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#937: “My manners are being corrected…annoyingly.”

Hello Captain, 

      Thank you for reading my question. I´ll try to be quick. I have an issue with my MIL correcting my table manners and grammar. If I say something like, ¨I did it on accident…¨  She will insert, ¨BY accident – geeze aren´t you the English teacher?¨   Or ¨I spoke with the server and they said…¨ and she will say, ¨SHE said. Can you not count?¨   When eating, I think I eat well enough, I chew quietly, make polite conversation, put my napkin on my lap, but she jumps in with these rules that 1- I don´t know about and 2- I don´t think are important. For example, when I eat meat, I will cut a few bite sized pieces and then set my knife down and eat those pieces. I guess the rules say you´re supposed to cut only one piece and then eat it and cut one more? And I know the RULES say you´re supposed to keep one hand in your lap, but I feel like that might be more suited for a formal wedding dinner than trying to eat and wrangle my toddler at an Applebees! 

       I think you can guess that my MIL and I don´t get along, and there are lots of issues that we have worked through (sort of) through the years, and we don´t see her that often, and I´m pretty easy-going so I can ignore most things with a ¨huh, I´ll think about that.¨ However, this little issue drives me up a wall. 

       A few friendly discussions about the changing and adapting nature of the English Language and table manners have gone nowhere except to an argument. If I gently ignore it or say, ¨I´ll think about that…¨ she remembers and pounces on me the next time I make the same ¨mistake.¨  

      I guess this is the hill I´m willing to die on. I´m not going to watch every word I speak around her, and I´m not going to try to remember every (outdated) table manner etiquette she barks at me. She does the same thing to my husband, except after a lifetime of doing so, he already follows the grammar rules and table manners she has said.  When she says something like this to me, he will say something like, ¨Mom, we´re just chatting about the weather, let´s just relax instead of trying to police how people talk.¨   But MIL ignores him, or says, ¨I wasn´t talking to YOU, I was talking to PAULA.*¨

    Is there anything to be done about this situation?  Should I suck it up and take one for the team? I feel like ultimatums are a bad idea…. Do I just keep excusing myself to the bathroom?  What do you think?

 Possible other issues –

MIL lives alone. 

She never speaks sharply to our child.

Thank you for any advice you have, I appreciate your hard work and can´t wait until my child is old enough to start reading and navigating friendships because I will send them directly to your site!

Best,

Paula

*fake name

Dear Fake Name Paula,

Let me state for the record that I do not give ONE SINGLE FUCK about how many bites one should cut off one’s food before taking a bite or how many bites other people cut off their food before they eat it because I do not monitor the plates of my fellow adults. Nor do I monitor & correct their grammar.

I have two strategies for you:

1. Refuse to engage:

MIL: “…Can’t you count?”

You:Anyway, like I was saying…” or “Okay. So, to continue…“- continue to speak like she didn’t say anything to you. Be the not-giving-a-shit you want to see in the world. This is a good strategy for when you just don’t have the energy to get into it.

2. Check her, loudly and directly:

MIL: “Why do you cut your food like that? The RULE says you’re supposed to cut off only one bite at at a time!”

Past You: “Sure, but when I’m eating with a toddler it messes up my rhythm and this is easier so I can actually eat my food and feed the kid.”

2017 You: “STOP monitoring how I eat.”

Make eye contact with her. Raise your voice a notch. Make it awkward. Do not argue her point. Just tell her to stop it. Use the voice you use when you tell your toddler not to run ahead or touch a hot stove. Practice with a friend if you need to.

MIL: “Didn’t you mean ‘she’?”

Past You: “No, I meant ‘they,’ which has a long history of use as a singular pronoun…”

2017 You: “STOP correcting how I speak.”

You’ve asked her to stop doing the thing. You’ve explained yourself. You’ve tried to see it from her point of view. You’ve tried sucking it up and ignoring it. It’s not working, so, tell her to knock it off! If she continues, repeat yourself. Make it clear that you don’t care if it’s awkward and it makes a scene. Make it clear that it is a really annoying behavior that she needs to knock off right now. Oh, and the first time will be the hardest time. She will get it if you stay consistent.

I’m sure she has a long story about how she just CARES about you and is TRYING TO HELP. This is a weird dominance display and she can learn to control it around you the way she doubtless does around countless other people in her life that she doesn’t see as reflections of herself or people she can boss around. You got this.

 

 

 

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362 comments
  1. misspiggy said:

    What brilliant advice. Also, after you’ve said ‘STOP’, be poised to smile and take up pleasant lunch conversation again. Then other people don’t have to worry that there’s going to be a big fight. MIL will either drop it, or she’ll have to work hard to have a row. It will be clear to others that she’s the one who wants a fight, not you.

  2. Rhoda said:

    The “Geeze – aren’t you the English teacher?” comment suggests that perhaps MIL feels a bit threatened or intimidated by LW in some way (maybe she isn’t as educated?). So she bullies her to try to get the upper hand. Yes, facing up to this bully and telling her to stop is the best suggestion.

    • Eye said:

      Sounds more like the typical smug superiority you get from these armchair grammarians who know nothing about linguistics but will happily tell you the “correct” (i.e., rich, white, male, formally educated) way of speaking. This jives with MIL’s insistence on her particular set of manners as the “correct” ones (especially doing so in a way that makes it clear that she’s missed the entire point of having codified manners, i.e., to make people comfortable in social situations).

      • Parenthetically said:

        YES! The “correct” way, usually meaning the smug Victorian ultra-codified androcentric linguist way! Like telling people it’s WRONG to split an infinitive (not objected to until the 1830s), or end a sentence with a preposition (not objected to until the 1760s). Giant pet peeve of mine.

        • winter_cherry said:

          Oh, yes “correct” English, aka what some pompous ass in the 1790s came up with by asking himself “What would Latin do?”. (Dead, fixed, cleaned-up Latin, that is, not contemporary spoken Latin aka Italian.)

          Thanks to the perculiarities of my education, I can actually bore for 20-30 minutes on why there’s no such thing as a split infinitive, complete with examples from Old English and (since Old English has gutturals) optional spitting. I try to resist the urge though. Most people dear to me have heard it at least once, and the rest don’t matter.

          LW, people who nitpick on spoken syntax are nearly always showing their ignorance as well as their bad manners. The Captain is right: tell her to knock it off

          • I would just like to say that I would joyfully listen to you bore on about the history of the English infinitive. But I have also been known to zone out and think about how one might express various weird grammatical maneuvers in Koine Greek.

          • Parenthetically said:

            I found my people.

          • Puck said:

            Ditto Parenthetically. You are clearly my people. ❤

      • My husband’s father was an English professor who took great joy in correcting other people in public. (He and I got into when he corrected my niece/his granddaughter for allegedly mispronouncing “extract” in the context of “We made pizelles with anise extract” and she had not even mispronounced the word, not that it would have mattered if she had, because I knew what she was saying.)

        FIL seemed to think that how people use language was a direct reflection of the person’s value as a human being. That is, anyone who did not speak strictly correct English was almost not worthy of life and certainly not worthy of any respect.

        He was such a jerk. Kind people do not 1. correct others in public, 2. correct others at all unless the mistake will lead to professional embarrassment or perhaps being hit by a train, and 3. determine the value of a person based on that person’s grammar.

        Signed,

        Granddaughter of a lovely woman who did not go past eighth grade, who used the word “ain’t,” and who was universally loved in her hometown for her kind, generous compassion toward everyone she met

  3. Jules said:

    She will transfer it to the child when she stops with you and / or the child hits about six. You should have your ‘Stop That’ actions and words practiced and ready.

    I would have one last longer explanation / talk with her, where you explain that monitoring how you speak and eat is not acceptable to you. It gives her a warning about the switch from Past You to 2017 You, and will shorten the training time. She won’t spend time trying to figure out why you are talking to her ‘like that’, she’ll have an up front and explicit reason.

    I would also warn my husband, with a ‘this really bugs me and here’s why and here’s what I’m going to do’ not a ‘May I do this’ talk. Frame the conversation with your husband as ‘I’m an adult and adults don’t monitor other adults’ , so that you can have the ‘grandma doesn’t monitor our kids, we’ve got that’ talk later.

    • SnarkInfestedWaters said:

      YES definitely have a level-setting conversation with your husband (so he doesn’t feel blindsided/ feel the need to make excuses for your sudden behavior) and with your MIL so there’s no sense of hurt outrage. That makes you the undisputed calm grownup of the situation and circumvents the need for you to make any kind of peace with her further down the line. She’s the one being a troll, you’ve put up with it as far as you’re able, and you’ll be taking a no-BS stance from here on out.

    • What got me a bee in my bonnet, and I don’t know if I’m right about it, is that the letter suggests that the correcting behaviour is happening in front of the child.

      NO NO NO SO MUCH NO YOU DO NOT TALK TO A CHILD’S PARENTS LIKE THAT IN FRONT OF THEM EVER NOOOOOOO
      is my not entirely rational reaction.

      Seriously, it may not be aimed at the kid, but I can’t see how it could not be impacting them. So much no.

      • The Awe Ritual said:

        Thank you.

      • MKPhx said:

        That was my first thought, that this is happening in front of the child and that’s almost as bad.

      • espritdecorps said:

        Yeah, unless what’s happening is an emergency or abusive, don’t strip a parent’s authority in front of their child.

        Enforcing boundaries is a great thing to do in front of children, but you can wait to tell them privately that they make a weird sucking noise when they drink or that the Battle of Yorktown is more properly known as the Siege of Little York.

    • Guava said:

      Oh boy howdy, she will *definitely* transfer this behavior onto LW’s child as soon as she perceives that the child is “old enough.”

      I have a parent who is eerily similar to this MIL, right down to the table manners corrections of grown adults. This parent also loves to “correct” what grown adults are wearing to social functions, i.e., “THIS IS A FORMAL CHRISTMAS DINNER, WOMEN SHOULD NOT BE WEARING SLACKS,” (spoken as she herself is wearing slacks.) But her slacks are OK, see, because they’re “dress slacks,” and clearly mine are not…because of the position of the seams…or some such bullshit nonsense.

      The stone cold eye contact + “STOP doing that thing” is one of the only effective ways I’ve found to deal with people like this. They are all about appearances, and that embarrasses them into silence…until the next time.

      The other comeback that I’ve found effective: “You know what else is is not polite? POLICING AN ADULT’S MANNERS.”

      • spaceysteph said:

        Yeah I’m the child in this case– my grandmother absolutely started in on us the same way she always criticized her children and their spouses (my parents, aunt and uncle). She was always stopping me from biting my nails, questioning whether I should be eating that, or wearing this or doing this other thing.

        If nothing else, LW, consider it a kindness to your MIL to train her out of this before she ruins her relationship with her grandchildren by doing the same thing. I moved 1000 miles away and never go out of my way to see her, because why should I give her another yet another opportunity to judge me? (Also why she asks for baby bump pics and never gets any.)

        • Guava said:

          I’m really sorry you have a grandma like this. Avoiding her is the natural consequence when she chooses to treat you that way! My mom is ruining her relationship with the grandkids for this exact reason. We’ve told her this, but she’s too invested in the power trip to want to stop. So we make sure the kids know that her opinions are mostly to be disregarded. Every once in a while she tries whining to me that the kids are disrespectful or that no one listens to her, and I tell her that she created this situation with her relentless negativity, and until she starts working on ways to knock it off, this is what she’s gonna get.

          It sucks. I’m sorry.

          • ashbet said:

            Yep, same here — my manners/weight/appearance-policing mother waited until my daughter’s young teens to start in on her, and I made it 100% clear that it was not acceptable to comment on our bodies — enforcing consequences by saying “You are criticizing my/her appearance, we are leaving [or hanging up] now.”

            I also let my daughter know that this behavior from her grandmother was unacceptable, asked her to let me know if it happened when I wasn’t around, and maintained those boundaries without fail.

            It took a while for “I will not leave you alone with my child”/walking out/stating that I would have to cut off contact if her behavior continued… but she (mostly) stopped.

            Still comes up on occasion, 10+ years later, but I’m able to shut it down quickly when it happens, by flatly stating “You’re talking about our bodies again.”

            Do we see her often, or do I allow my daughter to get trapped at her house without transportation? Nope — and it’s because of *her* actions that we aren’t close.

          • Bloo said:

            When my dad decided to start in on my daughters body, I shut it down with, “there will be *no* criticizing my dd”s body. Ever. By anyone at this table (this included mom and bro). Seriously, I will cut you off at the knees if you ever talk about her body.”

            Dad: But I was just expressing concern…

            Bloo: There will be NO talking about her body to her or about her. We’re done here. Let’s talk about something else.

            There was an uncomfortable silence and a nice subject change. They’ve kept their mouths shut at least.

        • She was always stopping me from biting my nails

          Oh that is one of my biggest pet peeves. Not only is nobody going to freaking die if they don’t have pretty nails, it’s a nervous habit! How exactly is constantly judging a child supposed to make them less nervous? Also I bit my nails from roughly kindergarten until my mid 20s and my career is fine, I got through college fine, made friends fine, and dated just fine.

          I think I’m veering off topic here so I’ll try to drag it back by saying LW, you are absolutely in the right to shut down that relentless negativity and you’re even doing your (frankly very rude) MIL a kindness by preventing her from destroying her relationships with your family if you can train her out of her rude behaviour. At the very least, nobody, not even her, is served by letting her keep being rude, so you shouldn’t worry that you’re being meeeeean by not letting a grown woman pull this ridiculous power trip.

          • Guava said:

            I don’t bite my nails, but that example made me cringe…because it’s so emblematic of this type of hypercritical person. The type that nitpicks people over stupid things that are not their problem and none of their freaking business.

            My younger kid is nervous speaking in front of people and uses the word “like” a lot. The first time he got up enough confidence to tell Grandma a story, she interrupted him the first time he said “like” and chastised him for it. It was a very effective way to shove a shy child right back into his shell!

          • I get a lot of “don’t pick your lips”. Drives me nuts. I *wish* I could stop picking my lips; believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve dropped other bad habits. This one just won’t go.

          • The only time I’ve ever asked another adult to stop biting his nails have been the times that my own partner has asked me to help him keep an eye on it – it’s a subconscious habit that he’s trying to engage in less, but since it’s subconscious, he doesn’t always realize when he’s doing it.

            I ask my kids to stop biting their nails, on the other hand, because they’re still young enough that it falls to me to help ensure that they avoid developing the habit if at all possible, and it’s literally my job as their parent to help them avoid self-injury. (Do I care how they look? Nope. Do I care that they’ll sometimes bite the things into ragged bloody stumps? YEP.)

            Point is, there’s a time and a place for that kind of interference, and I don’t see LW’s MIL adhering to any kind of reasonable standard for when it’s appropriate to step in.

            (I’m agreeing with you, Mel, in case it isn’t super-clear.)

          • @jaqbuncad To be fair here I have a lot of feelings about how relentlessly my parents harassed me over a harmless nervous habit, but I wish you wouldn’t hassle your own kids about it. It’s just nailbiting, it is not that big a deal. Like I said, I bit my nails from the time I was a tiny child until I was in my mid 20s. My parents harassment of me accomplished NOTHING except making me feel like shit about a habit I couldn’t control. And like I said, My career is fine, I got through college fine, made friends fine, and dated fine. Nailbiting is not even slightly the end of the world.

          • Emily said:

            My parents are mostly okay parents, but they always critique(d) my nail-biting and it was the most counterproductive thing ever. Instead of teaching me to stop biting my nails (which, I get it – it’s not a great thing to do, but it hasn’t caused me any significant harm), it taught me to feel more shame and anxiety about biting my nails.

            My significant other occasionally brings up my nail-biting, but only in a “You look stressed; are you feeling okay?” sort of way, which is fine. It was such a relief when I realized that he really didn’t care about this habit that I had been taught was “bad”.

          • Oh yes, it was such a complete and utter waste of everyone’s time for my parents to harass me about biting my nails. What would have been productive would have been to do something about the many very good reasons I was so anxious all the time, but that would have been inconvenient for my parents. Better to teach me that I couldn’t even have control over my own nails if someone else didn’t like what I was doing with them.

          • There is one fair reason to object to nail-biting, though: it a quiet room you can hear it, and the noise is kind of shuddering. I sometimes ask my partner to stop for my benefit rather than their own.

          • As someone very sensitive to certain sounds (sniffling is the absolute worst for me), I think it’s totally fair to ask someone to go do the thing in another room *or* to stop if they want to stay in the room with you. I would definitely object to being told “stop that!” as if I’m a misbehaving puppy, though.

        • The only time it is appropriate for an adult to question what another adult is eating is when the second adult is about to eat something they are allergic to/cause a blood sugar crash, etc. I am allergic to pistachios and cashews. Over the years, I have had more than one occasion where someone else has said, “Put that back/don’t eat that, it has nuts in it.” I am grateful to those people for saving me from an allergic reaction, as nuts can be hidden in a dish.

          I also had a good friend who was hypoglycemic and a size zero. If she ate sweets, that would cause a blood sugar crash. She also had the habit of forgetting to eat for way too long, then get really spacy as result of low blood sugar. I would remind her to eat an actual meal with protein if she was sounding spacy or bouncing off the wall. I also had to tell her, “No, you are not eating that doughnut,” more than once. In context, she told me she was hypoglycemic, so I was being a buttinsky to make sure she did not have a blood sugar crash and pass out.

          • Turtle Candle said:

            Right. “Don’t eat that!” is appropriate only when followed by “it contains nuts/gluten/dairy/meat/something else you can’t or don’t eat!” Or when followed by “The cat just rubbed her butt all over it!” or “my five-year-old licked it, I’m so sorry!” Or in the context of “your very specific dietary requirements (that you have briefed me on and that I am not just intuiting myself) make that a terrible idea–here, have a protein bar instead.” Or, I don’t know, “an alien life form laid eggs in that, don’t eat it Officer Ripley!”

