Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.
DEAR READERS: Your questions never take a holiday, but occasionally I must. This week's "best of" columns come from deep within the Ask Amy vault.
DEAR AMY: Is it ever appropriate to ask people the cost of items in their homes? I don't think so, while my husband maintains that it is fine to ask this question of family and close friends. My father-in-law asked the cost of an aerial photo of our home that I had recently given to my husband as a gift. Does it matter if the questioner is actually considering a similar purchase? Finally, if you choose not to answer, what is the gracious response?
-- Brought up Differently
DEAR BROUGHT UP: I don't think it's appropriate to ask the cost of an item. If your father-in-law was curious or considering a similar purchase, he could politely ask, "Was that really expensive? I'd love to have that done at our home." This leaves an opening for you to say, "Well, it wasn't too bad. Actually, here's the number of the guy we hired."
One gracious response to a question you simply don't want to answer was taught to me by a dear friend. Just look the offender in the eye, pat him warmly on the arm and say, "Why, aren't you sweet to ask!" That's it. (August 2003)
DEAR AMY: My sister and brother-in-law often tell their children to "shut up." I cringe every time. Recently I spent the day with my 3-year-old niece. She told me to "shut up," and I told her that wasn't nice and she shouldn't say that. How can I suggest her folks use "be quiet" rather than "shut up," or should I just stay out of it?
-- I'd Rather "Be Quiet"
DEAR QUIET: Your niece handed you an opening with your sister. Tell Sis that her daughter said "shut up" in front of you, and act a little shocked. Say, "Whoa, I was really surprised. Do you see that she is repeating you?" (September 2003)