Ask Amy Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

DEAR AMY: I am a member of a 50-piece wind ensemble. We have a break for cookies and coffee on practice nights, once a week. I have made homemade cookies for our break for more than 25 years. In May, we have an outdoor concert. I have brought cookies each year for after our performance. This year one of the newer band members asked me if I had “rat poison” in them! I was shocked and asked him to repeat what he said to make sure I heard correctly! His response, “It was just a joke.” I don’t understand this type of humor. I have continued to make cookies for the band, but I think about his comment each week. Shall I continue to make cookies for our breaks in 2017?

Shocked on the West Coast

DEAR SHOCKED: People sometimes make awkward and, unfortunately, unkind comments, because another person’s generosity makes them uncomfortable.

This person immediately tried to reassure you that he was making a “joke.” This comment was not funny in any context, so it can’t be characterized as a joke, but I hope you will forgive his graceless reaction to you.

I raise a toast to all of the generous bakers who bring in treats to share with others. It is a very kind, sweet and generous impulse, and sharing these treats helps to bring others together. Don’t let this person’s sarcasm ruin this sweetness for you — or the rest of your ensemble.

DEAR AMY: Is there a polite way to respond when you are in a room with someone who has — or is getting over — a cold, who coughs or sneezes all over the place without bothering to cover up? I’ve gotten sick twice this winter and both times it was a day or two after being around someone who is too inconsiderate to cover their mouth when they cough or sneeze. I know I can’t be sure that the colds came from these people, but I’m betting they were the cause. I travel to people’s homes for my job and usually spend two to three hours there, so when I am sick, I reschedule to prevent spreading anything. I don’t want to be a jerk. But at the same time, rescheduling an appointment costs me a few hundred dollars. Do you have any suggestions on how to get my message across politely?

Worried

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DEAR WORRIED: It is common courtesy to cover one’s mouth when coughing or sneezing; school children are now taught to cover their mouths with the inside of their elbows, instead of their hands, which may help prevent spreading illness.

If you are in a room with someone who appears to be sick and is not covering their mouth, you should simply respond, “I’m so sorry you seem sick. Would you mind covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze? I seem to catch everything, and I’d really appreciate it.”

Obviously, you should make sure you keep up with your own hand-washing hygiene. This will help to protect your clients.

DEAR AMY: “Concerned Sister” was relating an issue where the sister-in-law wants to use her surname for the third child (the other two children have the husband’s surname). You say that, “Rarely, families choose to divide the spouses’ surnames between children; and this can cause paperwork hassles and some issues when traveling as a family. . .” Twenty-one years ago, my wife and I flipped a coin that determined that our oldest daughter took her last name. Seventeen years ago, our next daughter took my last name. We expected bureaucratic hassles and snide comments. My mother asked me whether the girls were going to be confused about who their father really was. I can truly say, with great surprise, that we had no problems navigating this. Everybody who mattered knew who was related to whom at every step of the way, including during foreign travel. I cannot recall a single issue we had that lasted longer than 10 seconds of pleasant conversation, nor any extra form that we needed to fill out. I do appreciate your first piece of advice on this: this is the parents’ issue, not an issue for the in-laws, cousins and grandparents.

John D. Faucher

DEAR JOHN: I have encountered minor challenges as a parent traveling with a minor child with a different surname (one border guard queried her to determine if I was really her mother -- completely understandable). But I agree that this is absolutely manageable.