            If someone protects me from eating an allergen, or warns me that a pet or small child or alien invader has compromised the dish, I will be effusively grateful.

            Otherwise, though… this is the MYOB-est of MYOBs.

          • I never intuit other people’s dietary requirements. I confess that one time I was a an absolute dick to a good friend who ordered Brussel sprouts for dinner at a restaurant. They stank to high heaven and the stench would not go away. I told her not to order them on a date and kept holding my nose. I should have been quiet and said nothing.

      • Nineveh_uk said:

        The other comeback that I’ve found effective: “You know what else is is not polite? POLICING AN ADULT’S MANNERS.”

        Bingo! Assuming that a person is acting within broad cultural norms so that they are not actively “disgusting”, e.g. not chewing with the mouth open in cultures where that is considered gross, not taking food with the left hand where that is considered gross etc., then it is far worse manners for a person to correct LW in the way that her MIL is doing.

        • Guava said:

          Right! I mean, the MIL isn’t even trying to be polite to the LW with her “corrections”. Her tone and language choices are not just condescending, they’re openly hostile.

    • msnovtue said:

      + 1,000 to giving the husband advance notice. You both need to be on the same page with this, or at least in the same chapter. If he wants to continue responding the way he usually has, that’s fine, but he has to be willing to back your responses up 100% or it won’t work.

      I grew up with old-school German-American parents who were *very* strict on manners and the like, and were much more formal, so I can sympathize. But even they weren’t obsessive sticklers for table manners the way MIL is, and particularly not in casual circumstances like the LW has described. This is a pure 100% power play by MIL, and it’s time to shut this shit down.

      You’ve tried everything else, now it’s time for the nuclear option, much as you may not want to go there. The good Captain pretty much covered it, but I’m going to add one more thing: I disagree slightly with CA in one respect–no matter how straightforward and bluntly you tell her to knock it off, that may *still* not be enough. (Been there, done that.)

      If she continues to ignore you or tries to argue, there’s only one other thing to do–refuse to put up with it and get up and leave. LW, you need to decide with your husband if that’s going to be a path you’re willing to take. I can understand completely if you’re not willing to go there. But the only sure way to prevent her from treating you like that is to deny her the opportunity entirely. I had to use the line, “I don’t let my enemies treat me this badly, so I’m certainly not going to take it from a family member,” and then leave.

      I know it’s extra complicated for the LW because there’s also a husband and child involved, but my gut’s telling me that there aren’t any words that are going to work with MIL.

      I wish you luck, LW….

  4. Nicky said:

    Much though I feel sympathy for someone who’s living alone, I feel far more for Paula and her husband having to cope with being perpetually parented. (My mother pulls a lesser version of this where rather than telling me I have a loose hair on my neck/face/chest, she’ll just reach and grab it – no matter where we are or how many people are around – and I feel all of five years old again!)

    The Captain’s right, Paula: you’ve spent years trying to be reasonable and it hasn’t worked, so now it’s time to be unreasonable and not to paper over MIL’s cracks.

    • Annie Moose said:

      Oh, goodness. My mom does that too, with the pulling off loose hairs. I finally blew up very calmly at her and was like, I do not like being touched unexpectedly–if you’re going to do that, you need to warn me first or just let me take care of it myself. And thankfully, she actually got the point! (if she hadn’t gotten the point, of course, that’d be the time to move on to firmer methods)

      Boundaries are a beautiful thing…

      • At Christmas, my mother, who keeps her nails super long, decided to reach up and “gently” remove a mark off my face. Only the mark was a scab from a popped zit and when she scratched it I did what any reasonable person would do; I said “OW STOP THAT.”
        “Oh,” she said, “I thought it was a bit of food or something.”
        “Then why didn’t you say, ‘You have something on your face’, instead of trying to claw it off?!”

        • winter said:

          *shudder* I hope she got the point.

    • The correct response to this is a very loud, authoritative, “KEEP YOUR HANDS TO YOURSELF.” And let it be awkward.

    • clorinda said:

      Does he spit on her thumb and wipe a ‘smudge’ off your face? I’m almost embarrassed to remember the level of tantrum I ha to throw to put a stop to that. I was in grad school at the time. Yes, that’s grad, not grade.

  5. Monica said:

    Singular ‘they’ – it’s a thing. Shakespeare did it 😊

    I’ve nothing else special to add except stick to your boundaries and make sure darling husband backs you up.

    • JustKate said:

      I dislike the singular “they” with the white-hot heat of a thousand suns. But (1) there is some justification for using it and it is increasingly accepted, and more importantly (2) correcting the grammar of adults unless you are their English teacher or their editor is so wrong that I just cannot believe I have to point it out.

      • Tree said:

        Same here. But if I went around correcting every bit of grammar I have an issue with, I’d never have an actual conversation, and people would view me as annoying. Kind of like when someone spells something wrong in an internet comment (or uses the wrong ‘it’s’); you don’t stop the conversation to call them out on it, or you’ll be seen as the grammar/spelling nerd and it’ll derail the conversation.

        • Apostrophe abuse does make me flinch, but you have nailed the more important rule*, which is not to derail a conversation over a punctuation mark showing up where it shouldn’t…unless your entire goal is to stop the conversation dead and derail into a grammar battle.

          * Unless you are employed as a teacher, writer, editor, proofreader, et cetera, and it is literally your job to correct such things. Even a parent would be listened to more avidly if they refrain from pouncing on childish language fumbles and ignoring the content of what their child is trying to say.

          • Ellen Fremedon said:

            I am employed as an editor and I don’t work for free. Is J. Random Interlocutor paying me my hourly rate to correct them? No? Then they can say whatever they goddamn well want.

        • When I’m online, if someone’s grammar is so bad that I can’t understand them, I simply don’t talk with/to them. The potential for misunderstanding is way too high. I also make unfair assumptions about that person’s intelligence, so they don’t need to be subjected to my bigotry.

          • Raptor said:

            Oh, yeah. I sometimes judge someone silently, but I try not to. My best friend is very, very dyslexic, and his writing is very difficult to read. He’s a smart guy in general, but he can’t get words on or off a page without a ton of effort. I do a lot of editing for him.

      • Esme said:

        I am sorry the singular ‘they’ irks you, and I do mean that sincerely. I find great consolation in that it makes my language less sexist. He/She comes with the built-in assumption that it matters whether the person doing the thing is male or female, further that they really need to be one or the other.
        Agreed. Miss Manners always said that correcting the manners of anyone not your child is always a greater faux pas than whatever you are commenting on.

        • I find the singular “they” very useful in the context of working with people who are agender or transgender, or when I don’t know a person’s gender. It is already codified, but I imagine that much of the resistance to it will fade as acceptance of genders other than male and female increase.

          • Tucker said:

            I’m currently working on adding the singular “they” to my lexicon after bring introduced to friend of my niece who identifies as agender . My habits keep tripping me up, but I’m getting better and I practice. Also my niece and her friend are being quite patient with me. They know it gets more difficult, the older I get, to re-wire the language-y bits of my brain. Nice young folks.

        • Copcher said:

          Echoing what Esme (and also Maureen O’Danu) said. Using singular they makes your language less sexist and less transphobic. It reduces the possibility of misgendering a person and can help battle people’s assumptions about gender by partially removing gender from the conversation when it isn’t relevant.

          Not that LW needs to say this to MIL. MIL would likely benefit from learning this, but it is not LW’s job to educate.

          • Furbaby's Mama said:

            As a teacher, I try to create handouts using singular they instead of he or she, since I want to try to create inclusiveness and it is a really small thing that I can do every day to help a student who might otherwise feel marginalized and invisible.

      • Tardigay said:

        So if a driver was doing something daft in front of you on the road, instead of saying “what the fuck are they doing” you’d say “what the fuck is he or she doing”? The first one sounds a lot more natural to a large proportion of the English speaking population of the world, so your anger might be a little misplaced.

        • Devin said:

          There’s still an ambiguity of number/identity there: “they” for person or persons unknown flies under my radar (in this example, “whoever is in that car”) while “they” for an individual in a situation where their identity (and thus, mostly, gender) is known catches my eye.

          Doesn’t outweigh its usefulness, for all the reasons stated above, but I do find singular-known-they slightly disruptive to my reading eye. Just something I have to shrug and remind myself it’s better than the alternatives.

        • Dulcinea said:

          For what it’s worth, I personally always curse out people on the road using the second person singular. EG: “It’s called a turn signal you stupid f—– piece of s—-”

          NB: My windows are always shut; I never would say this where someone could hear me, and in general I have compassion for people who make mistakes BUT when something scary happens and I have to make an instantaneous correction to someone else’s mistake, little exclamations help diffuse the stress/panic.

          • PintsizeBro said:

            I also engage in this particular variety of (usually in my head) cursing out strangers. e.g. “The sign says ‘stop,’ not ‘take a fucking vacation’!”

      • BigDogLittleCat said:

        Not sure I hate singular “they” that much, but am greatly unhappy with what it’s doing to singular/plural distinctions (how many people are we talking about?) and the verbs.
        And “they” seems so generic. It feels very distancing to refer someone’s child as “they are”.

        But yeah, correcting an adult’s grammar…um, NO.

        • SM said:

          But we already have that ambiguity with “you,” which can either be said to one person or more than one… and was originally only meant to be formal or plural, since we had “thee/thou” for the singular. We managed to transition to just using “you” without it destroying English or our ability to make distinctions between singular/plural (with the added benefit of blurring class distinctions in speech a little), so we can do it again with “they.”

          • BigDogLittleCat said:

            The loss of the T–V distinction in English didn’t change the fact that second person pronouns don’t need their verb to indicate singular or plural because the second person already knows whether the second person is singular or plural.
            The third person pronoun “they” does not have that advantage.

            I am not afraid of its destroying English, but it is tiresome when taking statements about an incident to have to repeatedly ask, “do you mean X, or Y, or both of them?”

            Personally, I wish one of the new words like “ze” would catch on, but no such luck so far.

          • Halpful said:

            I wish “y’all” didn’t have such a stigma, it’s a useful word.

            …and I wish my brain didn’t find “ze” super-awkward. I like “they” despite the ambiguity (and sometimes because of it).

            I wonder if someday some form of “they-all” will become a word… 🙂

        • JenniferP said:

          [Moderator hat on]
          [YELLING ON]

          The singular they is correct usage.
          Even if it were somehow a new construction, the advantage of a) making fewer assumptions about gender and b) respecting non-binary folks’ pronouns would outweigh ANY “confusion” re: singular or plural.

          This blog post was not an invitation to “explore” the correctness or share your dislike. “They” is here to stay, so adapt the way you have to countless other changes in language that have happened in your lifetime (like the word ‘blog’). If I see comments like this subthread in the future I will delete them. If they show up before I get to them, somebody alert me please.

          • Thanksforallthefish said:

            Yes to this! Thank you Captain Awkward!

          • Tardigay said:

            As an agender person who uses they, thank you xxxxxx

          • sneaky said:

            THANK YOU CAPTAIN AWKWARD. – Signed, yet another genderqueer person with smoke coming out of my ears that so many folks really thought it was appropriate to go there

          • TO_Ont said:

            I am a (cis, straight) woman who is happy to be called ‘she’ but gets so sick of the default masculinization of language when gender is unknown. The singular ‘they’ deserves praise on so many fronts.

        • I was messaging with a friend, talking about her daughter in college. My friend used “they” to say that “they” didn’t like the snow as much as they thought they would.

          I was so confused. “I thought only one of your daughters is in college,” I asked.

          My friend, who is a chemistry teacher and is used to a certain degree of precision in her language, sighed (as much as a person can sigh online) and said her daughter wants to be referred to as “they.” My friend is not happy about it, but said this was not at all the hill she was going to die on with her daughter.

          • (And I have just read the subsequent comments. I apologize! I should have left this comment unsaid.)

          • sneaky said:

            I’m genderqueer, assigned female at birth, my pronoun is “they,” and knowing that my mother probably has conversations like this with her friends makes me feel sad, alienated, and belittled. It made me afraid to come out to her, and even now that I have, I stress about this all the time–and I’m 29, not a college freshman.

            Frankly I’m glad you missed the Captain’s warning and wrote this, because I want you and your friend to know what that’s like. Feel free to share my sentiments with her. In fact, I’d encourage you to do so.

          • bird said:

            If I knew the child here I’d be recommending that they speak to their transphobic parent less or never. It is seldom worth it, IME, and I am happy to personally serve as the ambassador of “but faaamily” is not a good enough reason.

            I’m a trans 26 year old who no longer stresses about how my biological family talks to or about me, because I’ve cut off or gone extremely low contact with both parents and most other relatives. I only regret that I did not do so earlier.

      • Muffin said:

        I debated leaving this comment, because it’s replying to a derail, but as a nonbinary/genderqueer person, I feel I have to speak up:

        I think everyone in this thread behaved admirably and with the best of intentions, but it’s still very stressful to me to read people debating whether or not singular “they” is an acceptable pronoun. This kind of “acceptability” debate is a common microaggression against people who use this as their preferred pronoun (including people I know and love!).

        Captain, I mention this because you sometimes step in on other threads that devolve into common microaggressions or debates which tend to go to bad places (the “spoons” argument, various ableist demands for transparency about disabilities, etc.). It would mean a lot to me, and I suspect would mean a lot to other readers, if you could head this debate off at the pass in the future.

        To return this to the LW’s issue: I suspect, but of course don’t know for sure, that the LW’s MIL is pushing on this as a similar power play, so “STOP correcting my grammar” is a great response; however, if the LW feels up to it, I suggest that another great response could be “STOP making assumptions about other people’s pronouns.”

        Thanks for making a space where I felt comfortable speaking up about this, and sorry for the tangent.

        • Marvel said:

          As another trans person who frequents this site, I came here to say exactly this. Real people use this pronoun for real reasons. There is no way to discuss one’s “preferences” regarding it without also, contextually, expressing one’s “preferences” as to how other people choose to identify, which is obviously not an acceptable thing to do.

        • yeah this is really really really not a space where I think we need to see this argument. Thank you for saying something.

        • bat lord said:

          Thanks, Muffin. I’m nonbinary myself (so is my partner) and I wasn’t thrilled to hear people complaining about the pronouns that we use. I too would not like to see any more debates about singular they.

        • strophoria said:

          Thank you, it was making me really upset (another enby here)

        • XtinaS said:

          As an enby myself, thank you very much for speaking up.

        • Pear said:

          Thank you for this. I agree–and this isn’t the first time I’ve read such a discussion in this space, and has happened in *the exact same way*–

          – Person 1 says they don’t like singular they
          – Persons 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 debate about grammar and what plural/gender neutral pronouns they think are the best. Some of them defend singular they in terms of purely grammatical detail or vague descriptivist approach to language; others denigrate it for those very reasons.
          – Person 7 else points out that it is transphobic and explains the social context of singular they, viz. trans and gender non-conforming people

          And this is the final stage, the dead end, which thankfully hasn’t happened yet at the time of writing:

          – Some of the first 6 people dig their heels in, denying their specific intention to be transphobic–they weren’t even thinking about trans people at all, they were only talking about pure, innocent grammar! They only want to be able to create beautiful, correct sentences with clear communication!– and they return to yelling about the details of grammar. They can only think of pronouns at sentence-level, not interpersonal level; they are concerned with grammatical correctness, not preferred pronouns to be respected.
          – Bonus: they claim that we are mean and oversensitive when they only want to be sweet tender cinnamon roll grammar nerds.

          I feel like I ought to make a bingo card, to be honest…

          • JenniferP said:

            Y’all are 💯 right and I am sorry that I didn’t catch this week’s game of pronoun-debate-whack-a-mole before it started.

        • Kit Park said:

          Quoting Muffin:
          “STOP correcting my grammar” is a great response; however, if the LW feels up to it, I suggest that another great response could be “STOP making assumptions about other people’s pronouns.”

          My pronouns are they/them, and like Paula I am blessed with some family members who go through life just looking for excuses to denigrate people and start arguments. With such people I honestly would not recommend bringing up the concept that they/them is a legitimate pronoun. It just gives them another vector from which to argue with you about all the ways you are wrong.

          Paula, I do not speak for all nonbinary people by any means, but FWIW I personally think that educating your MIL about the existence of humans who go by they/them pronouns is a world of not your job. It’s okay to just focus on “STOP correcting my grammar” as it invites less debate for her to sink her claws into.

          • I’m inclined to agree – both that people have a perfect right to be ‘they’ if they prefer, and that this is unlikely to help in LW’s situation. Functionally (if not sociopolitically) it’s doing the same thing as pointing out that singular they is grammatically correct: it’s taking the mother-in-law’s swipes at face value.

            Mother-in-law’s whole strategy is to pretend that what she’s doing is all about getting things ‘correct’. Pointing out that ‘they’ is correct for many individuals, while true, concedes her pretence – and at that point you’ve lost, because you’ e conceded, in effect, that the issue is who has the better facts. Since Mother-in-law is always going to find more ‘facts’ to be ‘correct’ about, and is probably never going to shift from her incorrect ones either, you are basically saying, ‘It’s okay to snipe at me as long as you’re correct.’ Which, in Mother-in-law’s opinion, is going to be always.

            Grammar and table manners are an excuse, and need to be treated as such. It’s not about what she thinks, it’s about what she’s doing. The only way to tackle this is to focus on her behaviour – which is not really about the specific content of what she says.

            If she takes swipes at trans/non-binary people, that’s another fight. But right now, she needs to hear the basic message, which is ‘Stop taking pot shots at me.’

