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    Miss Conduct

    Advice: I want to avoid a family bully at a wedding reception

    Can I ask to not be seated at his table? Plus, runny-nose season.

    Need advice? Submit questions for Miss Conduct here.

    There is a family wedding coming up this summer, and I do not wish to sit at the same table with a relative (by marriage) at the reception. On Christmas Eve — Christmas Eve!! — he asked my opinion about a certain political subject. When I answered, he began a rant that ended with calling me a variety of ugly names. I did not respond in kind but did point out the errors in his logic. There were no other people in the room, and I feel he was bullying me. I have not spoken to him since, and I would like for that to continue. Would it be a serious breach of etiquette to request not to be seated at his table?

    J.B. / Sandwich

    Nope, not at all. Special seating requests along the lines of “I’d like to be at the table with the venture capitalists, please,” are not kosher, but this would be. You can give your reason or not.

    You’re not obligated by any means to keep the secret of someone else’s bad behavior, but you don’t have to tell the story if you’d rather not.

    You’re right about him being a bully and having a preferred tactic. At the wedding, you might want to give a heads-up to anyone else he looks likely to corner, and employ some social-ninja moves to keep anyone you care about from being alone with him.

    I’m a ride-share driver. When I have a passenger with a runny nose, is it rude for me to state “Help yourself to a tissue or two!” (I keep some in the back seat.)

    P.E./ Boston

    I am often asked, “Can I use your pen?” right after observing the person cough or sneeze into her hand, or after she informs me she is feeling sick. Is there a compassionate and polite way to decline to give someone my pen?

    E.B./ Boston


    Everyone is just disgusting right now, aren’t they? Between the barometer swinging around like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, flu and cold season coming to an end, and hay fever ramping up, it’s #bostonslime all over.

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    P.E., by all means offer your passengers tissues! They may not have noticed them. Maybe keep some hand sanitizer back there, too? On or off the job, one may always offer tissues freely to anyone who appears to need one. (Just not the scented or lotioned kind that can make some people’s allergies worse, please and thank you.)

    E.B., advance preparation is your friend. Keep extra pens at your desk (in a specific jar that you never touch directly and disinfect frequently) for others to use. If you get hit up for writing utensils on the go, keep some in a baggie to offer to the mucusy masses. If the moment feels the slightest bit awkward, finesse it with “I’m afraid I might be coming down with a cold myself.” This is no lie, because you are afraid of that — if Phlegmy Flo gets her germy hands on your pen!

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