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Miss Conduct

Advice: Tips for quieting a friend who talks too much

Plus, can a Christian display a mezuzah?

Lucy Truman

I have a friend who is a big talker. Last time I was with her, I simply could not get a word in edgewise. I also sometimes sense resentment on her husband’s part over this issue. Some people I’ve asked about this say that I shouldn’t say anything, but I think it would be one of the most helpful things I could do for her. I would try to be very gentle. Can I do this?

C.G. / Newton

No. Not if people who actually know you both are advising against it, and not if you’re even dreaming that this conversation should include some sort of intervention into your friend’s marriage. Don’t even think about it. There are some circumstances in which I would recommend a Heartfelt Talk, but this isn’t one.

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This doesn’t mean being relegated to silence forever in social settings. But rather than attempting a dramatic one-off intervention, develop a set of tactics to modify Pippi Longtalking’s behavior. You can interrupt an endless monologue, for one thing. Good manners don’t require offering yourself up as a hostage. You can also disrupt the moment physically — I don’t mean body check Pippi, but interrupt her with an offer of a refill or a quick request for help in the kitchen, if you’re hosting. If Pippi is primarily droning on to one person, start a quieter sidebar conversation with a fourth — she’ll interrupt herself to get your attention back, and then you’ve got a chance to open things up. When you do get the floor, instead of holding forth, ask another person a question. Sometimes you need to conversationally herd people, like a rhetorical border collie.

This will require you to develop some new and maybe uncomfortable conversational habits, but that’s what you’re asking Pippi to do, after all.

I am a Christian who finds the tradition of a mezuza at the door very beautiful. I would like to put one on my home. I would appreciate your views on whether Jewish friends might find the appropriation of this custom by a gentile offensive in some way.

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M.T. / Manchester-by-the-Sea

No Jewish person would object to a Christian hanging a framed verse from the Hebrew Bible (or, as you call it, the Old Testament) in her home. But a mezuza isn’t simply a scripture in a pretty box; it’s a statement of Jewish identity. “Two Jews, three opinions,” as the saying goes, so expect some diversity of reaction. Personally, I’d be slightly put off, but I wouldn’t stay bothered if my friend were generally good about interfaith etiquette. The act of appropriating Jewish concepts and traditions is woven into the fabric of Christianity, frankly, and as a Jewish person you make your peace with that.

That said, plenty of Christians (and atheists and Hindus and various other gentiles) already live in homes with mezuzas. This is because Jewish law says you’re supposed to leave them behind when you go rather than risk another Jewish family moving in and being without one. From this we can see that mezuzas are important but not sacred and that you don’t even have to tell people you bought the mezuza for yourself.

In short, if you want a mezuza because it will enhance your particular spiritual path — your Christian spiritual path — then get one. If you feel it will enhance your connection to the Jewish people — don’t.

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Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.


NEED ADVICE about getting along with your (sometimes annoying) friends? Send your questions to Miss Conduct at missconduct@globe.com.