    • clorinda said:

      Singular they is tricky. I tell my college students to try to pluralize their sentences or use he or she, because you never know when you’re going to run up against a professor who hates ‘they’ and why ask for trouble–and to get them in the habit, I demand the same in the papers they write for me, even though singular they is okay in most circumstances.
      My mother corrects my grammar. The nerve. Worse yet, she corrects other people’s grammar in front of me and then tries to deputize me into the grammar police. Urgh.
      Resist, resist, resist, LW! I think the loud, clear STOP is most likely to be effective. Be sure to warn husband. It sounds like his heart is in the right place–he’s already standing up for you, but he’d likely appreciate notification of the new tactic.

      • Copcher said:

        Using “he or she” erases people who do not use those pronouns. Many nonbinary folks use singular they as their pronouns (and many use other pronouns that are also not she or he) and notice that they are being ignored or excluded when people use “he or she” to refer to a generic person.

        LW, if you want to get under MIL’s skin, you could try correcting her when she uses pronouns that assume a gender about someone she doesn’t know. For example:

        MIL: The receptionist said he would ask what’s taking so long.
        LW: Are you sure that “he” is the correct pronoun to use? Did you ask the receptionist?

        This would probably escalate the situation and might not solve the problem, so only do it if you have a lot of energy for it. But it might be worth showing MIL that inclusive language is just as important as outdated (not even outdated because they never actually existed) grammar rules. More important, actually.

        • clorinda said:

          That’s why I strongly recommend pluralizing to my students, and using singular they in all but the most formal communication. As the concept of nonbinary gender spreads farther through various zones of society, I believe singular they will become acceptable in formal use too, but it’s not quite there yet.

    • I didn’t know that, Monica! Thank you for the grammar lesson.

    • ...Kat... said:

      Ooh. Can you give me an example or two?

  6. Sheelzebub said:

    Something for you to keep in mind–but not say to her, as it will be a no-win situation–is that your MIL is showing poor etiquette. Correcting adults and making snide comments (can’t you count? ORLY MIL??) is not polite and is bad etiquette. It is something finishing school bullies did to assert their dominance. I’m also willing to bet she’ll start in on your kid. She did it to your husband when he was a kid.

    The Captain’s advice is excellent. If repeated “STOP” doesn’t work after a few visits, your husband can visit her alone.

    And don’t be afraid to let it be awkward. She’s the one making it awkward.

    • crooked bird said:

      Agreed. Very poor etiquette. Pointing it out will only lead to a long stupid argument, so the key is to simply act accordingly. She is being rude, you are authorized to treat her like someone who is being rude. To treat her the way a polite person treats a rude person.

      One way of doing this that can work if you have the face & manner to pull it off is what they used to call being “arch.” It’s the thing where you raise your eyebrows and give the person a mildly shocked look like you just noticed a kid picking her nose at the table but are far too polite to point it out. It pairs well with awkward silence, or “Wow,” or even “It’s so *interesting* that you feel the need to correct other adults in this way. But as I was saying…” It might work as a stonewalling technique after the first few clear verbal warnings as suggested by the Captain, I’m not suggesting you omit those.

      • Lurker in the light said:

        If you want to stop the etiquette dominance game, try an arch “one does not correct the manners of other adults.” Give it a full dose of looking her straight in the eyes when you say it. The

        • crooked bird said:

          Yeah, I like that phrasing. Nice Miss Manners stuff.

        • try an arch “one does not correct the manners of other adults.”

          Need a ‘like’ button right about now 😉

        • Editrix said:

          Yes. This is exactly what I was coming here to post.

    • thathat said:

      Honestly, the only response I can think of to “can’t you count” is to blink like a startled owl and say, “Wow, RUDE. Anyway…”

      • Lou said:

        I might just say “No, I can’t” and move on 😛 (but yes, it is SUPER RUDE)

        • BigDogLittleCat said:

          I’m with you. When someone makes an obnoxiously ridiculous statement like that, run with it.

          “You’re eating *that*?” “No” as I continue to eat.

          • disconnect said:

            I’m one of Those Guys who wears shorts year round. I got tired of explaining heat loss and the benefits of core insulation and the importance of a base level of movement and yes I keep a blanket in the car and finally just started answering “aren’t you cold!?” with either a really disinterested “why would I be cold?” or a heartfelt “CHRIST YES, I’M WEARING SHORTS CAN’T YOU TELL??” and continuing on. Also tired of defending against “OMG running will destroy your knees” so I just pretend I’m an airplane. I’m happy to discuss relevant studies that show the null hypothesis (i.e. no correlation between running and likelihood of knee surgery) but y’know, most people just want a soapbox, and that’s cool, there are other people they can talk to.

          • Buni said:

            This is my go-to answer to any rude enquiry;

            “Are you [doing that thing that I am patently doing]?”
            “Nope!” [While patently doing it]

            It’s usually quite a cheery, upbeat ‘nope’. It confuses the fudge out of people most wonderfully, and tends to silence them for a while. If they’re crass enough to continue by pointing out that I obviously am, *then* they get the cold,

            “Well if you can see that I obviously am, then why did you ask?”

          • BigDogLittleCat said:

            @ disconnect (out of nesting)
            Are you my BIL? He is so much one of Those Guys that I can’t remember him in slacks other than the tux when he got married. I’m not sure he didn’t wear shorts to his parents’ funerals.
            I have (by choice) the coldest office in the building and my response to “it’s freezing in here!” is “No, it’s not!” I keep hoping an Argument Clinic will occur, but no such luck so far.

          • Drew said:

            I love my mother, but we had it out a few years ago when she questioned what I was wearing (because SHE was cold) once too often. I explained, not overly patiently, that I was a -year-old adult and could wear what I wanted, and if I was cold, that was on me for not checking the weather.

            I also reminded her that I have ALWAYS liked cooler temperatures than she does, so this is an argument I’m really tired of having. If I get chilly, I’ll put on a jacket or jeans or whatever. Or I’ll deal with it. Criticizing me, in the guise of concern trolling, isn’t even slightly helpful.

            To her credit, she got it, and conversations now go “It may be a little chilly. Do you want to grab a jacket?” “No, I’m fine.” “OK! “

        • alter_ego said:

          leaning in to stuff like that is my favorite tactic. When arguing is futile and you don’t care what the other person thinks, agreeing with them is suuuuuuper confusing for them, usually enough to stop the tirade.

        • With milder prods, I’ve been known to answer by thumbing my nose and blowing a raspberry. Probably wouldn’t work for LW, but it can be effective.

      • AlmstHvn said:

        I was going to suggest a squirt gun… or a clicker… accompanied with a loud but firm “No”.

    • Slow Gin Lizz said:

      Agreed! When you do this, you are not being rude. You are calling her out for being rude.

    • Barbara said:

      I agree, a million times! Protect yourself and your child; and give the rude, bullying MIL a wake-up call, so that she might learn to treat people better. If she’s doing it to your husband and you, she’s probably doing it to others.

      And, don’t be swayed by the “But, it’s FAAAAmily!” and “She’s an OLDER LADY, SO TOLERATE IT” memes. You do no one any favors by succumbing to these.

      • “She’s an OLDER LADY, SO TOLERATE IT” is ageist and insulting and implies that older (whatever age that is) people are stupid and can’t learn anything new. I know people decades older than I am who are much more comfortable with technology than I am.

    • Tree said:

      Yes. So many times people don’t want to call out rude behavior because, “I don’t want to be rude.” No, the rudeness wall has already been broken – by her. You can go ahead and call her out on it, or move on, but SHE is the one being rude.

      • Sheelzebub said:

        Lemme try this again:

        make action GIFs like this at MakeaGif

    • Sheelzebub said:

      DAGNABBIT. I am sorry! I fail at gif posting! Please feel free to delete!

  7. Drew said:

    Those manners that MIL esteems so highly also say that adults shouldn’t offer unsolicited corrections to other adults. MIL is ruuuuuuuude and LW should feel free to return that awkwardness right back where it belongs. You’ve tried polite redirection and it hasn’t worked, so I’m a big fan of the Captain’s “STOP” scripts. If you need to soften it the first time, say something like, “MIL, I’ve asked you several times not to police my table manners/my conversational grammar. Now I’m telling you, I don’t appreciate it and you need to stop.” And if it recurs (WHEN it recurs), go straight to “STOP.”

    Best wishes for curtailing this behavior. It sounds super annoying.

  8. The thing that so many people get wrong about manners is that they are meant to instruct an individual so they know what to do, not meant to be used to berate and judge others. Emily Post & Miss Manners would give you gracious instructions if you asked about table manners, but would think your MIL was committing a breach of etiquette by instructing you in the moment.

    • Sketchee said:

      Yes! Highly recommend the Emily Post Institute’s Awesome Etiquette podcast! They deal with a lot of these manners situations with excellent sample scripts. Might be appropriate in helping deal with MIL on her own turf in language that she understands.

      A big point in the show is that you don’t have to tolerate bad behavior. Part of etiquette is being honest with yourself and others about your limits (while also being considerate and kind).

      Maybe the Husband can spend more time with his mother alone. And it is really more on him to manage the relationship with his mother. She’s off the mark on that one. He’s done a good job and making it clear.

      LW can encourage him to continue to speak up and make that clear that it’s not okay with him and set all of the same boundaries that we’re encouraging LW to set.

      • I will have to check out the Awesome Etiquette podcast – I’ve been listening to ‘Shmanners’ and they draw heavily from Emily Post.

        • Sketchee said:

          Yeah it’s hosted by Post’s great great grandson and great great grand daughter. Ooo I’ll check out Shmanners, adding it to Stitcher right now!!

    • JayFernz said:

      At its core, etiquette is about showing respect and consideration for those around you. MIL has completely failed on that front.

    • Drew said:

      Miss Manners has dealt with this question head on in the column several times. She explains that when she is at a social event, she’s too busy having a good time to start nitpicking other peoples’ manners, and having other people try to rope her into an etiquette debate is like asking a dentist to look at your cavities at a cocktail party.

  9. Veruca said:

    Left unchecked, she WILL start in on your child. Fight it now, die on this hill now, and you might be able to short-circuit that.

    • cathy said:

      Yep. My in laws (both parents, both grandparents) used to have Big Drama with my nephews over the dinner table. It was horrible; they would all watch what the boys ate and take it in turns to comment on it; cajoling them to eat more, or faster, or in a different order, and to have Just One More … and bribing with ‘If you don’t … then you won’t get any pudding.’ Of course the boys played up to it; regular fits of not eating, crying, throwing food on the floor and all sorts of other games. Always followed by pudding. The attention they got was wonderful to behold, no threats were ever carried out, and they became the centre of the Meal Circus three times a day. I hated it.

      Then H thought it was normal but it really wasn’t. I told him that when our own little one(s) came along that was not going to happen, and it didn’t. No drama at my table, and any suggestion my d was not eating properly was very firmly stamped on with; ‘She’s fine. ‘

      • My brother and SIL went through this with the nieces, specifically the youngest. It is 80% an attention ploy and 20% the fact that the younger niece has very little appetite and would also happily eat only ice cream and chicken nuggets for every meal. My brother and I were both somewhat picky eaters (though I still have some strong food aversions, I’m a little better, but he’s really just as picky and limited an eater now as he was as a kid). We were frequently forced to choke down food we hated, and then to choke it down again at the next meal because our mother would serve us the same hated foods over and over, and she still hasn’t figured out after 30-odd years that we both find things like canned string beans vile (or she doesn’t give a shit), and she was a real asshole about pressuring us to clean our plates despite the hated foods on them, so my brother was naturally reluctant to take a hard line with his own picky eater.

        This reluctance made mealtimes a pain in the ass for everyone, as cajoling the nieces to fucking eat ensured the nieces got lots of attention, the adults were unable to have a pleasant meal or conversation, there was crying and there were tantrums, etc. Part of this was due to age and missing naps (youngest just turned 7 a few weeks ago), but it was fucking tedious and no one liked being around it.

        My SIL now sends the misbehaving kid to bed early, as the worst misbehavior happens over the dinner table. Missing one meal won’t kill her. Going to bed early at that age is, however, pretty much the worst, as everyone else stays up having fun, eating dessert, and paying attention to everyone except you! If she at least tries a new food, she doesn’t have to finish it. My SIL also works around some of the kids’ strongest aversions by not deliberately serving anything the nieces find disgusting and then forcing them to eat it.

        What she doesn’t do: Drag things out, argue, bribe, beg, etc. She uses the techniques described above, a sharp “Hey!” or my niece’s name, ONE request to eat without whining or excuse herself from the table. If tantrums occur, it’s time to go think in her room or go to bed. No fun! It seems to work.

        They also have beautiful manners when we go out to eat in restaurants.

        • cathy said:

          I would not really regard what happened in my h’s family as the boys misbehaving (although the other adults certainly saw it that way.) More a case of the parents getting the behaviour they rewarded. If parents reward drama then they will get drama. Your family dynamic may be different; I can’t really comment on that, except to ask who it is that is behaving differently in the restaurant; is it really the children or is it the adults?

          • Half and half. The adults behaved differently in restaurants in that they take the kids outside at the first hint of acting out, and being taken outside is basically enforced quiet time in a parking lot (boring!), so is not fun and results in no good attention for the child. The children behaved differently because of the above precedent set by the adults.

            They are now, all in all, pretty good kids most of the time both at home and in restaurants, now that the “get attention for acting out” cycle was nipped in the bud.

            FWIW, none of us have allergies to food (AS FAR AS I KNOW), just strong aversions to certain flavors and textures and, in my case, I find that most raw vegetables tend to make me bloat and get flatulent, so I eat cooked veggies. Problem solved.

            It’s possible some of us are supertasters, as the list of foods we don’t like overlaps with most of the items on lists of foods supertasters typically dislike, we have an almost bionic sense of smell, and we’re pretty good at identifying spices and ingredients in many foods. (You say we won’t taste the mushrooms? WE WILL TASTE THE MUSHROOMS. Don’t try to sneak mushrooms into our food. KTHNXBAI)

            My mother was a punitive asshole about picky eating even though she allegedly did this out of concern that we’d get scurvy or rickets and die, and she refused to make a note of foods no one but her liked, served them on a weekly basis, and then got mad when these foods went right into the garbage uneaten. My brother, SIL and I are all a lot more understanding about picky eaters, fortunately, as at least two of us remain pickier than your average bear, and my brother could, like his children, happily subsist on a limited diet. In his case, he’d probably live on bacon double cheeseburgers (plain), potatoes, and shitty American beer. 🙂

          • ** …no one but SHE liked. **

        • ashbet said:

          Also, keep in mind that pickiness isn’t necessarily willful — after years of despairing over my daughter’s “white-food” preferences and food aversions, we discovered that she had been suffering severe, undiagnosed GERD since birth, and that her preference for starches, dairy, and mild foods was a form of self-medication to deal with constant daily pain.

          Now that her GERD is treated and she no longer has an ulcerated stomach and esophagus, her food tastes have opened WAY up, and she’s a creative and experimental cook.

          I feel awful that I used to believe her pain was “pickiness,” and I’m grateful that I wasn’t frustrated and punitive about it.

          She still can’t eat a number of “normal” foods (like tomatoes) which are acid triggers, but she can find something she likes on almost any menu now.

          But, yeah — especially with a family history of food aversion, please make sure there are no underlying health causes — my daughter’s pediatrician missed this for NINE YEARS, even with frequent vomiting and complaints of stomach pain.

          • Esselyn said:

            I am so worried about this happening with my daughter. I am a closeted picky eater. I want to believe I am cosmopolitan, with a wide-ranging palate and an openness to new foods… and really, I just want to eat chicken, bread, and sweets.

            I’m doing my very best to offer but not push foods as we go along, but I’m terrified I’m going to mess it up because of my own aversion to things like tomatoes, bananas, onions etc.

          • KittensMakeEverythingBetter said:

            Just chiming in as another parent of a child who appeared picky. The court even got involved with the child’s pickiness during a divorce. Turns out it was all allergies and genetic problems with digestion. Pickiness is not necessarily bad, not when it is protecting your child from sickness and possibly death.

          • BarlowGirl said:

            @Esselyn If you don’t mind, may I suggest a few things?

            http://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/
            mealtimehostage.com
            extremepickyeating.com/blog/
            http://thefeedingdoctor.com/

            And I also recommend several of their facebook pages if you’re into them. Even without any allergies or intolerances, pressuring a kid to eat more almost always results in them eating less. And turning foods into “forbidden” foods, like desserts, is never a good idea.

          • Yeah, my parents were really big on forcing me to eat things that would give me 12-hour stomachaches.

          • horse said:

            My go-to when somebody is being super rude and smug is to just pause, /almost/ roll my eyes, like the struggle not to roll my eyes is causing my brain to turn to mush, and then “/Any/way…” continue like nothing happened. It’s bizarre enough that they notice it, but not outlandish enough that they’ll comment on it.

          • horse said:

            I don’t know why my comment ended up in this thread instead of at the bottom, but… that’s the way the cookie crumbles I guess

          • Socchan said:

            Author Shira Glassman talks about how, when she was a youngster, her grandfather and grandmother would push her to drink milk, despite the fact that milk literally smells rotten to her. She learned later in life that she’s actually lactose intolerant, and ended up including some of her own food-related gaslighting experiences in a fantasy novel series (called the Mangoverse, one of the main characters of which is gluten- and poultry-intolerant).

      • BarlowGirl said:

        Ugh, I hate when people pick on kids’ eating. Division of Responsibility, people. (Ellyn Satter.)

  10. Catherine from Canada said:

    “But MIL ignores him, or says, ¨I wasn´t talking to YOU, I was talking to PAULA.*¨”

    To which he really should be saying, “Yes, and I was talking to YOU about your behaviour towards my WIFE. Knock it off.” He really should be actively taking your side on this.

    • Viva said:

      ITA. ITA. ITA.

