vastly superior to the rest of us and often uses our dinner table as an opportunity to educate us in a rather condescending manner on a variety of subjects.
Once she begins, she will dominate the conversation throughout the meal, essentially turning it into a lecture. We all take offense, but especially my daughter, who has a Ph.D., is currently conducting advanced research on viruses at a leading Ivy League university. She has left the table rather than start a fight — but that ruins the family gathering for the rest of us.
My daughter and her aunt typically see each other but once or twice per year. The preaching leaves little time for the rest of us to have family chitchats. What would be a polite way to address the problem with my sister-in-law? Subtle diversions in conversation do not seem to get the message across.
GENTLE READER: Your sister-in-law is engaged in two objectionable activities at once, neither subtle. Miss Manners notes this not to express admiration for her efficiency, but because it will be easier to tackle them separately.
The first is spouting nonsense; the second, monopolizing dinner-table conversation. The former will be difficult — perhaps impossible — to fix. But as you see her infrequently, fixing the latter may be enough.
The solution is an explicit rule that such topics are off-limits at family gatherings because of a fundamental and implacable difference of opinion. Explain to your sister-in-law (or your brother) that the alternative will lead to such ill will that family dinners will no longer be possible.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I attended a lovely wedding — where no one seated more than a few rows back could hear any part of the service, because either the microphones were malfunctioning or they were not being used properly.
If this had happened at a business meeting or a more casual event, someone would surely have called out “Louder!” or “Can’t hear!” but obviously this would not be appropriate at a more formal occasion.
No one “in charge” — meaning the couple’s immediate family, the officiant, photographer, wedding party members — seemed to be aware that the rest of us couldn’t hear what was going on.
GENTLE READER: Yelling at a speaker is not proper etiquette in any setting, though it is, as you observe, a common occurrence.
For business meetings or casual gatherings, Miss Manners counsels members of the audience to raise their hands as if in class. You may then call out your request for increased volume — without waiting for the technicality of being recognized by the speaker.
More active measures are necessary when you cannot interrupt the proceedings: Get up and find someone to whom the need can be conveyed, in this case a member of the family, the wedding party or the church staff — preferably one not actively engaged in the ceremony.