Miss Conduct

Advice on visitors who don’t knock

Plus, how to deflect questions about your reproductive choices, and choosing gifts for rich people.

Illustration by Lucy Truman

> Several times a parent has come to pick up her son at my home. She does not ring the doorbell or knock; she walks in and calls out “Hello.” Recently my adult daughter’s boyfriend did the same thing. I am of the belief, however old-fashioned, that you ring the bell at someone’s house unless you are a family member. How can I respond to what I consider to be rude behavior without coming off as out of touch and uptight?

D.M. / Concord

The last sentence of your letter is wonderful! It could summarize so many of the problems people write to me about. And the general answer to that general question is “Request that the person change his or her behavior as a kindness to you.” People will happily do any old thing you ask them to — we’re sheeple, truly we are — but they will get awfully touchy if you try to suggest that they were in the wrong for not having done so in the first place.

In your case, however, why don’t you keep your door locked? Clearly people are interpreting your open door and “Welcome’’ mat literally. Whenever you can find an engineering solution for an etiquette problem, use it!

> My husband and I have been trying to have a baby for about a year.  After two miscarriages we have agreed that in vitro fertilization is not for us, and if it doesn’t happen naturally, we will not have children. Two couples that are very close to us have had children through IVF. If and when they recommend it, how do we say it’s not an option for us without giving offense?


K.W. / Framingham

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Don’t anticipate trouble. Having gone through the rigors of IVF, your friends may understand better than you think why it isn’t for everyone. “I just don’t think we’re cut out for it” may get you nothing but nods of empathy. I don’t have children, but I do have a PhD, and if anyone said the same thing to me about graduate school, I’d have nothing for them but congratulations on their self-awareness.

It sounds as though you have all been “trying” together, so this isn’t a buzz-off situation. Your friends have already used IVF successfully, so you won’t spook them; the worst they can think of you for refusing it is that you’re chicken, to put it vulgarly. I truly doubt that close friends would take your reproductive choices as a referendum on their own. (If you want two kids and they have three, does that mean you think their third kid is a waste of space?)

And if they do, use the cheesy get-out-of-jail-free card that usually works when parents are obnoxious about why you didn’t do as they did: “Well, I thought about [having kids/adopting/using donor eggs], but you got the perfect child already doing that!”

 > I am invited to a swanky destination wedding. The couple are middle-aged, own their own homes, and are bidding on another property. But both the shower and wedding invitations requested gifts from their registry. I was floored. I really feel that sensitive, realistic couples, who are too old to blame faux pas on their parents, should ask for donations or no gifts at all. I plan to make a charitable donation in their name. Is my gift OK?

M.M. / Amherst, New Hampshire



Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.NEED MISS CONDUCT’S HELP? Write to her at And read her blog at