  11. I sometimes find it hard to find the right tone when setting a boundary, especially in situations where someone is being rude, but not quite rude enough to get a really pointed statement. It’s helped to pick a person who has a great way of communicating boundaries vocally and modeling myself after their speech. For instance, my childhood dentist has a way of saying “Stop” that makes children instantly listen to him. It’s perfectly flat and quiet, and whenever I need to set a boundary with an asshole, I try to mimic his delivery.

    Another thing that’s worked well for me is the one word statement. My mom is adept at boundary setting, and one thing she does is limit the words she uses when she sets a boundary. I tend to ramble and get nervous when I have to be assertive, but saying “Stop,” “Wow”, or “I beg your pardon?” and Captain Awkward’s tactical silence is a lot easier. Followed by a “It’s rude to correct someone’s grammar/table manners.”

    • Tree said:

      Tone is absolutely important. I don’t have kids, but I’ve seen this with others, and I’ve seen it in how my husband and I deal with our cats. I will sharply and clearly say one word, like “Hey!” or a name, and they’ll back down from eating the plastic bag or being intrusive during dinner. He’s astonished that they listen to me, but it’s because when he does it it’s “No, don’t do that,” in the same tone as a speaking voice.

      • Bibliophilian said:

        I call this tone my “teacher voice.” It is equally effective on children, animals, and adults (especially drunk ones). For increased effectiveness, raise an eyebrow.

        • Amphelise said:

          I call it “teacher voice” too. Isn’t it fun?

        • HistorianNina said:

          My husband calls it my toddler voice (as in, the voice I use on our toddlers when they need to cut some shit out) and is full of praise for it! He always wants me to come to work and use it on recalcitrant project managers.

        • msnovtue said:

          Hah! Me too, except mine is deliberately copying my mom’s—-who taught 4th grade for 20 years. She tended to get a lot of the problem kids because she was good with them.

          She kept it very simple: she could be your best friend and biggest cheerleader, or she could be your worst nightmare. But it was entirely up to you (the kid) which one it was it was going to be.

        • My niece is an elementary school teacher. As she and I chatted in a restaurant parking lot she suddenly broke off and said, “EXCUSE ME!” in the teacheriest of teacher voices.

          “Um, what did I do?” I thought — and then noticed her laser-like glare was aimed not at me, but at a man who had opened the passenger door of my car and was reaching for my backpack.

          I dashed the couple of feet to the driver’s-side door and opened it, then grabbed the backpack and said, “That’s MINE!”

          The man, who looked very down on his luck, straightened up and mumbled “Sorry” and then shuffled away.

          On another occasion I was helping her set up for a fund-raising auction at her school. When we wheeled a cart full of folding chairs toward the multipurpose room we went by a half-wall on which a little girl sat, kicking her heels against the block. As we rushed past my niece said, “You know better” — and the girl jumped down as though the wall were on fire.

          Teachers can be really scary.

      • clorinda said:

        I used to count toward ten in a flat, soft tone when my kids were little. Nobody ever knew what happened when I got to ten, because I never got past eight. Doesn’t work on the cats, though.

        • SM said:

          Counting down always worked on my dog! The tone of voice when you’re slowly counting down can work on some pets who notice your tone/pace. Might be helpful for LW to practice that counting-down-you-better-stop tone for her “that was rude” responses.

        • Tree said:

          Oh yeah, my mom did that, too. Definitely wouldn’t work on cats though. 😹

        • Amphelise said:

          I did the same, counting down from 5. Kiddo never did get to zero! After a while of teaching this strategy (I’m stepmum & taught it to mum) we didn’t even need to count out loud – just showing the countdown on our fingers was enough!

        • Furbaby's Mama said:

          Heh. My mom would start with “That’s one.” No inflection, no anger, nothing. Just cold. Then if we kept up whatever it was, “That’s two.” In all my life, she only ever got to three once, and never with my sister (and yeah, I got spanked for it; it’s the only time I remember being spanked and I feel she was justified for it because what I did was dangerous to myself and my sister). She never had to go above two because we knew the consequences and we knew she would not hesitate.

          I plan to do the same with my kids, only not with the spanking since I don’t really believe in that, but in firm corrective consequences that teach that I mean business.

    • servogirl said:

      Oh man, my dad has the flat-quiet-scary voice down pat. He should give lessons. There is something very shut-it-down about projecting a calm, don’t-f-with-me demeanor if the other person is getting whipped up.

    • Buni said:

      In my case it genuinely is my Teacher’s voice – firm and flat and with the tiniest hint of menace. My two favourites in the classroom are “Rude!” and – most useful of all because it can cover so many different situations – “Unnecessary!”

    • Brevity can be power! I now try to channel Captain Janeway: “I *beg* your pardon?” Four words in the right tone managed to convey “whatever you just said was Out Of Bounds, and you have about five seconds to explain yourself.”

      My favourite example was when someone, in the middle of a meeting about how to deal with Space Phenomenon of the Week, shouted “Sex!” with no context. He turned out to be completely correct, once he actually explained his idea in a complete sentence!

      • Turtle Candle said:

        I love this comment. (And I remember that episode! Oh, Star Trek, never change.)

        I’ve found that channeling Janeway is one of those beautiful tricks that actually gets better/easier as I get older, because I am finding it easier and easier to pull off a seriously biting, “I beg your pardon?” or to deploy an “Excuse me?” in a way that is perfectly polite but that still gets across ‘you had better have a pretty darn good explanation for what is going on.’

        It was possible to do when I was younger, but it’s become easier with age. I’m not sure if it’s perceived increased authority, general gravitas, or just giving fewer and fewer fucks as I age. (See also: Captain Cordelia Naismith.)

        • AwesomeSauce said:

          Off-topic: OH GOD CORDELIA NAISMITH IS THE BEST

      • ‘I BEG your pardon?’ is also useful for those times when some creep says something gross to you in public. Tells them plainly that they have to either back down or commit to it so undeniably that you can now start shouting for assistance to passers-by. Equally, it helps override your initial ‘He can’t have said that, can he? Maybe I misheard,’ response – it’s a double-check, after all – and gives you a bit of time to absorb the shock and get appropriately angry.

  12. Teaspoon said:

    Another short phrase that may be useful to have in your pocket: “It’s not up for discussion.”

    MIL: obnoxious instructions
    You: STOP that.
    MIL: huffs I’m just trying to–
    You: INTERRUPTING It’s not up for discussion. Stop doing that.
    MIL: But I–
    You: INTERRUPTING AGAIN It is NOT up for discussion. Stop it.

    She will escalate to get things to return to her version of normal. She will go to your husband behind your back to try to convince him that you’re being terrible. It’s his job to back you up and tell her that she’s showing an embarrassing lack of manners by policing your every word and bite when she does. She will switch to correcting your child. Be ready to stop that the very first time she does it, and consider whether you’re okay leaving your child alone with her where she’ll do it anyway before that comes up. Grandma may be a “supervised visits” kind of relative until your child is old enough to recognize that Grandma’s behavior is rude, and if so, that’s okay.

  13. cathy said:

    I feel for the LW; I imagine lots of us have tried to keep the peace with aggressors for the sake of the family, the children, the in laws.

    However, as others have said, the first rule of polite society is to stay polite, and this MIL is breaking that rule over and over again and treating Paula like a child.

    As long as what is said can be understood by everyone listening easily enough, then it is fine. Perfect grammar is not necessary over the dinner table and trying to impose it is not exactly going to make for a convivial atmosphere.

    As for eating; I would be very much tempted at the very next mention of ‘manners’ at the next dinner table to ignore plates, cutlery and glasses completely. Swig out of the wine bottle, pick up that whole roast chicken in your bare hands, tear into it with your teeth and throw the bones over your shoulder while you belch as loudly as you possibly can.

    Give her something worth worrying about.

    • Tree said:

      The image of someone picking up an entire wine bottle and chugging it made me laugh before I even got to the rest of your description. omg.

    • killiara said:

      And make eye contact with her the ENTIRE TIME you are eating that chicken with your bare hands. STARE her down. Maybe even say out loud “Since this is what you expect of me, I’ll live down to it.”

      • salted_caramel said:

        I’m losing it. Intense eye contact while tearing into a chicken bare-handed is so apex predator. Be the hungry lioness you want to see in the world!

        • cathy said:

          I wish I could go back 30 years and do that at my MIL’s table. 🙂

        • Be the hungry lioness you want to see in the world!

          Ahahahaha I love this 😀

        • Turtle Candle said:

          “Be the hungry lioness you want to see in the world” is going to be my new motto. ♥

        • Fishmongers' Daughters said:

          I’m going to have to look for an opportunity to use the term “so apex” in conversation.

      • Sheelzebub said:

        I’m thinking of the first shot of the Pussy Riot song Chaika and I’m dying laughing, here.

    • B. said:

      I once belched loudly in the face of a female relative who had been telling me constantly I should act more ladylike. It’s not one of my proudest moments, but it felt awesome to finally manage to shut her up and, all things considered, it was pretty funny.
      If you go that route and want it to be effective, your attitude is really important, as kiliara said. Don’t act embarrassed of your poor manners, more like “Well, here I am, devoid of any fucks to give”. I think my belch worked because I was really fed up with her criticisms and it showed in my face. Also I was sixteen.

      • Epiphyta said:

        That is glorious.

    • Xena said:

      I would do the same with the language thing. Only speak in jive, valley girl, Nell, pig latin, something that people will understand but that is definitely “correct” grammar. She will go ballistic while everyone else has a good chortle.

      • Xena said:

        definitely NOT correct grammar. sheesh.

    • onyx said:

      This was my first thought too. Intentionally bad table manners and intentionally horrible grammar. Saying “these ones”, double negatives, using “low class”* words like ain’t and y’all (because someone yelling about cutting one piece of meat at a time is definitely a classist asshole who maintains they aren’t “real words”), using words incorrectly or mispronouncing them on purpose… Petty, but who cares? If I’m never going to be able to act perfectly, then might as well embrace what a disappointment I am.

      As for the child… regardless of how it pans out between you and MIL, maybe instate a rule that if she tries to correct your child, she doesn’t get to see your child. Ever. It’s amazing how quickly overbearing relatives suddenly correct their behavior when they might lose access to family children.

  14. {Resubmitted because everything went weird; apologies if it shows up twice.}

    Another short phrase that may be useful to have in your pocket: “It’s not up for discussion.”

    MIL: obnoxious instructions
    You: STOP that.
    MIL: huffs I’m just trying to–
    You: INTERRUPTING It’s not up for discussion. Stop doing that.
    MIL: But I–
    You: INTERRUPTING AGAIN It is NOT up for discussion. Stop it.

    She will escalate to get things to return to her version of normal. If she won’t behave, pack up your child and leave. She will go to your husband behind your back to try to convince him that you’re being terrible. It’s his job to back you up and tell her that she’s showing an embarrassing lack of manners by policing your every word and bite when she does. She will switch to correcting your child. Be ready to stop that the very first time she does it, and consider whether you’re okay leaving your child alone with her where she’ll do it anyway before that comes up. Grandma may be a “supervised visits” kind of relative until your child is old enough to recognize that Grandma’s behavior is rude, and if so, that’s okay.

  15. thathat said:

    So much for etiquette… no one ever told MiL that it’s RUDE to interrupt and that it’s RUDE to correct other adults at table?

    I’ve heard the basis of good manners being summed up as: “making people comfortable.” She certainly isn’t doing that. Even Emily Post would say there’s much more of a problem with freaking out over how a grown woman cuts her meat and embarrassing/haranguing her than there is with cutting a few pieces of meat at once.

    But yeah, that’s logic. Go with Cap. It doesn’t matter the whys and wherefores. She needs to stop doing that.

    (Also, she might not be speaking sharply to your child. Yet. But odds are good she will. And your kid can still see how she talks to you.)

  16. Yolanda B. Cool said:

    LW, I second the other commenters who are saying that your mother-in-law will start thus with your child. Probably sooner rather than later.

    With that in mind, and given the fact that you have already tried reasonable ways of managing her behavior, I would suggest that husband can visit her on his own from now on. You and kiddo don’t have to be there.

    If she wants to see her grandchild badly enough, she can behave herself. If not, or if she tries to make this about what a bad person you are, then she has decided she’d rather be an asshole than a grandparent. You should respect her decision.

    • Would the MIL’s treatment of Paula undermine Paula’s authority with her child?

      • Guava said:

        It would certainly pave the way for that to happen. With grandparents like this, it often plays out one of these ways:

        – Paula disciplines child for x behavior, MIL decides that Paula didn’t discipline child harshly enough, MIL goes off on Paula and her “lax ways” in front of the child
        – MIL takes it upon herself to discipline the child for x behavior again herself because Paula “didn’t do it right the first time”
        – Conversely, MIL decides that Paula is too strict, and sneaks behind her back to undermine her rules with child, letting her have candy if she’s not allowed, or whatever
        – MIL talks shit about Paula to child and tries to recruit her onto “grandma’s side”
        – MIL criticizes child in front of Paula after Paula shuts down her criticism of her

        It could really go on and on when you’re dealing with a grandma invested in a power trip, who’s committed to involving a grandkid in her shenanigans.

  17. attica said:

    A nuclear option to keep in your back pocket: When corrected about table manners, you can “I see how this must be awful for you. I won’t inflict myself on you another moment! Here’s your coat!” and kick her out. Or if at her place (or at a restaurant), get your own coat and leave. Of course, you have to have hubby warned this might happen and on your side about it. If she learns that nitpicking means cut-back contact, she might learn.

  18. Maria said:

    I don’t know your MIL, so I don’t know if she applies rules to herself/self-polices, but if she does, a third option is:

    “Wow, I’d always heard it was rude to correct other people’s manners!” or “Wow, that’s rude!” or “Wow [manner’s expert she admires] would have some negative things to say about correcting other people!” and then continue doing what you’re doing.

    Mind, you I much prefer option 2 myself, but if that’s too confrontational to you or if you think she’d respond to this technique, this might suit you better. And, I don’t know if this would help you reframe her motivations, but if she’s still doing this to her son, yes, it’s controlling, but it seems to be part of her parenting style (my mother’s is also controlling), so ironically you’re part of the family. That doesn’t mean you have to take this, at all.

    Secondly, if your husband would like to assert himself also, he can also do a version of number 2. “I’m talking to Paula!” “But I’m talking to you. I need you to stop” while looking her straight in the eye.

    • Sketchee said:

      Hey we’re on the same page with this one! Love it! =)

    • Buttermilk said:

      This is actually pretty literally Judith Martin/Miss Manners’s line when adults write in to ask how to correct another adult’s manners. It’s rude to point out that someone is being rude.

      • Daffodil said:

        Well, pointing out that someone is messing up usual conventions of etiquette is rude. Pointing out when someone is actually being hurtful is good and necessary. The LW is (not really) doing the first, the MIL is DEFINITELY doing the second.

        • Buttermilk said:

          I’m using the very literal sense of rude (as is Judith Martin, I believe). Somebody being deliberately hurtful is another issue entirely, and not one that applies to LW (only LW’s MIL).

          • Devin said:

            It’s been many years, but I only ever saw Miss Manners give this advice in response to what were quite clearly “but somebody’s WRONG on the internet” situations: “how do I tell my brother-in-law he’s using the wrong fork/shouldn’t put ketchup on steak” kind of things. “Well, unless he’s received a dinner invitation from the Queen and asked for your help in preparing for it… You don’t, because that would be rude.”

            “How do I tell my brother-in-law to stop bringing wine to our family dinners because my dad’s in recovery,” on the other hand, is more of a “Very gently, and preferably one-on-one.”

      • I had the same thought, and in my snotty dream world I would like to see LW have little cards with quotes from Ms Manners where she chastises people who seek to correct others who are not their own children or students. She could simply smile and hand them to MIL every time she pulls this nonsense.

  19. Sketchee said:

    I have one technique for this that I get way too much satisfaction. “It’s rude to correct other people. Now we’re both rude!! Anyway… How’s your X, Y, Z.” Repeat and let the Wyvern of Controlling Disappointment fly!!

    “Might be true. You’re rude to correct another adult. Anyway…”

    I make sure to have the devilish smile and enjoy the mischief. =)

    • Bianca Benjamin said:

      I really love the “Now we’re both rude!” It points things out flatly, but could also be said in a light tone that’s easy to transition back into regular conversation. It also brings you back up to their social level rather than letting the person put you in the “child” spot.

  20. Jill said:

    As a mom of two toddlers, I think it’s far more important for your little one to grow up seeing their Mama stick up for herself. Done respectfully, with the Captain’s suggested wording, you’ll be modeling a skill that your own child will need as they navigate life. It would also be nice if your husband could get a little more firm with her, too.

  21. MrsLokiofAsgard said:

    I agree with the advice! I’m big into bringing attention to another persons awkward behaviour by full on challenging it in the moment like that. The first time is the worst though. Especially if there are other people around. There is this moment of silence that falls (because everyone will be shocked that you’re calling out the behaviour) and even though it will last only a second or two, it will feel like a lifetime and you will suddenly be struck with the urge to fill that silence with something. Resist the urge. Resist it! The person who you’re calling out isn’t going to like getting called out and may react angrily but that’s on her. Don’t engage. Just say STOP and then move on. Don’t fight back, don’t fill in the silence…just stay true to the Stop dialogue. Your MIL is likely going to be upset enough not to be around you for a while. That’s okay, because when she returns you will both know that you’re not afraid to tell her to stop.

  22. Clarry said:

    “I would never comment on the minor errors (that aren’t even really errors”) that you make.”

    “When you make corrections like that, it makes me not want to eat with you.” (Followed by no invitations or accepted invitations for a long time. Followed by “No, I haven’t want to eat with you because you pick on my perfectly normal table manners.” Followed by “Sure, we can give this another try if you’re willing to knock off your criticisms.”)

