DEAR AMY: My parents spend winters in warmer climates. Their return home will coincide with a family get-together at their house. In attendance will be my 20-something niece and her boyfriend — whose behavior needs improvement. He's a nice guy otherwise, but he is evidently unaware of how to carry himself thoughtfully. At my parent's 60th wedding anniversary party, for example, he and my niece occupied the only prime space, directly across from my parents — using my parents as a backdrop for their make-out session. I would have preferred those two seats be occupied by myself and my brothers — so we could be physically close to my parents during this celebration of their marriage. At Christmas at my parent's house, my niece's boyfriend occupied/reserved the front of the buffet line while everyone else helped to prepare it. He stood there (literally) wiping his dripping nose with his fingers and then transferring those drippings to the serving utensil he picked up immediately afterward. I'm afraid if I say anything (praise in public, coach in private) my youngest brother will hear, go ballistic and temporarily avoid family functions, which would devastate my 80-year-old mother. Can anything be done?
DEAR UNCLE: It is the aunt/uncle's time-honored prerogative to offer gentle suggestions to clueless young-adult nieces/nephews. This is not parenting. This is uncle-ing.
And so, if the couple is sitting where you believe you and your brother should be sitting, you say, "Hi guys, would you mind moving over two chairs so my brother and I can sit next to our parents?"
In terms of the buffet hoarding (a pet peeve of mine), in our large family we have dealt with this by one or more elders leading a blessing before the serving, acknowledging and publicly thanking the people who prepared the food, and then stating: "Let's let the older people go through the line first, so they can get themselves situated. Then the rest of us can go through."
I can't speak to your younger brother's choice to go ballistic. You are not offering judgments here — you are merely demonstrating some leadership.
DEAR AMY: The best grocery in my town has great made-to-order sandwiches at an excellent price. I have been effusive in my praise and thanks to the woman at the counter who is always there in the early morning when I typically place my order. Over time, the attitude of the person making the sandwiches has changed visibly, where it is clear that she is unhappy to see me and to make the sandwich. Once I realized that my order interrupts her morning prep work, I have now minimized those requests. On several occasions, I've even apologized to her for placing the order. But recently I ordered a sandwich later in the day and got the same unfriendly response. And now I have begun to wonder whether this is her problem, or mine. There is no restriction posted on when a sandwich can be ordered. So what do I do? Say something to her? Say something to the manager? Stop ordering a sandwich that is healthy and tasty because it makes the employee unhappy? I don't want to do anything to hurt this person at her job as I see she works very hard and I am sympathetic to her. But there is something upside down about this and I don't know what to do.
DEAR SANDWICH GUY: This is not your problem. So far, the only problem I see is that you are apologizing for patronizing a local business, and cheerfully and respectfully asking someone to do her job.
If you order this same thing every day (it sounds as if you do), then the person working there should anticipate this. If you are courteous (it sounds as if you are), then the person working there should respond in kind.
I wonder if you have seen her comportment toward other customers. Is she grouchy toward everyone?
Have you also seen the legendary "Soup Nazi" episode of "Seinfeld"? Viewing this might help put this episode into perspective.
Likely her demeanor has nothing to do with you. Order and enjoy.
DEAR AMY: I was disgusted by the question from "Upset," whose husband insisted on texting while driving. I wish you had suggested to her that she might enjoy visiting her husband in jail after he causes a tragic accident.
DEAR DISGUSTED: The high volume of responses to this question demonstrates how worried people are about sharing the road with distracted drivers.