I may be old-fashioned, but it annoys me when men and boys wear hats in a restaurant. What's your take on this vexing practice?
B.C. / Salisbury
Really? Hats in restaurants, this is where it begins and ends for you? Everywhere I look there are people committing far, far worse sins of sartorial etiquette. Flip-flops worn indoors as though they were shoes. Exposed muffin tops. T-shirts with gross slogans and crude graphics. Leggings, even tights, worn as trousers. The woman who came to High Holidays at my synagogue in a strapless minidress so tight it showed off her abs.
Are you telling me you've never seen those people, B.C.? Twenty-first-century Americans have access to a world of clothing and personal adornment that would have Cleopatra herself convinced she'd died and gone to heaven. And most of us look absolutely dreadful. I wonder about this a lot, B.C., especially if I am at a mall. Why don't people want to look good? Did their parents not teach them how to dress? Do they think it doesn't matter anymore? Have they been so damaged by media that they believe "looking good" can only mean pricey labels and youthful sex appeal? I don't know, but something's going on. Something anthropological and weird.
Oh, but you wanted to know how I felt about hats in restaurants. As you may have gathered from the synagogue reference, I belong to one of the indoor-hat religions, so I generally assume a man eating with a hat on is temporarily without his yarmulke and only using the trucker cap to avoid giving offense to the God whom he thanks for his meals. The last time I visited family in the Ozarks I certainly was impressed by the number of absent-minded but observant Jews I saw!
I was at a preschool function chitchatting with other moms and one said, "Gosh, there are a lot of tiny babies here!" and I responded, "I know, and it seems like everyone who had a kid at the same time as I did is already pregnant again! I feel like I'll need a little while, personally. I might regret that later, but that is how I feel for now." Another mom who has two kids, six years apart, got up then to chase after her little one. Then I got worried that I had offended her. Maybe I'm being oversensitive, but is there anything I can do to un-offend?
N.H. / Washington, D.C.
You should talk to a counselor.
You made a comment about your personal experience — festooned with qualifiers, at that — and have been worrying for days or weeks because one person gave you less than immediate and full-throated agreement. Most conversations with the parents of preschoolers end with someone running off after their kid. There is no reason to assume that your comment caused offense. And if it did? Then it's your interlocutor's problem for being oversensitive and hearing criticism where it doesn't exist.
Moms talk about their parenting choices. And sometimes their experiences and philosophies differ, and this is normal. If talking about differences doesn't feel normal and interesting to you, but scary and confrontational, find someone who can help you. I'm sure you don't want your child to go through life second-guessing him- or herself and worrying endlessly about every social interaction. So find someone to help you learn a new way before you inadvertently teach this old way to your kid.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.
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