    The important this is not to give even the least consideration that she might be right. You don’t want to get into the she/they argument. These subjects are not up for debate. Let her decide if what you have to say is important enough to her to put up with (what she perceives as you bad) habit. Let her decide if she wants to eat with you enough to put up with how you cut your food. This is empowering– for her! Look at all the decisions she gets to make. She doesn’t have to be around people with bad grammar and bad table manners. Jolly for her.

  23. Sibley said:

    OP, after you stop her going after you (and good luck), please, please, please shut it down when she goes after your kid. My grandmother did crappy stuff like this, and the few times my parents weren’t around to shut it down, it caused real issues for me. I still, 25 years later, do not eat or drink ANYTHING pumpkin because of my grandmother. I just can’t.

  24. Q-chan said:

    LW, that would drive me up the wall. The captain’s advice is spot-on, because it doesn’t allow any room for argument or discussion. This sounds so cliche but “if you give her an inch she’ll take a mile” really does apply here.

  25. Typhoid Mary said:

    Here to offer my support to the LW, and my undying love for the singular “they.”

  26. TinyFrog said:

    An alternative option. Pause what you’re doing, don’t smile, look directly at her and say “I’m fine, thank you” then go right back to smiling and having whatever nice conversation you were before she butted in with her weird comments. This lets her maintain the thinnest of a veneer of the fiction that she was only trying to help and she may be confused or embarrassed enough to shut up at that point.

    Of course she might just double down on her attempts to control you, and I know that I personally would have no problem saying “That’s enough, we are not discussing this.” at THAT point, once she had made it really obvious that she was hell bent on being rude.

    tldr: It’s sometimes mentally easier to call someone out once they’ve refused to take the more elegant way out. Give her some rope.

    • onamission5 said:

      “I’m fine thank you.” Yes.

      My teen cracks her knuckles, my mom snaps at her for it, “She’s fine, Mom” and redirect back to the conversation. My toddler starts crying because he is having a hard time, FIL’s wife tells him “big boys don’t cry,” I step between them and say “He can cry if he needs to,” redirect to attending kid and modeling kid-supportive behavior. (that one I actually got FIL’s backup on, which surprised the shit out of me, “Yeah! He can cry if he needs to!” it was like FIL’s little kid self just got validated AF)

      I do think it’s easier in a way when you’re sticking up for someone else than when it’s for yourself, but maybe it would help LW to think of sticking up for self as a form of sticking up for kid? It’s not enough to encourage your child/ren to have boundaries, you have to model boundaries for them or they won’t have a solid foundation for doing it themselves.

      • Mary said:

        >> it was like FIL’s little kid self just got validated AF

        Oh, I slightly melted reading that! Poor little FIL’s kid self.

        • onamission5 said:

          He had a really hard time as a child, so the look on his face and the tone in his voice hit me right in the feels. It was the opposite of what I expected.

          I mean, my FIL can be an ass, don’t get me wrong. But in that fleeting moment, he was a 60 something year old little boy getting his feelings validated for the first time in his life. *SOB*

        • TootsNYC said:

          >> FIL’s wife tells him “big boys don’t cry,” I step between them and say “He can cry if he needs to,” redirect to attending kid and modeling kid-supportive behavior.<<

          My MIL started saying to my kids, "You're crying for no reason" or "You're crying for nothing."

          That made me SO mad. I'd immediately say, "She is too crying for a reason. She is crying because she is disappointed. Do not ever tell her she is crying for no reason. We can coach her through getting over her disappointment, and we can tell her it's time to stop crying, but you do not ever belittle her emotions like that. Got it?"

          And then I did sometimes say to my kid, "I understand that you are disappointed, but this kind of crying is not an appropriate response. The disappointment is too small to warrant all this noise. You need to figure out how to calm down." (yes, I did use words like "warrant" with 2yo's) Then I'd sometimes continue talking or asking questions, or giving calm directions about getting their coat, or something.

          But I really did have to apply the pressure, and I probably even had a conversation with MIL when the kid was not around to say, "Don't belittle their emotions like that–it's really counterproductive, and it's mean to them."

    • Turtle Candle said:

      “I’m fine, thank you” can be magical, because, as you say, it plays along with the pretense that this is for your benefit… and then gives absolutely no traction. It doesn’t always work, but when I have seen it work it has been, like I said, magical.

    • Kat, Ph.D. said:

      Yes! My mom used to get on me about my posture all the time. It was especially frustrating when I was in the middle of an irritable bowel attack and it was impossible for me to stand up fully straight without being in pain. I spent a lot of years trying to JADE (justify, argue, defend, explain), and finally, I gave up. Now it goes something like this:

      Mom: Stand up straight! Stop slouching!
      Me: No thanks.

      Mom: You should really work on your posture.
      Me: No thanks.

      Mom: You would look even better if you stood up straight.
      Me: No thanks.

      Fair warning: the first time I tried this, she threw a fit, left the mall we were both in, and walked 2 miles home in 20 degree weather rather than ride in the car with me (I had driven us there). It was scary and awful at the time, BUT it was really fun to explain to the family counselor years later! The poor woman’s eyes practically bugged out of her head. My mom will never admit that she wildly overreacted, but hey, at least she no longer corrects me on my posture! Small victories.

    • msnovtue said:

      I was raised to be a bit more formal, so I tend to use the classic “I beg your pardon?”, said in a tone of voice that fully implies that I *must* have not heard correctly, because *surely* you would never be so gauche, ill-mannered, and uncivilized as to correct an adult in *public*?

  27. Angel said:

    You know, I’d be tempted to eat before going to MIL’s for dinner. At the first “you’re eating WRONG”, set the fork down. At the first, “aren’t you the English teacher??”, drop the conversation and don’t engage with anyone except the toddler outside of brief and uninteresting responses to direct questions. She can’t correct your grammar or police your eating habits if you aren’t doing anything of interest. Then when she eventually starts bitching about how you’re being so RUDE, look her in the eye and say quietly, “this is what happens if you police my manners” and then shrug and return your attention to the toddler. Any further tantruming results in excusing yourself with or without toddler for a few minutes. When you return, stay politely disengaged until she starts in on your RUDENESS, then repeat the script ad nauseum until the end of the visit. Next time, be totally normal (eat and converse how you please!) until corrections begin, and then disengage.

    But I’m very nuclear, and I don’t like engaging with disrespectful folk. And when I am fed up with something, it’s going to be very awkward and very chilly. Use this option with caution.

    • Anothermous said:

      Ha! I am also very nuclear, but more of the “pour water over this lady’s head and state ‘No, THAT was rude,'” type nuclear.

      • cathy said:

        Another good option. 🙂

      • Kathleen Madigan has a great bit in her standup where she talks about how her sister once accused her of “ruining Christmas” by being twenty minutes late. Her response was something like, “If you want me to be earlier, ask me to be earlier. Don’t try to guilt me by telling me I ‘ruined Christmas’. I will take that as a challenge to show you what ‘ruining Christmas’ REALLY looks like.”

        • Xena said:

          Kathleen Madigan makes me pee my pants. Saw her live (with a long I) once, can’t wait for her next show.

    • You have a lot more energy than I do! I’d find all that exhausting…and I’ve done it, or a variation of it, when my narcissist mother has acted out. The Captain’s “STOP THAT” solutions might be more difficult initially to blurt out, but easier and less stressful in the long run than playing any kind of “fuck you” game to teach the MIL a lesson, especially if it means depriving yourself of food or conversation even temporarily.

      • winter said:

        +1 I’d find the direct boundary setting approach harder in the moment, but it will only be hard for a moment while the other approach deprives me of food and conversation to … teach her a lesson? No win win situation for me.

      • Angel said:

        I’m kind of an introvert anyway, so occupying myself with a kid and my thoughts would be easier on me than trying to be social. It’s obviously not a solution for all personalities, but for me, if you nitpick at me then you don’t get the privilege of my company (and all the effort I put into performing it). And if that means I just check out while remaining physically present, then that’s what we do.

        • Hmm. I do shut down a bit, too, actually, and for the same reasons. But I don’t deprive myself of food (thanks to anemia, low blood pressure and low blood sugar, that would potentially cause far more health-crisis-related drama than my introverted self would enjoy, e.g., fainting, at the very least), and I would still converse with other people at the table even if I stopped talking or responding to the rude person specifically.

          I have left rude people behind and hung up telephones, and I have checked out of conversations and fallen mute when interrupted too often or when another party is being intrusive, argumentative, critical or accusatory, but I won’t go without eating just to spite them for being rude assholes.

          • Angel said:

            Which is why I would eat before going.

  28. Emdashing said:

    Hi LW, the captain’s scripts are great. I have one possible suggestion to add, though ymmv. If your husband is willing, it might be worth it. He could pull your MIL aside on some non-tense occasion (it would be key to do this some time when they were together and either you and child weren’t there or were not able to hear the conversation. Points if it’s nowhere near a meal), and tell her that you and he are working on “modeling positive behavior” for child and need her help. At the table, you’re working hard to avoid criticisms and negativity in general. No need for husband to say “like what you do all the time.” Just have him introduce this idea as though it’s neutral/positive and a parenting thing you guys are doing that is not specific to her. He can supplement as necessary (e.g. child has picked up on negativity in the media/school/politics and you want home/family to be distinct from that). This strategy can also work to avoid any venting/complaining conversational spirals that open up in Child’s presence and can allow for the gentle reminder to MIL that “we’re keeping things positive at the table.”

    I suggest this because you mention that MIL doesn’t do this to Child, so it sounds like that might be her soft spot. The captain’s scripts will help at boundary setting to be sure, but if you’re hoping for an overall tenor change in her approach to you, this might be a back door? Obviously depends on lots of variables.

    • Not Party Falcon said:

      This is pretty clever, Emdashing, as its helping MIL feel not obsolete and rewarding positive interactions. A++

    • allreb said:

      The possible downside I can see to this is if the MIL thinks that her “suggestions” *are* good behavior (ie, following the letter but not spirit of good manners), so instead of letting up she does it more with a “well you SAID you wanted POSITIVE behavior so I’m just trying to teach her how to be polite!” type of reasoning.

  29. Beth said:

    While we’re at it — your MIL is WRONG.

    ¨I did it on accident…¨ is an acceptable expression. It’s standard in some regional speech patterns.

    ¨I spoke with the server and they said…¨ is an acceptable expression. “They” has a long history of singular usage (as the Captain said), and has fully re-entered standard speech recently in this role, due to desperate need.

    “when I eat meat, I will cut a few bite sized pieces and then set my knife down and eat those pieces. I guess the rules say you´re supposed to cut only one piece and then eat it and cut one more? [. . .] the RULES say you´re supposed to keep one hand in your lap . . .”

    What RULES? These are one set of practices that are by no means universal, and are obsolete in most of the small set of places where they were one observed. I suppose your MIL also can’t stand split infinitives, and thinks you should spoon your soup away from you. Possibly she also thinks displaying your ankle is an obscene act.

    My intention here is not to give you points to try to fight your MIL: the Captain is absouletly right that your best approach is to flatly refuse the fight. It’s to emphasize that your MIL is drawing her alleged authority from crap sources. If you are still suffering from worry that you’re in the wrong and giving offense somehow, please, set your mind at rest. You don’t have to respect these dictums, any more than you have to nod in agreement when someone spouts the latest conspiracy theory. You can regard all this BS as the etiquette equivalent of tinfoil hat thinking.

    The only function of this crap is to try to control you by beating you over the head with toothpicks.

    • you guys, though, I started spooning my soup away from me & it’s unnatural but easier. Something to do with my wrist joint, I think. SO WEIRD! if you have soup acquisition issues, give it a try.

      • Nanani said:

        I think i naturally do that? I don’t recall ever being explicitly taught to spoon this way or that way, but that’s just how spooning works on my hand.

        who the hell decided there was such a thing as a correct direction for spooning liquid anyway

      • SarahTheEntwife said:

        I now really really want to watch you eat soup, but that would probably be creepy 😉 I found that spoon-the-soup-away-from-you rule and tried it just because it sounded so weird and…my wrists just do not do that. I end up flinging soup by accident and I’m sure even the most stilted Victorian lady would give me an exemption to spoon the wrong way.

        • KittensMakeEverythingBetter said:

          I tried it and IF I work at it for an hour or so, I can get about 1/2 cup of soup eaten – if my wrists don’t complain so much first that I give up.

        • BarlowGirl said:

          I want my soup to have more crackers that soup personally and I can’t…. see it working?

        • When I was a kid my parents told me that was actually why it was good etiquette to spoon away from yourself – it slows you down and hence stops you guzzling. I think they were speculating, though – they certainly didn’t care which way anybody spooned.

          • Jay said:

            You mean it’s not right to stick your face in the bowl and just go to town?
            Shoot. I have so much to leeeaaaarrrrn. 😉

    • you guys, though, I started spooning my soup away from me & it’s unnatural but easier. Something to do with my wrist joint, I think. SO WEIRD! if you have soup acquisition issues, give it a try.

    • Elder Dog said:

      There were examples in the book on manners at my grandmother’s house. One of the examples was if someone started drinking from the finger bowl, everyone else at the table should do the same, so noone would be embarrassed.

      Thanksgiving after the second oldest cousin learned to read, the youngest cousin dribbled his milk, so all the rest of us at the children’s table dribbled ours too. When we explained, my grandmother looked bemused, and my grandfather laughed so hard he tipped over his chair.

      That book disappeared from the shelves till we were older.

      • Amphelise said:

        This story made my evening.

      • Amber Rose said:

        This is an amazing story and I’m glad you shared it.

      • Not Party Falcon said:

        Robin Williams’ character does just this during his first date at a restaurant with his crush, in the very beautiful movie “The Fisher King” and while I got a tear remembering it, thank you for reminding me.

      • Intptt said:

        That’s a lovely rule, though. Shows that etiquette isn’t supposed to be used to humiliate others, but to make social situations easier.

    • B. said:

      Honestly, anyone who is more focused in how another person eats their food or words their sentences than in having a meal or a conversation doesn’t deserve a part in said meal or conversation.

      • I was taught, when learning knife-and-fork rules, that you put your knife in your dominant hand and your fork in your non-dominant, so you can eat without having to put either one down. I know my parents eat like this because they taught me that way. If you asked me, “Does your partner eat this way?” you’d get a blank look. Because in five years, it has never occurred to me to care how the person I love most in the world uses his cutlery. I *certainly* don’t care which hands anyone else uses. If they’re so boring that I’m not paying attention to what they’re saying, I’m probably daydreaming or focusing on my own meal.

        • attica said:

          I’m random-handed; I usually eat fork-in-left, knife-in-right (but not always! Random!), which used to Freak Out my grandmother when I was a kid. She would give an earful about me Doing It Wrong to my mom, who as the mother of four, could not possibly give a flying hootytoot about which hand held which implement. Food in face, rather than on walls? All good. In fact, her MIL’s reaction was always a source of amusement. When I found out about it years later, I agreed. And like you, I never ever notice what-all other people are doing with their cutlery.

        • I can swap cutlery back and forth “zig-zag”/American style or keep my fork in my dominant hand European/”hidden handle”/British style, and I think I just automatically adapt to what the majority of people at the table are doing, or using the Euro way if I am sitting at a tightly-packed table or sitting near a lefty. Both ways are equally polite.

          It is exceedingly rare that anyone comments on it.

          • Turtle Candle said:

            Yeah, fork-switching or not is one of those things that is purely based on how you were raised. I’m American, and fork-switch, because that’s how my parents taught me to eat, and it’s a habit so long-ingrained that it actually requires concentration to not do it. My partner is also American but doesn’t fork-switch, because his parents don’t.

            I’ve only had anyone comment on it very rarely, and almost always in a tone of friendly curiosity rather than condemnation. There was one time when a visiting UK coworker, who was a bit of a jerk regardless, said, “You know how uncultured you look when you eat that way, swapping the fork around, right?” I resisted replying, “You know how much of a jackass you look when you criticize the cultural habits of other adults in their own country, right?” but it was a struggle.

            But yeah, mostly people don’t care, and both fork-swap/hand in lap and non-fork-swap are perfectly cromulent cultural habits.

          • Soeaking from the UK – in this day and age, lots of people do it that way, and anyone who talks about looking ‘uncultured’ is a wanker, and probably overcompensating for class anxiety.

    • Thanks for letting me know that “I did it on accident” is a regional variation, not an incorrect expression.

      • Beth said:

        It may be generational — it certainly wasn’t common usage a couple of decades ago. I think it started as a direct opposite to “on purpose”. I’ve heard it often enough that I automatically regard it as an acceptable alternative, although there’s an inevitable contingent denouncing the phrase as Proof That the Language/Education/Younger Generation are Bad/Wrong/Rotted Away At the Core.

        I’m also remembering a similar Old Fogey denouncing the expression “went missing”, back when that was a recent import from the UK. I suppose the same fogey would have been fine with “turned up missing”, since that was already well-established, even though it’s just as much a colloquialism.

    • BarlowGirl said:

      Fun story: I made a joke about not slurping soup with the kids I baby-sit and the expression amused them so much that they had to try it. I was honestly giggling too much to say anything much about it.

  30. Aurora_Belle said:

    I agree with the idea presented by commenters above about getting your husband on board with 2017 You. “I know you find it easier to just change your behavior to avoid MIL’s nitpicking, but I am not willing to do that. At (next meeting), if she starts in again, I’m drawing a firm line, and I hope(expect?) you will back me up on this.”

    I don’t think you need to have Another Talk, but it might be better/easier for you to look her in the eye and say, ” I don’t like it when you (do the thing). /Please stop./” Emphasize the last two words with your best ‘Addressing an Endangered Toddler Who Needs to Stop. Right. Now.’ voice. Repeat “please stop/I asked you to stop. Stop.” When she Does The Thing ad nauseum until she permanently stops doing the thing.

