DEAR AMY: I have a problem with my brother's wife. She has always been rude to me, my siblings and our parents. I have never tolerated her rudeness, so she usually just avoids me. The other day, she said something very nasty to me. I very calmly and firmly told her that I would not allow her to speak to me like that. She got angry, but seemed to get over it quickly. When she and my brother prepared to leave, she came over to me and threatened to "break every bone in my body" if I ever spoke to her like that again. I was shocked. She stormed out of the house before I could respond. She has crossed a line. I will not tolerate threats and bullying. I talked to my siblings about it and they all agree that I should say something, but they said that they will not take sides because they want to keep the peace. I was hoping we could all come together to let her know that we won't tolerate her rudeness and bullying, but it looks like I'm on my own. Amy, how should I handle this? Should I speak directly to her about it, or should I speak to my brother? I'm not even sure what to say (I'm very bad at confrontation).
Won't Be Bullied
DEAR WON'T BE BULLIED: Tossing a threat-grenade and then fleeing the scene is really an offensive (and cowardly) version of having the last word.
There are many ways to stand up to a bully. One way is to understand that her threat was actually a pathetic gasp. You could feel sorry for her, because she can't control her emotions or anger, and sorry for your brother, who has chosen to live with her. Feeling compassion and continuing to be vigilant, calm and responsive in the moment is one path to take.
If you respond to your sister-in-law's statement after the fact, understand that she will find a way to up the ante and stir up more drama. Keep your statement simple, calm and focused on the natural consequences of her actions: "I was completely shocked that you would threaten me with physical violence. I can tell that you are very upset because I've decided not to tolerate your bad treatment. I understand that there are times when we will be in the same space. Keeping our distance works for me. But I'm letting you know that if you ever do that again, I'll take your threat very seriously."
DEAR AMY: Please settle a debate in our family. My mother states that "proper etiquette" dictates that while dining in groups, whether in restaurants or at home, it is rude to remove the finished plate of any one person until all diners have finished eating. She thinks that doing so makes those still eating feel rushed or as if they should not still be eating. While I understand her point, I say this is a quirk of hers and not an etiquette standard. What say you?
DEAR INQUIRING: Your mother's point is directed solely toward the guests' feelings and comfort.
You say you understand her reasoning. So, if she is being kind, thoughtful and hospitable — and you cede the legitimacy of her point — then why is this debatable?
The entire purpose of etiquette is not to start or settle family arguments, but to create guidelines which will always support politeness and kindness.
As it happens, your mother is also correct about this long-standing dining standard.
Slowing things down is good for everyone. Instead of racing to clear plates as people finish their entree, offer members of the "clean plate club" another round of wine or sparkling water.
The following directive is from Etiquettescholar.com:
"At a small dinner party, plates are cleared after the last guest is finished. At a large dinner party, to expedite service, plates are cleared as soon as the majority of guests are finished."
DEAR AMY: "So Many Questions" doubted her brother's claim to have American Indian ancestry because DNA testing did not turn up any native DNA. This could be because the DNA databases currently don't have enough American Indian DNA to provide matches.
Also Proudly Part Native
DEAR PROUDLY: Many people pointed this out. Thank you all.
I should have done more homework. According to one DNA matching site, most of the native DNA currently in their database so far is coming from the Southern Hemisphere. I hope this will change so that people can explore their native DNA roots.