    It also circumvents any “But whhhyyyyy” or “How /rude/” reaction she might have in her back pocket. Why: I don’t like it. Rude?: I did say please. If she tries to go that route, she’ll end up looking rude/unreasonable, instead of you.

  31. S said:

    I have to agree with others who have said that the nit picking is a dominance/control issue. My BIL does this, he often disputes the definition of words with people. (This is the thing most likely to make Shinobi lose her shit, btw) You’re having a discussion and then all the sudden you’re discussing whether that is the proper usage of the word is and then I start yelling.

    So you know, you could take my approach, it’s something like this:

    “Paula, you aren’t supposed to eat like that!?”

    “OH REALLY!? Is there food on the floor? on my face? On you? THEN I THINK IT IS FINE”

    or “Snide comment about your grammar or word usage”

    “DID YOU KNOW WHAT I MEANT? ARE YOU CONFUSED ABOUT THE POINT OF THIS CONVERSATION? NO LETS MOVE ON. ”

    I don’t technically yell, I just stop talking quietly. My brother in law now thinks I’m unstable and he’s the victim of an evil conspiracy of people who just hate him for no reason. But he’s stopped fucking correcting me. I pretty much just prove that I am absolutely as unreasonable and easy to anger as he thinks I am, and that’s fine. (Note that there are people who he is afraid of who he does NOT do this to. So, yeah, it’s totally a dominance thing.)

    That said, my grandmother was very into manners and etiquette. I so loved going through her big books of table settings and figuring out which fancy table setting to use. My family was also very into manners, I apologize to walls sometimes and say please and thank you to my pets. It’s a thing. But it’s one thing to insist on those kinds of manners from kids, and another to nit pick with grown ups.

    I don’t think it is bad for kids to be held to high standards of behavior, as long as they are allowed to still be kids when they aren’t sitting at the table. But I DO think it is bad for them to be scolded for simple mistakes. So as long as that doesn’t happen, I don’t think it’s hurting your kid. You are the best guide for when to step in with her and your kid. But having absurdly good manners and standards of appropriate behavior ingrained in my soul has only been a benefit to me, as annoying as it was at the time.

    • Bess Marvin said:

      ha ha I always say please & thank you to the dog! I feel like it’s how she can tell when she’s misbehaving. “Sit, please,” then “thank you” means everything is cool and she’s being an excellent dog; it’s like the tone of my polite voice is a treat to the dog. Whereas the repeat if needed: “Dinah, I said SIT.” means “hey you are misbehaving now” and the dog complies with sadface. Command without courtesy is like the equivalent of my mother using my complete first-middle-last name when telling me what to do. Trooouuuuuble.

      • Mary said:

        My daughter’s nursery taught her to sign please before she could talk, and I wish they hadn’t. Because if you think it’s hard to resist an adorable two-year-old, you try resisting an adorable two-year-old who is saying AND SIGNING “pleeeease”. Toddler dynamite.

        She also says, “Oh FWANKoo!” when you give her something or do something for her, and it slays me.

      • Kit said:

        We accidentally taught the dogs that “excuse me” is a command that means “step to the side”, as all of us automatically say it before gently bumping them out of the way. When I realized what we’d done I think I laughed for the rest of the afternoon. 🙂

    • Angel said:

      My French teacher backed into a table while lecturing and apologized to the table, then interrupted himself to say “yes, I did apologize to the table” and then continued. I wouldn’t have laughed except for his confirmation of the apology. Then I lost it.

      • rontoad said:

        My DH once apologized to a marble bust of Benjamin Ide Wheeler. In Farsi. Which is not his first, second, or third language.

      • DesertRose said:

        I think I’d have had to crack up laughing at the confirmed apology too.

        That being said, I totally apologize to inanimate objects for bumping into them, and I definitely say “please” and “thank you” to my cat and apologize to her if I bump into her (like I do because I don’t look down before moving and realize she’s right in front of my foot, because she’s a damn sneak who wasn’t freaking there when I last looked two seconds ago!!!).

    • I love this. I, too, am polite by default, which includes being polite to my pets. That does mean that I will say “please and thank you” even to my deaf ferret, who has no idea he is being addressed and wouldn’t pay attention if he could hear me.

    • BarlowGirl said:

      or “Snide comment about your grammar or word usage”

      “DID YOU KNOW WHAT I MEANT? ARE YOU CONFUSED ABOUT THE POINT OF THIS CONVERSATION? NO LETS MOVE ON. ”

      —-

      I once did this on a blog that had an active commentary like this to one person who kept correcting minor spelling errors I had. I found it incredibly rude frankly.

    • Crane89 said:

      I have already said “thank you” to the ATM after withdrawing money. Go figure.😂😂😂

  32. LW #696 said:

    As someone who uses “they” constantly because I have many non-binary/closeted-trans/gender non-conformin friends and it’s easiest to just always use “they” for everyone unless explicitly told by the person to use gendered pronoun, to avoid outing people while also avoiding misgendering, can I just say that normalising “they” as singular is super important to me and I too am sick of people correcting my grammar? Kudos for telling your MIL to step off, it’s not okay to policy another adults grammar. (Or eating habits. But I digress.)

    Funny story: when I was about 13 my mother corrected my grammar (“Kara made cookies for Jimmy and me” “Jimmy and I!!!”) and I was able to smile sweetly and say, “Nope, in this sentence Jimmy and me is correct because if you take Jimmy out of the sentence, I doesn’t make sense.” My (Oxford-Lit degree holding) dad nodded and said “Yes, she’s right” and my mom LOST IT. She yelled at us for ages and refused to admit I’d been correct but I regret nothing. Not as effective or as recommended as broken record “STOP” but a bit more satisfying.

    Be prepared for MIL to target kid as a way to get to you when they have lost “control” over you, but don’t treat is as a guarantee. It’s possible once you clear up the boundaries issue between you two, the boundaries extend to kid. Good luck, LW! You can do this.

    • Typhoid Mary said:

      I may or may not have cheered while reading this comment.

    • *fist pump*

      Coincidentally, I have to work to suppress the urge to correct people’s grammar is when they hypercorrect to “preposition] Jimmy and I.” But suppress it I do, because correcting people’s grammar when they’re not paying me to do so is rude.

      • Redgirl said:

        This is one of my biggest grammar pet peeves. I always cringe inwardly when I see/hear it. But like you, I don’t do a damn thing outwardly, because correcting someone else’s grammar is even more annoying.

    • Drew said:

      You are absolutely correct and your trick is a good one. Another way to look at it is to substitute the plural. “Kara made Jimmy and I/me cookies” becomes “Kara made we/us cookies,” and “us” is obviously the correct choice there — and the equivalent singular form is “me,” so that’s the right choice.

  33. “This is a weird dominance display”

    Yeah, don’t forget for one second that this is the behavior of someone who is placing themselves as your superior who has the right to dictate your behavior. This is not the way one treats people who they consider equals. There’s plenty of other good advice above in this thread, but always keep in mind as you cope with her that she is coming into this encounter with an inappropriate and incorrect belief in her place relative to you. She is not your boss or your mother, nor are you at the point in your life where others should be trying to educate you on manners and grammar. (Never mind that the way she’s doing it is rude and wrong regardless)

    Push back with righteous confidence and demand that your partner back you up on this. Fix your behavior, MIL, or expect to spend less time with us.

    • pixieish blonde said:

      It’s not what you meant, but I really want to see LW respond with “This is a weird dominance display” as a script every time her MIL starts up.

      MIL: “You are using the WRONG spoon.”
      NotPaula, with full eye contact, one eyebrow raised in a bemused fashion: “This is a weird dominance display.”

      It’s so off-kilter it might even work. There’s no good way to respond without sounding defensive. Embrace the awkwardness, and return to removing peas from toddler’s ears.

  34. girl in the stix said:

    I prefer the succinct “Knock it off. You’re being a bitch.”

    • Nanani said:

      I prefer not to use gendered insults to settle a point of basic respect.

      • vortexae said:

        Or, in fact, at all.

        (Thank you, Nanani.)

  35. I agree this is a power play that can only be matched with boundaries and asserting your self worth. But maybe reconceptualizing manners, politeness, and grammar rules will help you not care about whether or not you are following them and make setting boundaries easier.

    Grammar and politeness policing is very classist and often racist. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen the meme about “how you can understand ‘on fleek,’ ‘bae,’ and ‘extra’ but not understand the difference between their, they’re and there?” It disgusting.

    The point of language is to convey meaning, not to show off your privilege with your knowledge of all the most arcane grammar rules. The point of being polite is to ease human interactions, not to shame people with different ways of doing something.

    And the singular use of “they” is super important for people who are agender, genderqueer, gender neutral, transitioning, etc. I think it would behoove all of us to get used to it and start using it as a default. Language exists to the fit the needs of the humans using it, not the other way around. “They” has evolved to be both a plural and singular pronoun in order to fit the needs of our evolving society.

    This is a bit of a sore point for me, I was raised like the LW’s husband and I became the Self-Appointed Grammar/Manners Police all through elementary and middle school. Essentially shaming all my equally poor friends whenever they said “ain’t” or used double negatives or any other slang, because my mother is a narcissist and convinced me (for a time) of the DIRE IMPORTANCE of not sounding “trashy.” My behavior was cruel and alienated me from most of my peers. It also made me subconsciously judge other people based on the language they used and gave me a false sense of superiority. Throwing off those beliefs was HUGELY freeing. And I now use all those grammatically incorrect phrases with utter glee.

    So if it helps, throw out the notion entirely that there are “right” or “wrong” ways to do things. If there is a voice in your head telling you lies about how you *should* be cutting your meat/using pronouns/just generally existing as a human, tell that voice to shut up and keep cutting your meat however you please.

    • LR said:

      Great points!

  36. erm, she’s wrong about grammar. the OED is generally considered the highest authority on the English language, and is descriptive not prescriptive. it’s concerned with how language is used, not how it should be used. prescriptivism belongs to the bottom half of the internet & Paula’s MIL.

    • Sparkly said:

      I actually work on the OED, and I would like to confirm this. We frequently end up in the media because people are lamenting that our standards are dropping because we include words like “selfie”, but the Dictionary reflects language *as it is used*. Language evolves, develops, grows, and the Dictionary follows this.

      • Dicentrarubra said:

        Besides, your standards dropped centuries ago when you put in words like “slubberdegulleon”! (Just kidding. ::fangirl squee!::)

      • Xena said:

        I have to admit that I find the “smellfie” commercial hilarious.

      • Dream job! I’m one of those weird kids who enjoyed flicking through the OED during study hall. It had glorious words in it!

        As an adult, Mark Helprin’s “A Winter’s Tale” sent me to the nearest OED, which was the only dictionary that had MOST of the words he used in a particular section of the book about a small (fictional) mostly-isolated community full of people who all knew about 100 times the number of words the average literate adult knows, including spelling bee champions, and they all took their savant skills for granted.

  37. salted_caramel said:

    I personally love the idea of completely ignoring MIL whenever she makes a snotty comment about your word usage or table manners, and just going on with the conversation as if it never happened. If this is about power/dominance – which is a sound hypothesis – a total lack of reaction/attention is a powerful tool.

    • Polychrome said:

      Yes. She makes a correction. You make eye contact, and say nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. This will be hard. She will be the person to break the silence with somehting that winds the situation up more: “oh so I see you are OFFENDED now. Sorry I just think Grammar (or Manners) are Important.” Silence. Silence. Silence. Eye contact. Eye contact. Eye contact.

      No angry face, just, flat. No reaction. I guarantee you that no matter how hard she freaks out, and how wound up she gets in an attempt to get a rise out of you (her real goal), she will not want to encounter this again. It is exactly the reverse of what she wants, and she will stop goading you once she gets this impassive stone face instead of a reaction.

      It definitely will be hard and awkward. But it means you don’t have to get a tone of voice right, she can’t blame you for being the real author of the confrontation (which saying, “stop” risks — she’ll be like oh we were just having good fun! Can’t you take a little friendly feedback?), and it will frighten her, genuinely. She is likely to blow her top — which she does not want; she wants to see you blow yours.

      • Yessss. The flat blank stare is a great option for those of us who can’t always do words while we’re trying to process how incredibly rude that person is being.

      • mf said:

        I’ve done this before and IT WORKS because it makes the other person enormously uncomfortable. And people really HATE being uncomfortable or feeling awkward. They usually start rambling/defending themselves. If you wait long enough, they will shut up and then you can change the subject. Also, I’m purposefully using the singular they here to annoy your MIL. 😉

    • Not Party Falcon said:

      Man, would I love to try, “Are you unwell? You’re talking very strangely. Do you have a fever? Why don’t you go lay down and we’ll finish up here. No, really, I insist. You’re clearly not yourself.”

  38. Turtle Candle said:

    My mother once deployed a firm but icy, “It is also extremely impolite to correct another person’s manners unless you have been invited to do so.” I still remember it because its effect was so profound; the offender puffed up like an enraged hen but really didn’t have anything much to say in response.

    (There’s an unspoken “unless they are your own child and still quite young,” because someone does in fact need to teach kids not to chew with their mouths open at some point, but in this context that does not need to be stated.)

    • JodieB said:

      This is the perfect response from your mother. I read somewhere that ideal etiquette is employing impeccable manners yourself while overlooking lapses in others. Pointing out someone’s “mistakes” at the dinner table is a breach of etiquette itself and, as someone mentioned above, undermines the entire point of good manners which is to make others feel comfortable in your company.

      Ditto about the kids and even then it should generally only be a parent or guardian. I would never presume to correct someone else’s child.

  39. Amber Rose said:

    I would respond to meal policing by shredding all my food, mixing it together and eating it with the handle of my fork. And chew while making eye contact.

    Disclaimer: no I wouldn’t.

    This is solid advice from the captain as usual. You are an adult. You are not a character from a Miss Manners book. You have this talking and eating thing under control. If you go strategy number one and she gets aggressive or repeats herself, feel free to remind her of that.

  40. Marthooh said:

    That one-hand-in-the-lap thing is not a rule of etiquette, it’s just meant to help teach children how to eat with silverware. Once you’ve mastered the art of shoving peas into your mouth without holding them on the fork with your other hand, you’re good to go.

      • TO_Ont said:

        LOL, maybe that’s why it startled me and I had to read it twice. I’m quite sure my (european) parents would consider it sloppy or bad manners to have a hand under the table when you’re eating (who knows what you’re doing under there) though I don’t think they would be jerks about it.

    • TO_Ont said:

      It’s also very specific to certain cultures, I assume, because I was taught almost exactly the opposite as a child. My parents did care about manners and thought it was useful for us to know how to have good table manners. And we would probably have been gently corrected if we had a hand in our lap while eating.

      • Now I am wondering where that other hand goes, if not in your lap! Ha ha, that is great.

        • TO_Ont said:

          If you’re using a spoon, the other hand (according to my dad ) goes on the table, but only your forearm, not your elbows. If you’re using a knife and fork, both hands are always occupied since one is the fork hand and the other is the knife hand.

          They weren’t jerks about it, and the rules were loosened or tightened depending on how formal the situation (e.g. breakfast more casual than Sunday dinner, and putting your knife down after cutting something might be OK in a very informal situation – I was amused when in University I made some American friends and one told me they did it differently there).

  41. Lisa said:

    That is 100% a class thing. Her grandchildren won’t know which fork is the fish fork! Decline of Western civilization!

    My personal reaction would be a shocked one (“Excuse me?!”). She is being so rude over something so unimportant, what an embarrassing thing (for her). Like if she’d just flipped over her plate on the table. The tone you would use to STOP a toddler is exactly right… And then a quick pivot like she had never said anything. “WOW, you do NOT get to micromanage my manners” and then back to juggling the toddler on your hip, “so, as I was saying, the soccer game went great… Did you see the finale of that show we were watching?”

    You don’t hate her and you aren’t “mad”. You are slapping her hand away as she reaches for your plate, because it was inappropriate.

    This is probably a dominance behavior on some level because you are saying you are allowed to slap her hand. But she’s been slapping yours a lot so it’s just bringing yourself to equality.

    • efmather2006 said:

      My parents once made this a classism-within-class issue, if that makes sense. They were very fussy about my table manners and I was cutting my meat, then eating a piece with my fork in my left hand rather than switching the fork to my right hand. My dad, generally a reasonable guy, thought this was “un-American,” meaning that I should be eating a piece of food with my right hand. Cutting and eating with my fork in my left hand was “European.” My mom argued that they’re equally correct, they had some argument about it, and I was never criticized again for a lack of fork switch.

      • Not Party Falcon said:

        We American leftys live in your weird world of measuring cups with lines on the wrong side and dorky scissors, but we do have this one LOL of euro-cutting our food. 🙂

  42. notcryingonsundays said:

    If micromanaging is wrong, how does one correct a spouse or relative when they’re using bad grammar or such?

    I say this because my wife can speak using a regional difference/with a slight southern accent/use “ain’t” and otherwise play fast and loose with grammar. But where I live in the north, a southern accent or bad grammar or ain’t can make people think you are less educated. I don’t agree with this, but I don’t want people to look down on her, or for our children, in the future, to learn such speech that can cause problems for them later on. But I’m not yelling about it! Mostly I let it go but if we are around kids, or native northerner friends, I just calmly say, “no, it’s WON’T.” Or such.

    But I Do. Not. Care. About eating, as long as you don’t make obnoxious licking or slurping noises:

    • salted_caramel said:

      “If micromanaging is wrong, how does one correct a spouse or relative when they’re using bad grammar or such?”

      Just… don’t? I’m 100% certain your wife is aware of the differences between the southern and northern regional dialects. She doesn’t need your “helpful” corrections. She’s an adult and can express herself in whatever words or accent she pleases. Don’t make your cringiness about it her problem.

      -Signed, A Southern Transplant

      • Commander Banana said:

        THIS.

        I am an American raised overseas speaking a second language by two New Englanders and I use the word “ya’ll.” Want to know why? Because in my second language, there is a word that means “you all, as in, you small group of people but not me” and there isn’t really one in English, and I think “you guys” sounds awful, and “yins” doesn’t work except in Pittsburgh, so “ya’ll” it is, as in, are ya’ll going to get tacos or burgers after work?

        People may think it’s weird that someone without a Southern accent uses ya’ll, but until English invents a word that means you all but not me and that is gender neutral, I will continue to use it.

        • Anothermous said:

          SLIGHT DIVERSION TIME okay I love this stuff.

          English does (or did!) have that term! It is “you.” Back in the day, the informal singular second person was “thou” and the formal singular/plural second person was “you”. Basically the equivalent function of “tu” and “vous” in French. English eventually dropped all usage of the informal singular thou, so now we’re stuck with just “you” and no good way to distinguish between its singular use and its plural use, so “y’all” is moving into the space that the plural use once occupied. (You can go back and read, say, Shakespeare and note that he only ever uses “thou” when addressing a single person, it’s never used in addressing a group.)

          Anyway, this is off topic, but it’s fun and now I will leave this thread alone.

          • TO_Ont said:

            Yes, understanding that ‘thou’ used to be the informal version and ‘you’ the formal and/or plural version gives a different spin on a lot of older texts.

            E.g., I find it really funny when people complain about ‘modern’ translations of the Lord’s prayer that use you and your instead of thou and thy… The original prayer really was extremely and pointedly informal! So while I like the sound of the old language, ‘you’ is in fact a more faithful translation into modern english, that more accurately captures the intimate and informal tone.

        • atheistorganist said:

          It’s weird, I’m in Canada (Ontario, too), which seems to be north of north linguistically, and I’ve noticed “y’all” gaining use. I think it’s because of what you said – it fills a useful void.

        • Drew said:

          I live in the Southern states and it feels a little weird when someone *doesn’t* use “y’all” where it would be appropriate.

          I admit that I was thrown the first time I encountered the *singular* “y’all,” however. A neighbor of my grandparents said, “Y’all come over here!” and I kept looking around to see who else she was talking to, because I was alone. Turns out, she used “all y’all” for plural.

    • SM said:

      Oh god please don’t correct your wife in front of other people! That comes off as controlling/disrespectful. Honestly as someone also from the north, if they see southerners as less educated because of their accent, that’s because they’re ignorant. Most people find it charming or cute, which is patronizing but at least not completely dismissive.

      If you really think your wife 1) has a genuine desire to curb habits that are a natural part of her speech and 2) doesn’t notice that she does these things, then at most, you’re better off waiting until you two are alone to comment on it. But you risk creating anxiety for her about how she speaks, so please be careful to be respectful about whether your wife actually genuinely wants any corrections.

      My boyfriend has a habit of mixing up sounds in words when he’s talking, but I never comment on it in front of other people. Every once in a while if it’s a word he says a lot (like the neighborhood I recently moved to), in the middle of a quiet moment I might say “do you notice you say Dolphin instead of Dophlin?” And he’ll either respond with “yeah I mix that up a lot,” or “oh god, really?” And that’s it, I leave it be unless he asks me to tap him or raise an eyebrow if he mixes it up again. The key is not bringing it to anyone else’s attention but his.

    • randomcheeses said:

      If micromanaging is wrong, how does one correct a spouse or relative when they’re using bad grammar or such

      You don’t.
      I’m gonna be blunt here: if I was your wife I would find the behaviour, that you describe yourself using, incredibly patronising and condescending. If other people have a problem with the way she speaks then that’s their problem. She is an adult, your equal and peer, she knows how to speak. She doesn’t need you correcting her speech, under any circumstances.

    • SM said:

      Comment monster ate my response but please for the love of god stop bringing up your wife’s accent/speech patterns in front of other people. Just… no. If anyone’s judging her for her regional accent, that’s their problem for being ignorant. And as a northerner, most people will at most just find it “charming” which is condescending but not enough of a problem for you to nitpick her in public or in front of others.

      • Exactly! Not your job to try to head off bigots!

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      Unless your wife has *asked* you to correct her, DON’T.

    • Polychrome said:

      if she has restrained herself from correcting you about how silly “or such” sounds, you really owe her the reciprocal courtesy.

    • If micromanaging is wrong, how does one correct a spouse or relative when they’re using bad grammar or such?

      I think you’ve answered your own question here. Micromanaging is wrong, don’t do it. Your wife is a grownup, I’m quite certain she is aware of both the way she talks and how other people might judge the way she talks and has made her own decisions about how her words come out of her mouth.

      Your kids will be fine, they will pick up your regional dialect from you, their friends, their teachers, family friends, and literally everyone they are exposed to who isn’t their mother.

      Also, I have to wonder, do you change your accent & word choices to fit in if/when you visit the south? If not, it’s worth thinking about why.

    • Ohhhh, you’re my *mother*. She moved out of her native Generic American accent into an area on the border of South Midland and Inland South, just outside the Ozark dialect, and spent my childhood rudely correcting our speech to Generic American and saying incredibly cruel things about people who spoke other dialects. Which was everyone, since we lived in an area that didn’t speak Generic American.

      I don’t talk to my mother much. She is extremely tedious.

      You might consider that, since someday your future children will be adults, and you can help prevent them from finding you tedious by not being tedious.

    • Vicki said:

      Either drop the subject—I’m sure she’s noticed that we northerners speak differently from the people she grew up with—or, alternatively, say that you know some northerners are prejudiced against people with southern accents, and ask if she would like help in sounding less southern, or would like you to join her in finding some less prejudiced friends, or both.

      Because it is prejudice, even if unconscious: the idea that people are necessarily uneducated or stupid because they’re from a different part of the country, or speak a different language or dialect, is prejudiced.

      “Or both” is a possibility because she might both be angry at the prejudice, and resigned to the idea that she’ll get better jobs, or better pay, if she speaks standard American with a more prestigious accent. (Everyone has an accent, and “regional difference” assumes there’s some kind of standard for it to differ from.)

      If and when you have children, if you’re raising them in the north, they will hear a lot of northern speech, and a lot of television/media etc. featuring those prestigious accents. If you want those children to pick up your accent, grammar, and regionalisms (soda, pop, tonic, or coke?), spend a lot of time with them, taking care of them and talking to them. Don’t leave 95% of the childcare to her and then correct them when they ask for a coke when they mean ginger ale.

    • B. said:

      But won’t anybody think of the neighbours?!?!?!

      Look, notcryingonsundays, if people discriminate against your wife and kids for the way they speak, the fault doesn’t lie with your wife’s speech patterns, it lies with society’s classist bullshit. It’s fucked up to tell a black person to whithen their skin in order to avoid racism. It’s also fucked up to tell people to change their speech patterns in order to avoid classism.

      And frankly, you must be a pretty amazing partner if she puts up with your doing that to her. I’d drop you like a sack of hot coals.

    • clorinda said:

      She’s speaking correct southern dialect. Leave her be.

    • TerribleSpouseCorrector said:

      Clearly, I am a terrible spouse as I have definitely corrected my husband’s table manners and sometimes I’ve done it in front of people!
      When we started going to meals together I asked why he didn’t put the paper napkin on his lap as it’s great at catching any drips. I suggested it a few times, he was a bit blasé about it until he dropped something on his new pants that did NOT come out. Now he’s a napkin convert. Truly, I don’t think I did this if we were dining with others. I hope not.

      The only thing I will correct him on is starting before other people start – especially if there is a chance of grace being said (only a very few people we eat with say grace, but still). I will usually nudge him under the table or quietly say “wait.” I just can’t help myself, the rudeness of starting to eat before everyone is ready outweighs the rudeness of correcting an adult in my mind.

      • Ms_Morlowe said:

        This is something I and my brother are currently having trouble with! In our family, letting the food go cold was a cardinal sin, so ‘polite’ meant eating what was placed in front of you as soon as it got there, even if not all the food had been served, even if some people hadn’t gotten to the table yet. If in a restaurant, eat when your food arrives, when it’s still hot!

        IMAGINE MY SURPRISE to become a grown adult and discover that literally no-one else does this, and thinks people who do are super rude. I cannot count the number of times I have obliviously started eating, only to look up four bites later and realise that I am the only person doing so, and there are awkward glances going on between those who are waiting to eat and those who are waiting for food.

        I have asked my boyfriend to nudge me when we’re out, to remind me to wait to eat until everyone has been served.

    • Jackalope said:

      For a number of years I lived in a foreign country where English (my native language) was not the main language. I had 2 good friends there who were native speakers of the local language and were also fluent (but less perfectly) in English. The 3 of us had an agreement that when I was speaking their language they could correct me whenever it seemed necessary, and vice versa. The important thing here is that we all WANTED to improve our other-language speaking skills (and were all grammar nerds to a certain extent so getting it just right mattered to us) and had an agreement. If you have an idea that your wife WANTS to speak differently then maybe you could have a similar sort of agreement, and figure out the rules beforehand (when do you feel like it’s appropriate to correct each other? How do you correct each other? etc.). And then you can both learn things from each other. But if she’s not interested, then letting it go is probably best.

    • Jessica said:

      If you’re worried about how she is perceived, work to correct erroneous perceptions. Don’t correct her. Not least because correcting her in front of friends isn’t going to make those friends not look down on her.

      Also, I’m not sure how hard you worked on writing your comment versus on modifying your speech, but using “ain’t” is grammatically correct if not stylistically accepted all over, whereas your “which/that” usage IS actually fast and loose with grammar (“to learn speech that can cause” would have been okay, but since you’re qualifying “speech” with the “such”, you need to phrase it as “to learn such speech, which can cause” to be going by the books).

      I’m not telling you this for any haha factor – which/that confounding is very common and not a big deal. I’m telling you this because you may be making quite a lot of grammar missteps you don’t hear. There’s nothing wrong with that on its own, but it would make it very irritating to be publicly corrected by someone whose own grammar was objectionable, and such corrections would make you look buffoonish.

    • mossyone said:

      I feel like this is the kind of issue that you can really only talk about from an inside perspective. Like, if you have an accent or speak in dialect yourself and you’re trying to help your children understand how they may be perceived because of how they talk. But even then, it would only really be kind and right if you were doing it purely to prepare them, and then followed it with ‘it’s wrong to judge people for how they talk, and it is unfair that people do it to us.’

      My sister told me about a linguistics teacher of hers, who said there is no bad grammar when speaking and enforced this with the kids in the schools he worked in, who had West Country dialects. That is a UK dialect that is almost universally thought of as a joke or as a sign of being a country bumpkin in the UK. It was heartening to hear of someone who was educated in linguistics who did not think it was appropriate to damage young kids with ideas of grammar correctness. It’s kind of sad that this is rare to hear of.

      • Turtle Candle said:

        Yep. My school had a high percentage of students who spoke a regional dialect that is not privileged in this country. The career counseling center walked a very fine line; it boiled down to saying both “there is absolutely nothing wrong with the way you talk, and it is perfectly good English” and “…but sadly, employers may judge you for it anyway, consciously or unconsciously, and given that you probably need a job, here is what you can do to reduce the likelihood that you will be unfairly cut out of the running for a job you need based on how you talk.”

        But the critical differences are a) these were students, in a school atmosphere, where instruction was part of the goal, b) they were voluntarily coming to the career counseling center specifically for help on getting hired, and c) many of the people at the career counseling center were of the same background as the students in question, and those that weren’t (because the place was perpetually understaffed, so the gaps had to be filled in sometimes) had been educated on how to approach these issues not from a position of “you are Wrong” but from a position of “this is deeply unfair but it could hurt you to ignore it, and here’s how you can mitigate it.”

        Long story short: none of this is relevant unless the person in question is coming to you for advice. If someone comes to you and says, “How can I present myself well in X circumstance?” okay, yeah, now the feedback is solicited. It’s wise to remember that their accent and dialect/idiolect is still not ‘wrong,’ it’s just different in a way that may not be helpful to them, but if someone solicits the feedback, it’s fair to give it to them. I’ve helped friends with strong accents practice for presentations to be more understandable–but only because they ask.

        But unsolicited? No. And even solicited, give the feedback privately–not in front of other people, which is often infantilizing.

    • As a lifelong northerner, I find Southern accents quite charming. Your wife’s speaking patterns are what makes her unique and no matter how many grammar rules she breaks, that’s the same voice that says “I love you!” to you and your children. Anybody that thinks she’s less than because she has a Southern accent has to cage fight Scarlett O’hara.

    • BarlowGirl said:

      “If micromanaging is wrong, how does one correct a spouse or relative when they’re using bad grammar or such?”

      One doesn’t, because it’s rude, along with ableist, classist (not everyone IS educated and this isn’t a bad thing), and racist (AAVE, like fleek and bae as mentioned above, are not slang), among other things. And when you do, you sound like a jerk.

      • What do you do if you are speaking to someone else who is speaking the same language as you, but you cannot understand what they are saying because they are speaking in a different dialect? As a white woman over 40, I would probably not understand much of AAVE, since I don’t know what fleek and bae mean, for instance.

        • JenniferP said:

          Jenny, let this drop now.

          • I apologize for being offensive.

          • JenniferP said:

            Thanks. Asking for clarification when you don’t understand something – “Sorry, I don’t know what that means” is one thing. In a written environment you can also go look it up and come back when you do understand. Non-English speakers learning English figure things out from context clues and/or they move on until they do understand. I’m sure you didn’t mean to appear to be seeking permission to “correct” the English of other adults, especially AAVE-speakers, but that’s how it was coming across.

          • No, of course not. I wo I was afraid that saying “I don’t know what that means” would be racist, since I did not take the time to learn AAVE. Online, I look up stuff on Urban Dictionary. I would not correct anyone’s grammar, because that is rude and would invite deserved hostility.

          • JenniferP said:

            I’m glad. I think some of it is an attitude, too. Not knowing a reference isn’t a failure of the other person to somehow be correct, it’s just, ignorance of a thing, which is ok to be. If you’re actively speaking back and forth with someone and they throw out something you don’t understand, “Forgive me, I don’t know that reference!” is ok to say. But you’re not *correcting* them.

          • Thank you for your compassion and giving me the benefit of the doubt. Most people would have either severely reprimanded me or outright banned me.

    • One refrains from correcting one’s loved ones unless they are small children, and even then one tries not to embarrass one’s children in public.

      Take it from me, friend: this is 100% a class-related snobbery thing. Look. I was raised in the Southern United States. I can sound very Southern if I want. I have also been mistaken (by Londoners, no less) for being a British a dozen or so times, probably because I typically use proper, slightly formal, grammar by default. My family got here while there were still damp footprints on Plymouth Rock. We’re related to about a dozen people most schoolchildren read about in history books. I refused to become a debutante solely because my non-white and non-Protestant friends would not be allowed the same privilege. I qualify for most of those obnoxious high-IQ societies, no adult member of my family has failed to get an advanced degree since the 1920s, women included, and I have four advanced degrees myself. You would know absolutely none of this if I weren’t pseudonymous here. You probably wouldn’t know it for a long time if we met socially, because other people’s opinions of mne are none of my business and the older I get, the less I care about what others think about me. I don’t base my identity or sense of self-worth on the fact that I know how to properly eat an artichoke at a formal dinner, or all sorts of (mostly outdated) fashion “rules” about what to wear and when to wear it, or how to diagram a sentence properly AND use formal grammar suitable even for scholarly publications.

      I occasionally sound very Southern and I occasionally deliberately say “ain’t” and “y’all” because I LIKE saying “ain’t” and “y’all”. I’m also blonde and female. I wear cheap shoes, t-shirts with words on them, and keep my hair long despite being over 35, all of which are considered “low status” by people who like to judge others on a superficial basis.

      Now, I will also eat your proverbial lunch with great relish if you deign to assume I am “less educated” or not “classy”* because I drop some slang in front of you, especially if you get overtly haughty about it, or try to pull some snobbishness on me. It’s one of my great joys in life to take people down a peg who are obsessed with class and status and whether or not they are superior to others or not. (PROTIP: You’re not. I’m not. No one is.)

      If you want to be happier, care less about your loved ones’ accents and vocabulary, and worry more about whether your spouse and/or relatives are kind, thoughtful, loving, supportive, caring, etc., because manners are just the grease we put on the wheels of social interaction. Sometimes the wheels are going to be stickier than usual, such as at a job interview or wedding, which is when you should take care that your own behavior–and the behavior of any minor children in your care (if invited)–is impeccable. Ordinarily, though, you should let folks just be folks and love them, “ain’t”s and all.

      Just saying.

      Your heart may be in the right place (you don’t want anyone you care about to be embarrassed, right?), but it comes off more as you worrying that they might make YOU look bad (trust me, no matter how you pretty it up, this is the impression your loved ones are going to get, and they will not be happy with you). So. You’re at a gathering and your spouse says “y’all” in a pronounced Southern accent. What do you do? This is the part where you tend to your own knitting and let the urge to correct, however well-meant, pass by without comment or action on your part.

      * Use of the word “classy” is, ironically, much like covering everything you own in fake gold leaf, a stereotypical signifier of a person of lower class status, or nouveau riche vulgarians. Do you still care, though?

    • B said:

      Woo, I think you’ve probably gotten the idea by now that correcting people is not a good idea unless a) they’ve asked you to under their own volition or b) there is some kind of danger. More scenarios I can think of; I speak very little Spanish but when I do try to speak it, I welcome corrections because I am trying to learn it. But I am already putting effort in by speaking it, not in a relaxed state. Vs I have a tendency to mix up and scramble words sometimes, especially when I am tired; if my husband gives me a hard time about this (even in private!) I tend to get a bit irritated because he knew what I meant, I’m tired and trying to relax. And for my part, I’m in the medical field and well versed in medical language, my husband is not except through me; if we go together to a medical appointment, especially one of his medical appointments, I try very hard to clam up and let him talk because yes, it’s tempting to blurt in and use all the “proper” jargon and yes I’ve made this misstep once or twice before and yes he told me in private later “hey plz no” and yes he was right I need to let him do things his way (especially at his own appointments!) and only chime in when asked (or at the end if I think there is some kind of grievous miscommunication occurring)

    • Raptor said:

      Good people realize that a Southern accent doesn’t mean the person is less intelligent. They might have a subconscious bias against it, but maybe your wife can even help them work on that just by being there.

      You could say the same thing about her being a woman, but I certainly hope you’re not trying to change that aspect of your wife.

  43. nissetje said:

    “how does one correct a spouse or relative when they’re using bad grammar or such?”

    One does not.

    Or, if one absolutely must say something, one does NOT do it in front of an audience.

  44. mf said:

    Captain’s advice is very good, but I’m afraid I would have a tough time being that confrontational.

    I’m more comfortable approaching these situations by refusing to engage people like this–basically by shrugging my shoulders and refusing to care what they think. The minute you start defending yourself or explaining your choices, the other person may take that as validation that you owe them an explanation on what you’ve said/done. (Obviously you owe them nothing of the sort.)

    MIL: “You’re supposed to do X, not Y!”
    You: “I’m glad that works for you, but I’m not gonna do that.”
    MIL: “Yes, but [etiquette/grammar] says you have to!”
    You: “Like I said, I’m not gonna do that” + subject change

    MIL: “You’re supposed to X, not Y!”
    You: “That’s not my style.” OR “No thanks, I like doing things my way.”
    MIL: “It’s not a matter of style, the rules say you have to!”
    You: *shrug* “Agree to disagree.” + subject change

    Another option is to EMPHATICALLY AGREE with the ridiculous accusations your MIL makes about your grammar and manners. Again, the underlying message here is “I don’t care what you think.” It also shuts down the argument. You can’t pick a fight with someone who agrees with you.

    You: “I spoke to the server and they said…”
    MIL: “*She* said. Can you not count?
    You: “Nope, I can’t count. I’m terrible at it.”

    MIL: “How dare you put your elbows on the table! Where are your manners?!”
    You: “Gee, I dunno. They must have disappeared.” + subject change

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      Another non-confrontational option is “That’s nice” in the just the right tone.

      • Drew said:

        Or deploy the southern “Bless your heart,” which can be code for anything from “I acknowledge that you are trying; please continue working at it” to “I will see you and your second at dawn; bring your own pistol” depending on inflection and context.

    • basically by shrugging my shoulders and refusing to care what they think

      You know, I kind of love the idea of literally shrugging and going back to what you were doing.

  45. H.Regalis said:

    “If you’re going to ride my ass, you could at least pull my hair.”

    Yeah, probably extra terrible to say to your MIL especially, but still. She needs to stop.

    • KS said:

      I’m very, very glad I read all the way to the end of the comments, because this made me snort out loud.

    • Viva said:

      OMG LOLOLOL! I love you for this 🙂

    • Ahahahaha! That is great and you should feel great 😀

    • XtinaS said:

      Ahahahahahahahahaha. I’m memorizing this immediately.

    • Morticia said:

      I’ve always used: “Let go of my ears, I know what I’m doing.”

  46. Amtep said:

    I think the MIL’s comments go a few steps past “rude” here.

    “Aren’t you the English teacher?” “Can you not count?”

    That’s sneering contempt. It’s openly hostile.

    I suppose it doesn’t change the recommended script, though. Perhaps it means you can worry less about burning bridges. They’re already on fire.

    • TO_Ont said:

      Yeah, correcting another adult gently, using polite language yourself, would still actually be rather rude, but at least leaves open the possibility that the person really thought they were being helpful.

      The quotes in this letter describing that MIL’s ‘corrections’ are not even that. They are mocking, hostile, aggressive, contemptuous.

    • ‘Mother-in-law, whoever taught you it was good manners to sneer?’

  47. Malachite said:

    I would be terribly tempted to miss a different strategy: try and trigger her response as much as possible. She criticises a grammar mistake? In the very next sentence, reply with another grammar mistake. Repeat ad nauseam. At some point she’s going to get annoyed that you’re doing it, and will stop. Game on!

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      I think I adore you. That would be hilarious.
      I’m imagining “I speak Jive.”

  48. Nopetopus Cowgirl said:

    You know what’s bad table manners? Embarrassing the people you’re eating with. Calling attention to other people’s grammar or way of eating.

    I once heard this story about how the royal family once drank rose water out of their finger bowls so as not to embarrass a guest who thought it was for drinking rather than hand cleaning. Taking care to make your partners in dining and conversation feel comfortable and never to make someone feel ashamed* is the height of good manners.

    *Of course I mean bullshit malicious shaming, not, for example, shaming someone who films surreptitiously while you are on the toilet.

  49. Xena said:

    My soon-to-be-ex did this. The meat-cutting thing – incredibly RUDE to cut up several bites. (Really? That seems to be a Midwestern thing.) And the correcting not my grammar, but the words I chose, and the pitch of my voice – all made me just stop talking. Because he obviously didn’t care about the content of what I was saying.

  50. The Other Kat said:

    I think something that often gets lost in these discussions is the fact that hanging out with your in-laws is optional. LW, if you had an annoying acquaintance who constantly did this to you, would you keep inviting them to your child’s play dates? I’m guessing no. MIL is no different. If she wants to spend time with you and the baby, she can learn to behave herself, just like any other friend or relative. Also, why isn’t your husband telling her to STFU and stop being so incredibly rude to you? Not cool. She’s his relative so he should be handling this. I wouldn’t visit or host her again until (a) she proves she can treat you with common courtesy and (b) he proves he won’t just sit there like a limp noodle while she insults you.

  51. Jolly said:

    I tend to just be very dismissive of people who try to tell me what to do.

    “You mean BY accident!”
    “Nope, I actually meant exactly what I said. On accident. Anyway…”
    “BUT THAT’S WRONG AND YOU’RE STUPID FOR BEING WRONG”
    “Haha do you seriously care about this? That’s pretty tedious. Anyway, like I was saying…”
    “But WRONG !!”
    “[actually physically laughing at them by this point] Sharon, let me assure you: no one else in this conversation cares about this, so continuing to talking about it is super boring and rude. I did the thing ‘on accident.’ There was nothing wrong with what I said. You understood what I meant. There is no problem. So if you want to silently seethe about something that doesn’t matter at all, don’t let me stop you, but I’d prefer to talk about something more interesting than [grammar/table manners/whatever] now. ANYWAY…”

    The fact that she is being condescending and outright insulting your intelligence means she already gave up the expectation of civility or humoring her bullshit.

  52. Kitty said:

    Ugh, I’m sorry LW that sounds exhausting.

    She sounds similar to my mother, and if your MIL is anything like mine, she will become all “offended” When you directly call her out on shitty behaviour, and claim you are “bullying” *her*. The only solution I’ve found that saves my sanity is just to hang up or leave.

  53. Not Party Falcon said:

    Oh LW, you who are blameless and kindhearted, have suffered enough. Of course this is solely about CONTROL and a tug of war over her child (child who is an adult with a sex life) and their new family; relinquishing old roles; aging, etc.

    I hope you and your spouse can decide to present a united front of NO and also some boundaries: “I’m so sorry you don’t enjoy our company at meals with our child. We won’t ask you again.”

    And then let that ish be awkward, as we say here. -Spouse, snap out of it and step up. You are not ten years old anymore. Don’t make your wife do all the heavy lifting.

  54. resili0 said:

    Things that helped me with my MIL:

    * Deciding for myself how I would handle her. My SIL went (justifiably) no contact for years and the drama that ensued is not what I want. However I acknowledge that MIL’s poor behaviour is so ingrained after years of being allowed to get away with it, no amount of MIL whispering will elicit any other interaction.

    * Observing my BIL and FIL who will treat her like a child when she acts that way and nope out. They aren’t killing themselves to accommodate her and make our family life perfect therefore I don’t need to either. Is there someone in the family who doesn’t give any fucks about harmony? Make them your role model. When you feel that urge to make things nice, silently invoke the giving no fucks person and proceed as they would.

    * My partner is the son who has to do all the MIL pleasing. He has been her go to for a long time and he will probably always be tempted to smooth the waters. He has been worn down and that is his tactic. However I told him that while I would remain pleasant and do some family stuff, I won’t do every family get together. If MIL says an upsetting rude thing, I will find someone else to talk to or leave early. Occasionally I do have to tell her to cut it out and in those moments, my partner knows that I need him to quietly support me till we get home and refuse to let MIL draw him in to drama about it.

    My role is not to be family fix it wifey. I show up, smile and not cut her off entirely like my SIL has, which my partner would suffer for if I chose that.

    Life got a lot easier when I accepted that my MIL and I would never be close and that was not my fault.

  55. I agree with everything the Captain said.
    However: Be Prepared!
    For the next three visits, three months, or three eternities, you will be cast as a Bad Person.

    You are not respecting your elders!
    You are speaking sharply! And possibly raising your voice!
    You are creating a scene in public!
    You are changing the rules about who bosses who!
    You are creating family friction! That was never ever there before!!eleventy!!!!!
    You are -hurting- someone’s feelings! For no reason!

    In these situations, I try to run the mantra ‘I don’t need the last word’ through my mind.
    I said mine, they can say theirs for as long as they want. Boo Hoo.
    Adults having a tantrum is a lot more upsetting than children having a tantrum, so prepare your calmness in advance. You will need it.

    • Yes! My father in law, when I told him that my niece had not mispronounced the word and even if she had, it would not matter, told me – and I quote – “You are not the boss of me!”

      He later pulled my husband aside and told my husband that he – husband – needed to “get [me] in line” and that I needed to learn how to “respect [my] elders.”

      That was the last time I ever visited my husband’s parents. The next time I saw my FIL, it was at my MIL’s funeral, five years after FIL blew up. It helped to have a spouse who realized his father was a jerk.

  56. Could your husband take on some of the saying “Stop” and “No” and “Seriously, you want to have another pointless grammar discussion?”
    I know when he’s tried before she’s said” I am talking to PAULA…” but is he currently letting it stop there? He could perhaps interrupt her to say “YES, you were talking to her. You were being rude to her and I think you should stop it. Now. Okay, so Paula you were saying?”

    Of course, you don’t need him to “rescue” you and you can take care of yourself BUT the emotional labour of dealing with seeing *his* parent should be primarily *his* to do, not yours.

    • Elektra said:

      Yeah, I completely agree with this. It’s great that the husband is trying to direct and redirect, but I think he needs to escalate his attempts to look out for his wife.

      Like when she snaps at him “I was talking to PAULA” – I think it’s time to say “Ma, Paula is my wife, and I can’t abide you talking to her with disrespect, especially not in front of our child. You need to stop”.

      As you say, Paula doesn’t need to be rescued, but I really think this is a situation that calls for a united boundary-setting front.

    • Yes! I fully agree that dealing with his parent is husband’s job. By not shutting her down hard when she pulls this crap, he’s essentially saying it’s okay for his mom to treat his wife like that. For me, that would be more painful than MIL being a jerk. This kind of family stuff is hard and husband’s probably resigned to his mom just being a tremendous jerk, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need to do better for his wife’s (and child’s!) sake.

  57. atheistorganist said:

    My grandma does this. It is a weird dominance display. I’m lucky enough to be the “favourite” – I don’t get it much at all, despite being the most unmannerly of all of us.

  58. I think each and every time she does it, you should get up and leave, end the visit right that instant. When she fusses, reply over your shoulder on your way out the door, “We don’t want to risk our little one pick up your bad manners.”

  59. SpinachInquisition said:

    Perhaps it’s because I was born and raised in NY, but my knee-jerk response to something like this is:

    “CUT THE SHIT. …NOW.”

    And, I’ve continued to deploy it whether living on the West coast, or in the upper Midwest where I am now. It’s rude but effective.

  60. rontoad said:

    I suppose kicking her under the table is out of the question, more’s the pity.

  61. I totally agree the Grandmother is being rude, has poor manners, and I hope CA’s scripts or one of the commenters’ will help LW make her to stop.

    That being said, I wanted to share from the perspective of an adult who *does* feel the need to correct other adults on certain things, like some grammar errors. For everyone whose consent I don’t have – I shut my damn mouth and keep the rudeness to myself. As a teen, I didn’t always have this self-control. I learned it as part of adulting.

    But for my partner? Thank the heavens, I found someone who genuinely doesn’t mind and actually appreciates it when I correct their grammar. I think I checked the first 2 dozen times or so it came up when we were together. Even now, when it happens, I occasionally throw in a shy little “You still don’t mind?” Just to check in. Because I can hardly believe my luck – they like it. They speak English like a native speaker, but it’s actually their second language and most people in their lives politely ignored the occasional grammar errors, which they now find embarrassing in professional settings.

    I just wanted to add some context to the whole “It’s never okay to correct adults unless you’re their teacher” thing. I’m their partner, and if they didn’t want me to I’d stop so fast, because consent and boundaries. But, within two consenting adults, it can happen functionally.

    Which is clearly not what’s happening here. Hope this isn’t too much of a thread derail.

    • Heidi Mull said:

      *between two consenting adults. That’s the horror about feeling the need to correct such things, inevitably you fail and then it’s wonderfully embarrassing.

      For the record, as long as you’re not displaying macerated food to the rest of the table I couldn’t care less how anyone eats. :/

    • Elenna said:

      Yes, it’s okay if you’re actually their teacher/editor/someone whose job is literally to correct them, or if they’ve specifically told you it’s okay.

      Which is, of course, 100% not what’s happening here. And even if it was, the correcter needs to be reasonably polite about it, and the MIL is so far on the other end of that it’s horrifying. Seriously, “Can you count”? Really?????

  62. techiebabe said:

    Hmm. I don’t recall those rules in Debrett’s etiquette guide, so I would buy a copy and the next time you’re corrected, produce it, gift it to her, then say “these guys really are the experts on etiquette so I thought you’d enjoy this book. I can’t find anything in it about cutting up food more than one piece at a time but do show me if you find it!”

    Then for future “Oh, what does Debrett’s say on that? So anyway…”

    Bonus points if Debrett’s has a section on how to conduct yourself with decorum and politeness when you’re dying to correct someone’s behaviour….

    • Irene said:

      I had no idea Debrett’s had an etiquette guide until I saw this comment and Googled same. I’d only ever heard the name as shorthand for the reference book on the peerage. (If you’re thinking, wait, isn’t that Burke’s Peerage? you’re right, but there are two.)

  63. Serin said:

    The Captain has the best advice, but I like to imagine a conversation that goes like this:

    You: ” … but we had left it behind on accident …”
    MIL: “BY accident. Geeze, aren’t you the English teacher?”
    You: “MIL, that ain’t very nice. Anyway, we left it behind on accident, but luckily the cleaner hadn’t locked up yet, and they found it for us …”
    MIL: “He. Or maybe she.”
    You: “MIL, I done tole you that ain’t very nice.”

  64. Minhag said:

    Just chiming in on something the LW put as a possible issue, “MIL lives alone.”

    I’m a young woman who lives alone and will probably become an old woman who lives alone and this is still NOT an okay way to act. When I go out to see friends and family, I take those occasions as good times to reconnect with people and be sociable, not as opportunities to belittle them and cut them down.

    Maybe the LW really means “MIL lives alone (and is socially isolated) (and the isolation has made her bitter and mean and she lashes out).” Still not an excuse for her behavior! Either MIL is isolated because of age/illness/bad luck but she should still be good to the family she does have and work on cultivating positive relationships. Or, MIL is socially isolated because she is mean and cutting and thus people avoid spending time with her. I’ve felt socially isolated many times but I never thought it was okay to go out to dinner with the few people who I COULD see and them gleefully berate them for an hour as a reward (punishment?) for spending time with me.

    Plus, did the husband grow up in the same house as MIL? Because if he did, that means that this is way MIL prefers to operate, alone or not.

  65. thneedle said:

    > but I never thought it was okay to go out to dinner with the few people who I COULD see and them gleefully berate them for an hour as a reward (punishment?) for spending time with me

    Yeah, that’s right up there with my friend’s father, whose first response to any phone call she makes is “Why don’t you call more”? Somehow, this does not encourage her to call home more…

    • BarlowGirl said:

      You know, if his phone only accepts calls and can’t place them, he should talk to the phone company. ‘Cause phones generally do work both ways.

      In all seriousness, I see facebook memes of this constantly and I hate it.

    • TootsNYC said:

      ooh, I had a friend who did this. I once told her, “You know, every time I -do- call you, you scold me and I have to spend the first several minutes apologizing–and that sure doesn’t make me want to call you. And besides, you could call ME, but you never do. And it’s more expensive and complicated for me to call you*.”

      *It was the 1980s and I didn’t have my own phone; I had to charge all calls to my mom & dad’s phone.

      She never really got over it, and I just dropped away.

  66. I think the Captain’s advice is very sensible. I might add one small tweak: rather than ‘Stop correcting how I speak,’ you might try ‘Stop criticising how I speak.’ She can pretend that ‘correcting’ is objective, but ‘criticising’ is interpersonal.

  67. Annie said:

    Chiming in to say that this behavior is definitely going to extend to the LW’s child, and possibly cause real harm. My grandmother escalated from correcting our manners to correcting our medical diagnoses, and my sibling and I nearly ended up dead during the only time my parents let her supervise us. Grandparents not respecting parents is potentially a really big deal.

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